Saturday, February 20, 2010

CASAS: It's Time to Change the Culture

Lest you think I exaggerated in my post about "Some People", you need to read this post over at Calling A Spade A Spade. Actually, read it even if you didn't think I exaggerated.

Here's some of what he said:

Do you see what I'm getting at here? The spinelessness that holds you back from an honest employee assessment is part and parcel of the same hesitation we have at delivering truth to foreign powers -- to our long-term detriment.

The U.S. Department of State is in need of a fundamental cultural makeover. But there's another problem: if you decide to stand on principle and deliver honest feedback in response to 360 inquiries, write forthright assessments of your subordinates, write awards only when they are truly deserved, then you disadvantage those you work with, because everyone else is playing the game.

He's right. I have never gotten a Superior Honor award. I think I may have deserved one maybe once. I have gotten some Meritorious Honor awards I deserved and some for reasons that had little to do with me. I have seen people who have gotten nearly A DOZEN Superior Honor awards. These are individual and limited in quantity. So what was this person doing to help his subordinates? How was he working as a team player? It sounds instead like he was stealing all the sunlight from those around him, since I doubt anyone is REALLY that good.

I know another who also got lots of Superior Honor awards. He wrote his own EER, made his boss sign it, then cut and paste part of the text into an award nomination and got his boss to sign it. His boss was apparently afraid to say no.

We don't have honesty in our evaluation system and can't until we change the culture and have it across the board. Because partial honesty means you risk harming good officers while mediocre or worse rise to the top . As CASAS says, everyone else is playing the game.

And honest assessment doesn't mean encouraging good officers to be spineless to get ahead. As I said over at CASAS, I had a supervisor once try to put as my area for improvement that I was blunt. That he thought this was an undervalued quality in the Service but that he feared it might hurt my career (so what that means is, I think this is good but really you are better off to lie?).

I made him change it, not because it isn't true (it is...I am blunt, appropriately I think), but because it isn't an area I feel the need to improve. And if you are going to give me an honest assessment, awesome, but don't do it in the form of telling me (and the reviewers) that I need to change something you don't really think I need to change but your fear for my career tells you that you think I should change anyway. It probably means I won't make Ambassador, but if I finish my career having had fun jobs (whether career enhancing or not) and with my integrity in tact, I'll be happy. But I don't think that is true of most.


Matt Keene said...

I had to re-draft the second part of my post when my computer crapped out and neglected to re-insert the bit about awards. So glad you brought it up. The awards system is a microcosm of the larger problem, isn't it? Who among us hasn't worked at a post where when one half the embassy got awards at a ceremony, everyone knew it was the other half's "turn" next time around. And God forbid you actually only draft awards when they're merited. Then you look like a cold-hearted bastard who hamstrings his subordinate's careers for the sake of your own principles.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about integrity and having had good, enjoyable jobs. I had a rater put something in the area for improvement that I disagreed with, but I let it stay because I felt was his honest appraisal and advice for me. Ah, to be so naive. That's the last time I did that!

Alex said...

Very insightful for someone about to start this career. Thanks for your honesty!