Incompetency among staff

Being the victim of this in Australia – I can tell you it exists everywhere. Just why it took a career civil servant so long to recognize it is a good question.

I have been waiting three and a half years for a civil servant to perform an 8 week job! Here they get an annual ‘Performance bonus” for doing nothing. Only time I’d be happy to pay that was to a Policeman who said “I have ensured there is no crime”.

The manager sends an email – staff ignore it and the manager never checks whether his request to do some work was ever followed. The manager’s manager is asleep or playing golf.

Reminds me of the recent : Spanish civil servant skips work for years without anyone noticing – I must check the rollcall of the dozen ‘Civil servants’ and see who is related to Joaquín García in Spain!

A former United States ambassador to New Zealand was deeply concerned by incompetency among some staff in Wellington and Apia, according to official emails.

A batch of emails to and from Hillary Clinton was released by the US Department of State in February and includes a series from former New Zealand and Samoa ambassador David Huebner, who was appointed in 2009.

Emails were copied to the former United States secretary of state, who is ahead in the race for the Democratic nomination in the presidential campaign to succeed President Barack Obama.

In 2010, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited New Zealand. From left: Rose White Tahuparae, Clinton and then-US Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner.

Huebner was deeply concerned by the attitude, culture and competency of some senior staff based at the embassy and consulate in Wellington and Apia, Samoa.
In an email written in 2012, Huebner said he was having recurring problems.

After six months of difficulties, the duties of three “destructive” staff were curtailed.

“In a nutshell, a surprisingly high number of the officers assigned to senior management positions in Wellington and Apia are unprepared to actually manage their sections or teams.

“I am not talking about people of intermediate skill being assigned to positions requiring them to stretch a bit.

“I am talking about people who exhibit no understanding of management processes, dynamics, or requirements being put into positions of authority, and who thus affirmatively disrupt the operation of the missions and harm American interests.

“I do not make that last statement lightly.”

The emails were sent to senior diplomats in the US Department of State and to Clinton, who was receptive to Huebner’s overtures.

“Really well done. Let’s discuss,” an email from Clinton said.

Huebner’s email continues with a critique of 10 senior staffers in Wellington and Apia, four of whom were working at an impressive level but five people were well below acceptable competency.

The poor performance of some staff created serious issues with morale, staff retention and performance issues for junior officers and “locally engaged staff”.

Huebner, who was actively involved in recruitment, attributed the problem to “low ambition” postings in the south Pacific attracting “lifestyle” officers.

“I thought that such active involvement would correct the problem, which I had attributed to New Zealand and Samoa simply attracting a disproportionate share of ‘lifestyle’ or ‘problem’ officers because the posts have for the past two decades been low-activity, low-ambition outposts.

“I am finding, however, that many, thus far, a third of the incoming officers share the management skills deficit despite having strong 360s [prior performance appraisals], excellent CVs, and prior positions that would have involved leading teams.”

Huebner said there were a number of core skills and attributes that staff were struggling to meet, such as a “startling” lack of supervision skills, poor time management, an inability to prioritise and “profound disinterest” in mentoring.

Human resources exhibited “surprising clumsiness” relating to morale and, in many cases, just avoided the issues.

The most serious issue was a passive staff culture, a focus on process, rather than active and oriented to results.

Many junior officers and local staff were excellent but middle and upper management were different. His most serious concerns related to attitude and culture, such as staff being incurious about upcoming anniversaries of formal United States-New Zealand relations.

“I am, however, deeply concerned with the serious – and inexplicable – skills deficits that we continue to encounter at the upper-mid and senior levels.

“I am raising the issue again now because certain of my “new” officers share the dysfunctions of the legacy officers when I arrived, and I fear that the significant advances made at Missions New Zealand and Samoa – and consequently in our bilateral relations with those two nations – may and likely will evaporate under a less-hands-on or more culturally-casual COM.” [Chief of mission]

Huebner was succeeded in 2014 by ambassador Mark Gilbert, the incumbent.

Gilbert, in a statement, said he was extremely pleased and proud of the current embassy team.

“Our staff in Wellington, Auckland, and Apia are outstanding, consistent with the excellent relationships we have with New Zealand and Samoa.

“In fact, we have the largest and most professional staff we have ever had, which is a testament to the importance of our partnerships with New Zealand and Samoa and the vital work we do together every day.”