UNITED NATIONS. SPEAKING FRANKLY -- BAN KI-MOON URGES BETTER PERFORMANCE

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2008

SPEAKING FRANKLY -- BAN KI-MOON URGES BETTER PERFORMANCE

During a "retreat" of senior U.N. officials in Turin over the Labor Day weekend, on Friday 29 August to be precise, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon took the opportunity to speak frankly, sincerely and clearly about his experience since taking over in January 2007. The transcript of that "call for action" was made available on 2 September to a limited number of recipients by the Executive Office of the Secretary General. It is being reproduced, due to its indicative significance.

Posted: Tuesday, 2 September 2008, Turin | Author: EOSG

In the evening of Friday, 29 August, the Secretary-General spoke to senior officials at the retreat in Turin, Italy, about how they can lead in transforming the Organization. Below is a transcript of his remarks.

"This evening, if I may, I would like to return to the theme with which we began today's discussions. We spoke about our vision for the coming year. We discussed how to make our UN more modern -- faster, more flexible and responsive.

We agreed that our focus must be on results -- on action, delivery and effectiveness. We also agreed, above all, that the only way to change the culture of the UN is through teamwork.

I invited you to reflect on how well our team is doing. I wanted us to be frank and open with one another, even blunt, to speak from the heart.

As we enjoy this excellent meal, let us sit back, then, and take stock.

We have many reasons to be satisfied with our progress. But let me speak this evening about what has most frustrated me over the past year, and continues to frustrate me today.

We all know the UN is a huge bureaucracy. Coming here, 20 months ago, that prospect did not bother me. After all, I was Korean foreign minister. I spent many years in large organizations.

Trust me. I knew how to play the game.

Then I arrived in New York. There is bureaucracy, I discovered -- and then there is the UN.

We must admit this. We must acknowledge how resistant we are to change. It cripples us in our most important job -- to function as a team.

As a manager, as a leader, what I have always valued most is teamwork. In choosing my senior advisers, I have always cared less about a person's intellectual attainments than his or her ability to work well with others. I always ask myself: how will this person help promote teamwork, the sense of working together as one.

Here at the UN, unfortunately, I see people too often putting their own interests first. I see too many turf fights, too much intramural wrangling, too much protectiveness of the status quo.

People forget. It is precisely the status quo, "the way things are done" -- that we are trying to change. Why should we be so afraid to change?

I made these points last year, forcefully. But I see little evidence of a change in mindset. As a team, we are still too process-oriented. We get too bogged down in internal or bureaucratic technicalities. We waste incredible amounts of time on largely meaningless matters.

People forget. The clock is ticking. We are one-third the way through our mandate.

People forget. We are here to act. We are here to deliver results. We are agents of change.

Our job is to change the UN -- and, through it, the world.

This is the big picture. I am frustrated by our failure, so often, to see it.

Department heads squabble among themselves over posts and budgets and bureaucratic prerogatives, as though as they somehow owned them. But our departments, agencies and programmes are not personal fiefdoms.

We are just passing through. We are temporary caretakers.

Always, we must keep the larger interests of the organization at the forefront of our minds. We must work together and compromise to reach solutions that are in the best interests of the UN and the global public good.

I am frustrated even more by our slowness. By the micro-managing of our Secretariat. By business as usual.

We often complain that Member States micro-manage us. But I have found over the past 20 months that it is more us, rather than Member States, who are the micro-managers.

As I said this morning, we must change our UN culture. We must move faster. Simplify. Deregulate. De-centralize. Break down barriers and create more mobility within the organization, so that we can draw more fully on the talents of our staff.

I mention staff mobility, because it illustrates the problem. How often do we hear the lament: "O, if only we had more resources. If only we had more people or more money."

Well, we do not have more posts and more money. Ten to 20 years from now, we will still be complaining about shortages of resources. We must do better with what we have. Key to that is better use of our staff, with better training. And the best training is mobility and breadth of experience.

That is why I have turned over almost 100 percent of my staff on the 38th floor. We hired new people from inside the UN and from outside, from other departments at headquarters and from faraway field postings. What we might have lost in institutional memory we have more than made up for in new energy.

And in the end, that is what counts. Energy. Dynamism -- the dynamism that drives change. If water does not flow, what happens? It grows stagnant. I want continuous change, dynamism, creativity.

I tried to lead by example. Nobody followed.

hat is why I have now challenged the new USGs for Management and Human Resources to come up with a plan.

Soon, we will be launching a new pilot program in inter-departmental mobility. You will hear more about it from Angela Kane and Catherine Pollard.

But bear in mind this revealing statistic, which sums up our problem: of some 900 UN employees surveyed for this initiative, 720 have been on the job more than five years -- and many considerably longer.

The UN has tried to change before. Guidelines for mobility were written in the 1970s. Our current policies were launched in 2002. But nothing has happened. My challenge to you -- let me be very clear -- is to deal with this all-important issue, decisively.

In the past, I have joked -- or half-joked -- about resorting to "shock therapy." Perhaps we should "mobilize" by fiat and simply direct DPA and DPKO to simply swap 20 percent of their staff.

So, in our deliberations, I ask you: how are you doing on mobility? How can you do better, so that a year from now we will have accomplished what we need to accomplish.

I urge you to ask the same tough questions about other vital issues, such as gender equality and budget management.

Above all, I invite you to ask: am I doing my best for the team?

Do not mistake me. I value independence. Initiative too. But we must remember that independence is not absolute. We are part of one organization, one UN. Independence does not free us from the need for consultation and collaboration and teamwork.

There are no exceptions, even in offices intended to be the most independent. Those of us who act otherwise need a personal reality check. Ego may be getting in our way.

When we work for the UN -- when you work for me -- please leave your ego at the door.

Today's most vibrant enterprises are networks. Let us build networks within the UN to break down bureaucracy.

I made this point last year, and I do so again. In our work together, I want you to cross lines. I want you to consult colleagues beyond the usual sphere, connect throughout our organization. Instead of commissioning subordinates to write long and dense memos -- scarcely ever read -- pick up the phone. Come to my office, or the residence on weekends. Sit down with me.

Go see colleagues and sit down with them. Amazing work gets done when two senior people sit down for five minutes and decide something.

Our work is urgent. Let us infuse it with a sense of speed and urgency -- the passion of accomplishment. Let us not confuse our inner world -- the physical halls of this UN -- with the real world. Let us always put real-world results ahead of bureaucratic UN process.

When you are trying to do something that is tough, when you are trying to change the status quo, people will resist. Your subordinates will come to you and whisper in your ear.

"Boss," they will say. "Your leadership will be undermined. We will lose power within the organization. Resources will be taken away by So and So."

Don't listen to them. They are thinking of their own position or benefit, not the larger interest of the UN, or what we are trying to accomplish as a team.

This is what I told the opposing parties in Kenya. Compromise. Give way to one another. This is the way to make friends, gain good will and trust. Whether it is two months or two years, you will be compensated.

Remember: often as not, losing can be winning, and giving is gaining. This I know. It is what brought me to become Secretary-General. It is my life philosophy.

When I leave this place, I will be remembered for what I managed to accomplish. How many countries I visited, how many presidents I met, the fine words I uttered -- none of that will matter.

So it is for you. In the end, we will all be judged not only by what we do in our own departments, but by the successes of the UN as a whole.

We left Torino last year determined to build a Stronger UN for a Better World. This year, we must take stock of how we have done, and where we can improve.

One UN is not a slogan. It is a management imperative. It is the first principle of effectiveness. It is the thing I will watch most closely.

We must all be on notice: working together shall be the litmus test of your success in heading our departments, agencies and programs.

I know you agree. That's why you are here -- because, in your previous lives, you demanded excellence and got results. Now it is time for us to bring your abilities fully to bear -- together -- on the world's problems.