Tillerson Delivers Performance Management Tip, and EER Drafters Everywhere Cheer

Posted: 12:55 am ET

 

According to ABC News, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told U.S. diplomats in Brussels that the U.S. State Department has yet to achieve foreign policy “wins” since he took over nearly a year ago. “While we don’t have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we’re in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago,” Tillerson said.

And EER writers everywhere cheered!

No more wasted paper or wasted printer toner come Spring when employee evaluation reports are due. This may be the shortest EER accomplishment employees ever have to write if they take their cue from a secretary of state whose tenure the New Yorker says “may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history.”

DS-5055 has a box for description of accomplishments: “Rated employees must describe their most significant accomplishments during the rating period. Employees should provide a factual description of outcomes achieved and how these outcomes advanced Mission or Department goals. Employees do not self-appraise their own performance.”  Well, never mind that, it can be short and sweet like:

“As the Secretary has said, not having any accomplishments over 10 months is perfectly acceptable. My work has put the Department in a much better position to advance America’s work around the world.”

You’re welcome!

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“Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online!

Posted: 11:15 am  PDT
Updated: July 8, 5:28 pm PDT
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Every spring, our Foreign Service folks get a stressful season added to their lives. It’s called the EER Season. It’s when most people in the Foreign Service must do their Employee Evaluation Review, their annual report cards. It’s like doing your own tax return. It’s painful. People hate doing it. But it must be done, and done well, if folks want that promotion.

One FSO once quipped about the wisdom of “scheduling EER due dates at the same time as your tax returns; at least you’re combining as much pain and suffering into as short a time as possible.”  Another describes it as “a period of several weeks during which the entire service withdraws to semi-hibernation in their offices to produce and push around the mountain of paper that is the annual Employee Evaluation Review.” The Daily Demarche calls it the Creative Writing Season at the State Department, writing, “It is only with slight exaggeration [they] I say some reports use phrases like “when Dick is not walking on water he is busy turning it into wine.”  

There are tips and tricks online on EER preparation, see this and this, both written by FS-bloggers, who by the way, are no longer blogging. Also read this old post from Life After Jerusalem, it’ll crack you up.

An old adage is repeated in the Foreign Service Journal: “The EER system doesn’t work, so all we can do is gossip to keep bad people from getting good jobs.”  

We’ve heard it said often enough that the EER gets you the promotion, but your corridor reputation gets you your next job. Is that still true?

In a perfect world, the performance evaluation report should be the most useful tool in getting an individual, as they say, on the right bus. But that’s not the case in the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service where the entrance requirement is proudly based on merit, actually bases its assignment process on who you know, and what’s often called “corridor reputation,” instead of ability and talent.

So it was only a matter of time… and bang! This happened.

We received the following note:

As I have worked as an FSO for the better part of a decade, I have experienced a lot of different types of employees.  Like many others, I have often wondered how certain people got promoted and why certain others did not.  I have pondered the ridiculousness of the current EER system and its  unnatural obsession with style over substance.  How many times do I really need to roll it back to step 4 to make a comma edit and should that really sink my chance at a promotion?  I have wished that I would have known going in that my new boss would be horrible, and I have wished I could tell the world by boss was awesome.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Department needs a place to discuss the performance of people.  It has to be outside official channels and done in a way so others feel like they can comment without reprisal.  After this realization, a long period of denial, and more than a few sleepless nights, the site http://www.corridorrep.com was born.  It is limited only to people with a state.gov email address and does not pretend to be any type of official or statistically valid tool.  It is just a forum for openly discussing the performance of others.  The hope is that by providing visible access to one’s corridor reputation, the good performers get publically recognized and the not so good ones know where they can improve.  Is this risky? Yes.  Will people be offended?  Probably.  Will I get sued?  Maybe.  Is it needed?  I think so.

Regular folks who get frustrated long enough with the process long acknowledged to be broken will occasionally roll the dice.

According to its Terms of Use, http://www.corridorrep.com is owned by Transparency in Government Performance, LLC, registered out of Arizona. Its intended users are “employees of the U.S. State Department and other government agencies as determined by the site administrator. The purpose of this site is to provide mechanism for rating employees based on a 5-star rating system.  It will allow users to view their own individual rating, as well as highlight top performers.  Users will access the site to see how they have been rated and to rate others.”

The site’s stated goal is to rate 5,000 employees. It has 26 ratings right now.  We are unable to read the full reports but one of those “Recently Liked” under “Poor Performer” starts with “It was the longest tour of my life…”  Another one under “Officer Bob” starts with “It was a dark and stormy…”

In order to use the site, users “must provide” their state.gov email address. “This is only used to ensure that Department employees can access the site. Your confirmation email will be sent to this address and once you confirm your account none of your activity will be traceable to it.” The site says that registration is limited to U.S. Department of State employees at this time, but may be extended to include other agencies as determined by the site administrator.

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Note:  Thanks for all your tips. Since the owner of the LLC who operates this new site has not self-identify as site administrator of CorridorRep.com, we will not identify that individual in this blog at this time. We have reached out to the site  administrator and will update when we hear more.  

Burn Bag: An Exercise on ‘Just Wondering’ About Enduring Accomplishments in Saigon and Kabul EERs

Via Burn Bag:

 

“I wonder if the EERs* written at Embassy Saigon in 1973 contained as many self-congratulatory declarations of enduring accomplishment as those penned at Embassy Kabul in 2015.”

[protected-iframe id=”2728018605606a2e204bac746b181f1e-31973045-31356973″ info=”//giphy.com/embed/lELRD773cY7Sg?html5=true” width=”480″ height=”258″ frameborder=”0″]

(image via giphy.com)

EER — Employee Evaluation Report
Correction: previous burn bag referenced Kabul in 1975. Author meant 2015.

 

Burn Bag: The Consular Leadership Indicator, great idea in principle but …

Posted: 12:11 am EDT
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Via Burn Bag:

The Consular Leadership Indicator: great idea in principle. But do they really think officers are going to give candid feedback about their supervisors right in the middle of EER* season? And what about all those ELOs** who are up before the Tenuring And Commission Board next month?

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

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* EER – employee evaluation report
** ELO – entry level officer

State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials

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We heard recently that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. Apparently, State/OIG no longer prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) but that there are measures underway to collect input for the performance of chiefs of mission (COMs). One we’ve heard is evaluation of ambassadors by their deputy chiefs of missions and by desk officers.  (Achoooo! May we point out that the chief of mission is also the rating officer of the deputy chief of mission?) We could not verify those measures because DGHR is not responsive to email inquiries from this blog. However, we can confirm that the Inspector General Office stopped preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports in April 2013. We should note that the current OIG Steve Linick was nominated in June 2013 and did not come into office until September, five months after this change was put in place

The next question , of course is — was this an OIG decision and if so, why?  This is what we were told by State/OIG:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

That memorandum report from State/Deputy OIG Harold Geisel to State/M Patrick Kennedy dated September 19, 2012 talks about Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus.  We’ve blogged about it here: State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone.  As an aside, the U.S. military is reported to be in various stages of ramping up efforts to implement 360-degrees feedback. According to Marine Corps Times, it is currently used as a self-developmental tool and not/not as a part of the formal system of performance evaluation. The report notes that “Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.” (Previous post on 360 feedback used as a bidding tool: Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited and for the heck of it, this one Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300).

We think that the termination of IER preparation by State/OIG is a step in the wrong direction.

The problem here is simple. Do we really expect to see the OIG reports to be included in the official personnel file  (OPF) used for promotion consideration?  Of course not.  Comments on senior officials performance on the executive direction portion of OIG reports will not go into their official personnel file.   Some of the more egregious sections in OIG reports, we don’t even get to read because they are politely Sharpied out.  Meanwhile, the persons referred to in these reports are sometimes quietly moved to other posts.  In one case, a DCM was allowed to curtail and landed as a principal officer at another post.  Previously, this DCM was a senior officer at country X where he/she is alleged to have “pushed a seasoned FSO he/she supervised so cruelly and relentlessly, that this FSO attempted suicide.” In another case, a senior management officer was allowed to serve out a remaining tour and moved to one of our more dysfunctional posts at the end of the world.   As if that post needed a bump on its misery factor.  We have typically called this personnel movement, the State Department’s Recycling Program.  Of which we were roundly scolded by one reader who suffered the brunt in one case. “To suggest the Dept.‘s recycling program merely ‘stinks’, is to insult Parisian taxis and slaughter house septic tanks, everywhere.” 

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that “while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.” Then Deputy OIG Geisel was careful to point out that “The 75 percent/25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

And because State/OIG saw “progress” which is not detailed or publicly available, it is terminating the preparation of  IERs for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and other senior officials.

Is that the kind of accountability that serves the public interest and the employees that work in these missions?

In fact, the Foreign Affairs Manual that dictates the preparation of the IERs for senior managers is still in the books and has not been deleted or superseded by new guidance:

3 FAM 2813.5-1 last updated on November 23, 2012 states that OIG Inspectors will prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) on senior officers (chiefs of mission, permanent chargés, deputy chiefs of mission, principal officers, Assistant Secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries) in connection with each post or bureau inspection. These IERs will be related directly to the officer’s management or supervision of the domestic unit or post abroad being inspected and will constitute a part of the independent review of the operation being evaluated. They will focus on the skills and abilities of rated officers to manage personnel, budgets, resources, and programs. Both career and noncareer officers will be evaluated.

Another section of that FAM cites additional reasons for the preparation of the IERs as follows:

1 FAM 055.6(f) last updated on July 17, 2013 says that IERs may be prepared, at the discretion of inspectors, on any employee for the reasons stated in 3 FAM 2813.5-2, including: (1) To record outstanding or substandard performance that the inspection team leader feels needs further documentation; or (2) To record performance observed during the inspection that noticeably differs from that reported in an employee’s evaluation report prepared by his or her regular supervisors.

What happens to these IERs when prepared by the OIG inspection teams?

“Upon receiving an IER from the inspection team, OIG/ISP designates a panel of three active or retired ambassadors who have been senior inspectors to review the IER. Once approved, the panel sends the IER to the Inspector General. In the case of a career employee, the Inspector General sends it with a memorandum to the Director General of the Foreign Service, requesting that it be placed in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. In the case of a noncareer employee, the Inspector General sends it to the Director General to review and send to the Deputy Secretary and White House Liaison Office to forward to the White House’s personnel office.”

So now, since the IERs are no longer prepared, poor performance will no longer be documented and will not appear in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. They will appear in OIG reports, which may or may not be redacted, but will not be included in the official personnel file.  The Promotion Boards will have no idea how senior officers manage our overseas missions when those officers names come up for promotion.

Do we really think this a good thing?

Also, the White House is now saved from the embarrassment of learning how some of its “highly qualified” political ambassadors show their deficiencies as stewards of the embassies and representatives of the United States abroad.

One less headache for the Press Secretary to worry about, yes?

The IERs typically are not released to the public. But some of the details occasionally leaks out when cases end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. We hope to have a separate blog post on that.

If you value accountability and the proper functioning of the service, you might consider  sending a love letter to State/OIG Steve Linick and asking him to reverse the prior OIG decision of terminating the preparation of IER reports.

Why?

Because … gummy bears!  All teeth, but no bite will have repercussions.

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

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How about an EER Survivor Reality Show via BNET? C’mon, It’ll Be Fun!

We recently got a reminder in our “burn bag” about EERs. Basically, a reminder that it’s a new year, so there will be Employee Evaluation Reports to do this year, just like every year.

There used to be lots of EER talk on the blogosphere prior to April.  But not so much this year. Maybe it’s still early but … anyway, if you’re not terribly familiar about EERs, they’re like taxes and root canals, not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination but gotta be done.

In any case, a whole bunch of folks now write their own EERs.  We wondered briefly if anybody ever give themselves a poor evaluation — such as “this officer take on so much work he makes everyone looks bad;” or “this officer takes mentoring at a new level, acting like a mother hen to new chicks just hatched that she should be promoted at the earliest opportunity.”

Now, you may not know this but this is all very, VERY serious business.  The future of the new global order hinges on this.  Imagine if our future best Paranoidistan negotiator could not get promoted to fulfill his/her destiny because his/her boss did not know how to make him walk on water?  Um, excuse us, because he/she did not know how to make himself/herself walk on water in DS-1829 or DS-5055 or whatever the form is called these days.  Imagine destiny denied due to bad writing.  Yes, that would be awful.  Still, just between us, we happen to think that something drastic needs to be done about this process.  Because — see, how can everyone all be performing in an absolutely outstanding manner? Even that screamer.  Even that micromanager.  Even that arse-kiss ….

And that’s not all — apparently “a misplaced comma or misused word can [snip] rile a promotion panel to the extent that it passes over the employee for promotion.”

So you work your arse off and is absolutely showing potential for the next higher responsibility but because of a misplaced comma on your EER, the promotion panel toasts you crazy? Like — yo, misplaced comma, you’re so busted! They’re also the comma police?

Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews!

A recreation of the logo for the first America...

A recreation of the logo for the first American Survivor season, Survivor: Borneo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pardon?  Oh, housemate wants to know what planet have moi been living in the past 30 years. After all people have been complaining about this like forEVER, so he’s fairly sure that nothing will be done about this. Why? ‘Cuuz — during the last go-round, they reportedly made the performance appraisal more efficient and user-friendly (oh, hello ePerformance, you wonderful bureaucratic nightmare!). There’s no mention on making the process effective; just efficient. Something you gotta love!

The EER issue makes a routine appearance on the trade publication.  One September issue of the Foreign Service Journal had something on this. One of the letters (Through the Looking Glass, September 2009) was a comment on a previously published article on the journal (EERs: The Forgotten Front in the War for Talent). The letter writer whose name was withheld by request is a Foreign Service employee at an unnamed post in Africa. That in itself is quite telling:

This spring, I proofread many Employee Evaluation Reports and did not see a single negative statement — even in the one for my office’s former Office Management Specialist, whom I’ll call “Janet.” Janet was assigned to cover the phones in our busy office, but spent half the day in the hall chatting with friends. When she was at her desk, surfing the Web was one of her prime activities. She worked with us until the head of our office told the human resources director at post that he never wanted to see her again. HR moved Janet to another office, where she has continued to be unmotivated and uncaring.

Janet’s EER rater joked to me that he’d had to include her participation in a local 5K race as an achievement because it was so difficult to come up with anything good to say about her work. Apparently, being nice is much more important than being truthful.

After only one year with the Foreign Service, I’ve come to a depressing conclusion: because FS personnel aren’t actually evaluated, we are just like Soviet factory workers — lacking any incentive to excel.

Soviet factory workers, huh? A little outdated and a tad harsh, but we understand the sentiment.

A more recent Speaking Out piece, also in the Foreign Service Journal calculated the hours spent on EERs for each employee at 15 hours and the cumulative hours spent on EERs by the entire agency at 180,000 hours a year; the equivalent of 22,500 workdays, 61 calendar years or 90 working years.  You can read yourself scared silly about that on the FSJ September 20012 issue [See Overhauling the EER Process).

The FSO who wrote the article helpfully points out:

We need a system that significantly reduces the amount of time and energy it takes to produce a review, freeing up that time to pursue the important work of diplomacy and development. It should also accurately and fairly evaluate employees and, without overstating their accomplishments, produce EERs that enable promotion panels to identify high-performing employees.

Please do not think that there are no great workers out there. There are. And it is a disservice to them and all who spend far too much time making things work and doing things right (as oppose to just doing things) not to have an effective performance evaluation system. The heart of the problem is that supervisors with some exceptions lack the spine to do the right thing when it comes to performance evaluation. They’d rather let things slide than document a bad performance (let the next guy deal with dat) or conduct real counseling, cuz that can get complicated, and you might end up in the grievance board, or some elsewhere place you don’t really want to be. Or if they have the spine and they don’t play the game, their ratees suffer as a consequence since others then play the inflationary board game much better. See the problem there?

The performance review, if you look under the rug is an exercise in artful rhetoric.

Did you hear about that one where Front Office executives gave a Section Chief a glowing EER complete with fireworks, only to be contradicted with a firehose by an inspection evaluation review from the OIG?  The Front Office rater and reviewer talked about ratee as a big deal mentor and leader, and almost everyone else at post unfortunately, told the OIG inspectors the exact opposite. As you might imagine, the case ended up as part of the Grievance Board statistics.

On a related note, over at Foreign Policy (registration required), commenters on Nicholas Kralev’s recent piece  had some fun:

Geo Frick Frack:  “… The successes are exaggerated, and the failures are obscured or explained away. Yet most have wonderful evaluations and the occasional award….”

SKB: Go ahead and give yourself a Franklin Award.  This round is on me.  😉

Geo Frick Frack: Thanks. I’ll repay the favor with a Group MHA.

Anyway —  in keeping with belt tightening and the “Bank of Afghanistan R Us” spending bandwagon, let’s introduce one  money saver here — what if EERs become “Energy Expended Ratings” without the calorie counter in a pedometer?  Wouldn’t it be perfectly normal and acceptable to rate the energy expended in a 5K race, surfing the web, etc. ? Just think — no more excessive time wasted on drafting, revising, reviewing, beautifying, soliciting global input from  friends on the other side of the world on EER texts, or editing, finalizing, what have you, tinkering with these reports.

Imagine the “personhours” saved!  Sorry, we get an itch everytime we hear “manhours” so we try to avoid using that term.

Another possible money saver?  Just do away with convening the promotion boards.  Why not just let folks toss out colleagues and bosses in an “EER Survivor” reality show via BNET? Something like “outwit, outplay, outlast.”  A real 360 degree feedback without those wacky questions; and even wackier answers from BFFs and uber friendly colleagues and subordinates.

You think this would really be more difficult than the process that is now in place? Um, don’t know. We will executive produce it if you want to try it …

What about make-up artists?

What? Oh, no, no! The EER Survivor Reality Show has no line item for make-up artists.  All wrinkles will be up close and personal;  no airbrushing allowed for mediocre performance, either.  Of course, the reality show will also have a “classified” or at a minimum, “SBU” (sensitive but classified) viewers’ ratings so members of the media, bloggers in pajamas and nosy taxpayers will not be able to use it as a date-night excuse.  But the good news is — it’ll be available for viewing at the cafeteria!

How about it — these are great money savers and fantastic ideas, if we may say so ourselves?  Anyone?  ANYONE out there?

BTW, one of our former bosses wanted to become ambassador one day and declined the invitation.

But.. but… boss, you’ll be on tee-vee!!

sig4

P.S. No EER was harmed in the writing of this blog post.