The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Marc Grossman interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
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Marc Grossman
Radio show date: 
Thu, 11/16/2000
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Missions and Program; Human Capital Management ...

Missions and Program; Human Capital Management

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Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, November 16, 2000

Mr. Lawrence: Good evening, and welcome to the Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the endowment, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our special guest tonight is Mark Grossman, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Director of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State.

Welcome, Mark.

Mr. Grossman: Good evening. Thank you very much for having me.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us tonight in our conversation is Patty Fisher, also a PwC partner. Welcome, Patty.

Ms. Fisher: Good evening, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Mark, in this first segment, we'd like to begin by talking about your career. We understand you joined the Foreign Service in 1976 and have held various positions since then. Could you tell us about some of these positions in your career?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I'd be glad to, and first, let me thank you very much for this opportunity. I did join the Foreign Service in 1976 and have had the opportunity to serve in Pakistan as my first post and then back in Washington, in various positions in the State Department. I've served again in Belgium and twice in Turkey, and most recently was the Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs, and just before that had the good fortune to be the U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

Ms. Fisher: Mark, what drew you to public service?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I felt at the time when I look back now on 1976, I really felt I wanted to do something for my country. As you'll remember, it was in the end of the Vietnam War and many of us didn't have the opportunity to serve, and I felt I really had an obligation to the United States. And I had been abroad and I thought that this would be a good combination. I could get to see something of the world and serve my country at the same time.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you still think it's an attractive career choice for people now?

Mr. Grossman: Oh, absolutely, and when I'm asked this by people who are considering it, I tell them without reservation that it's a good thing. I mean, we don't pay, maybe, as much as somebody in the private sector, but I always tell people that the difference is you get to work in an office where the American flag flies, and I think that's worth a lot. And the things that drew me into the Foreign Service were things such as service to the public, service to the United States, service to American citizens, and really service to those of us in the Service, in other words, to our own small family. I think these are still compelling reasons to be in the State Department, whether you're in the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

Mr. Lawrence: What do you study in school to get attracted to the State Department?

Mr. Grossman: Well, luckily, we have people from all kinds of backgrounds. And one of the things that I would never do was to say that you have to be from one kind of background to be in the Foreign Service. I really believe that it's the diversity of the United States, whether that means race or background or gender or what you studied in college, which makes the Foreign Service such a good representative of the United States. When we sit around a table and try to solve a problem, it's a good thing to have varying opinions and various views. And whether someone was educated as a lawyer or went to school and got a doctorate in English or, myself, went to UC-Santa Barbara and I did do political science, all of those I think are good for the United States if they're all brought together.

So we're looking for people with a broad background, with a lot of common sense, and a desire to serve their country.

Ms. Fisher: Mark, you've seen so many issues and been to so many places. What management challenges would you say best served you and gave you opportunities to develop as a leader?

Mr. Grossman: Well, it's a fair question. It's like two or three things. First of all, I have come to believe I'm toward, maybe, the end of my career. I don't know, but I've been in the Foreign Service now 26 years, and I've come to believe that one of the things that we must do a better job at is marrying responsibility for policy and resources. I've had the good fortune to work for people and work in places where I was given that responsibility. I wasn't just doing "the policy" or wasn't just doing "the money" or "the people," I was trying to do both. And I believe that if the State Department is going to change really into a more modern institution, we have to deal with that.

The second thing is I had the good fortune in my career to be assistants to two tremendous people. One was Lord Carrington, who was the Secretary General of NATO, and also John Whitehead, who I'm sure many of your listeners know as having been the head of Goldman Sachs for 10 years, but was also the Deputy Secretary of State. And the thing that they gave to me more than anything else was a joy of decision-making. They wanted to go and decide things. They didn't want to go to meetings to have meetings, they wanted to know what was on the agenda to decide, and it gave me a confidence that I could decide things, I should decide things, and that I wanted to decide things. And that's something I'm grateful to them and certainly something that's stood me, I hope, in good stead in my career.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, perhaps using those two men as examples, what are the other qualities that you've observed as key characteristics of good leaders?

Mr. Grossman: Well, again, I think decisiveness is one, but the flip side as well, which is that you have to let other people make decisions and you have to be ready to, kind of, be big enough to recognize that you've got to hire people that are smarter and better than you are and let them do their own jobs. And I think, also, as Whitehead taught me, you must also recognize that if people make 500 or 600 decisions in a week, not every single one of them is going to be right.

And he and I used to have actually quite a nice thing for me, more for him, I guess, which was to say when I made a mistake, he wanted me to come in and say three things. One, he wanted to know the enormity of it. How bad was it? Give him the whole story. Second thing, what had I done to fix that mistake? And third, what did I learn from making that mistake so at least I wouldn't make that one again?

And his rule was that if you could give him the three sentences in, sort of clear, commonsensical way, that was enough. You got credit for making the decision. He recognized that you'd made a mistake, but we were prepared to go on from there, and I've tried to live that way since I had the good fortune to work for him.

Mr. Lawrence: How did he get comfortable with the people around him making decisions? Often that's a very difficult thing for managers to do.

Mr. Grossman: Well, he taught me -- and, again, I've tried very hard to emulate this -- the belief that he could only be in one place at a time, but if he had the right kind of people working for him, it essentially allowed his influence. I hope my influence now is that I have the good fortune to be a responsible party to be in many, many more places simultaneously. I can only sit behind my desk and make one telephone call at a time or be on one radio show at a time. But I'm hoping that back at my office, all the people who we've worked together with now and tried to inculcate with our values are making the right decisions and I don't need to be there. I need to just believe that they're going to do right, and that's what we ask people to do.

Mr. Lawrence: Does that lead your being deeply involved in the hiring so that you are familiar with the people on your staff?

Mr. Grossman: Very much so. One of the things about being the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources is I get to be involved in hiring anyway. (Laughter) But certainly, if realtors believe its location, location, location, I mean, for us anyway, it's people, people, people. And whether I was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Turkey or then the Ambassador to Turkey or the Assistant Secretary for European affairs, I spent a very large amount of time making sure that we had the right people working for the organization. Otherwise, it was hopeless, absolutely hopeless.

Mr. Lawrence: As you look over your career, do you think the top qualities of leaders have changed over time?

Mr. Grossman: I don't know about the qualities of leadership because, again, you're back to decisiveness and the ability to delegate, but certainly some of the things that leaders need to know have changed. I joined the Foreign Service, well, it seems like a long time ago now. And being technologically able, I don't say adept, but able, wasn't at all a quality you needed in 1976, but you sure need it now. I don't mean to say that you have to be a technician, but you have to understand the capacity of technology to help you.

And secondly, to go back to the point we were making before with Patty, is that this combination of ability to manage resources and policy simultaneously is something also that I think is new, and did not exist or probably should have existed, but didn't exist when I joined the Foreign Service.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think these qualities will change as we look out to leaders in this century?

Mr. Grossman: I think leaders of the next century, certainly in my business, will face the kind of challenges that we really can't even see, not so much in the profession of diplomacy, but in the challenges to America's democracy. And if you look at the 18 or 19 things in the State Department's strategic plan today, you see things that are traditional; make sure that we're protecting the United States, no regional conflicts, and protect American citizens abroad. But if you look at the other things that are on that list, you know, stop trafficking in women and children, stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, make sure that there's more democracy in this world, and make sure that we have a sustainable environment, sustainable economic growth, those are not the issues I was dealing with 25 years ago. I tell new officers now that I envy them because they're going to be pioneers in diplomacy and a profession I'm not even sure we can even see yet.

Mr. Lawrence: And because the issues will be so new, will that give them more opportunities to make decisions like you talked about, or will it require more training to understand how complex all these things are before they can get the opportunities that you described you had?

Mr. Grossman: Paul, I think the answer to that question is both. One of the things that the State Department needs to do right now is get more serious about training. If you compare my biography to a biography of a military officer who's kind of a similar age or similar rank, what's the difference? Well, he or she in the military has been trained repeatedly and properly so, and I really have not had the benefit of that so, we've got to deal with that question.

And then on the other side, I think it'll allow people to make many more decisions because all the things we got to do now are active things. We're no longer just advising the Secretary of State on what she should say to the then-Soviet foreign minister. You're actually doing something.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Mark Grossman, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Director of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State. And joining me in the conversation is another PwC partner, Patty Fisher.

Patty?

Ms. Fisher: Mark, please tell us about your responsibilities as the Director General of the Foreign Service and also as the Director of Human Resources at the State Department.

Mr. Grossman: Well, Patty, it's one of those massive government titles where you think that the responsibilities must take pages and pages and pages. But the more I've thought about it, the more I believe that we can get what I am supposed to do down into a bumper sticker, a slightly larger bumper sticker, which is, we are charged with getting the right people in the right place at the right time with the right skills to carry out the President and the Secretary's foreign policy. And I know I probably should have some complicated answer for you, but that's really it. That's our job, and everybody who works in the Bureau of Human Resources works to that goal. They may do different pieces of it and they may see themselves to be more central or less central, but in the end that's what everybody is supposed to do.

Mr. Lawrence: And how do they do that?

Mr. Grossman: Well, we are responsible, in the Bureau of Human Resources, for everything from recruiting people to retiring them, for promoting them and sending them to the right place, and getting them to the right training. Every single thing that has to do with human resources really is our responsibility. And while I don't pretend to be a human resources specialist by any stretch of the imagination, what I tell people who work in my bureaus is I've been their customer for 25 years. (Laughter)

And so, I've got some views, and I think that's actually been quite a good combination. But, for example, whether we're trying to figure out new ways to recruit, new ways to retain people, new ways to honor people when they are promoted or when something happens to them, when we're dealing with the new issues in human resources of, you know, elder care and life care and all kinds of people's family situations, and then also trying to make sure that when people leave our service, they leave it with dignity and they leave it with someone who has said, "thank you" to them for their service to the United States.

Mr. Lawrence: Recently, you participated in a conference on the future of American diplomacy, sponsored by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government, and at that event you remarked that leading and supporting America's diplomacy in the 21st century will not be the same task it was during the first 24 years of your career. I wonder if you could explain this change.

Mr. Grossman: Sure. Well, I'd be glad to, and let me just take a minute to thank you very much for sponsoring that conference because I thought it was very useful, certainly for me. When I packed my kind of record albums, and I don't think probably anybody who's listening to this remembers what a record album is (Laughter), but when I packed my record albums to go to Pakistan in 1976, the foreign policy of the United States was about the Soviet Union, and that's what we did.

And now it's not about the Soviet Union anymore. As we were talking about a little bit earlier, it's about a whole range of new subjects, and diplomacy is going to have to deal with the new subjects. It won't be just, as I said before, writing points to give to the Secretary of State for her to speak, it'll be about our having to act and do things on the ground.

The other thing I would say is that we talked a little bit earlier about technology. Technology is also utterly changing the way that we do business. The Internet, the rapidity of information, the amount of information that you have, and trying to sift it to make sure that what you have is right; all those things, I think, are changing the way diplomats work and who they work with. And that would be my third point is, you know, when I started this business a long time ago, the number of nongovernmental organizations that we were dealing with was, a handful, and now there are hundreds. And that's what democracy is all about and that's been a huge change. So the amount of interaction between official diplomats and nongovernmental organizations, businesspeople, journalists, and all kinds of people who are involved now in foreign policy has just made a tremendous, tremendous difference to our lives. And I say, I want to be clear, I think that's a good thing and not a bad thing, and is a wonderful reflection on our democracy.

Mr. Lawrence: Why are there so many more sectors involved?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I think it goes back to the issues that we're dealing with. When this was just about the United States and the Soviet Union, we kind of had a monopoly on that deal. (Laughter) But when it's about trafficking in women and children or promoting democracy or sustainable development, well, we don't hold a lock on all the expertise or information in those areas. I mean, I would no more go out on a campaign in Turkey, for example, where I was the Ambassador, to work on enhancing democracy without having involved American NGOs and Turkish NGOs. These people who are in nongovernmental organizations, who know about democracy, and who know about their own countries are vital now to our ability to get the job done.

Ms. Fisher: Mark, a couple of years ago, the State Department commissioned a study on the war for talent. Could you tell us a little bit about the findings in that study and what the State Department has done to address those findings?

Mr. Grossman: The War for Talent Study, I think, opened our eyes a very great deal to two things. One is that we were in competition with the rest of the marketplace in the United States for talent. Like we were talking about before, we used to think that we had a monopoly on all the people who wanted to participate in international affairs. That isn't true anymore because if there are NGOs and other people who are working in the field now, they also need talent. So we're now in competition with people who want to be in international affairs and we need to understand that. So that was eye-opener, number one.

Second eye-opening thing, I felt anyway, from this study was the intimate connection between our ability to recruit the right people and work that we're doing to retain the right people. And these things seem to me, anyway, to be completely connected. If we're not doing a good job in retention, the word gets out that we're not a very good employer.

So we've tried very hard on both ends to see what we could do that's new. We're trying very hard to do a better job to reach out to a diverse and wider group of candidates for the Foreign Service, in particular. We're doing a much better job, I think, trying to reach out for Civil Service employees by offering them more training during their careers. We want very much to use technology to help us deal with these exams and the other ways we bring in people into the Foreign Service.

And then on retention, we are just kind of full bore trying to change the way that we hold onto people. And that means changing the way that we deal with their families, changing the way we deal with some of the more difficult things and the obstacles we put in people's way to work for the State Department. And if we can get on these things, I think we'll help ourselves, but we have just taken the war for talent as a theme for everything we do.

Then the other piece inside of that was talent management. You got to not only have a war for talent, but once you get the talent you have to manage the talent in some sensible way. And we have real challenges in both areas.

Mr. Lawrence: What is talent management, and how do you do it?

Mr. Grossman: Well, we're now kind of feeling our way forward on this, but clearly, what we need to do is recognize that people just don't come into the Foreign Service and pop out the other end; that something happens to them all through their careers and it shouldn't be pinball. It should be some idea of what it is that assignments and training and family and more and more responsibility are hooked together. I think in the private sector, people talk about succession management and we need to do a little bit more of that. Our life is a little bit harder because we're moving people constantly all over, so I don't think it would be as clean, perhaps, as in some other businesses, but we've got that challenge.

The other thing is in terms of talent management is we need very much to kind of focus in, again, as we were talking in the last segment about training. And the other thing that this study told us was that young people today, they want training, and we need to do a better job of that. So if we can put this package together, I think we'll be able not only, I think, to compete in the war for talent, but we'll also be able to do a lot better job in talent management.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. We'll be back in a few minutes with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Mark Grossman, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Director of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State. And joining me in the conversation is Patty Fisher, another PwC partner.

Patty?

Ms. Fisher: Mark, how can the State Department meet the needs of dual-career families given the complexities and the various locations around the world that you have to contend with?

Mr. Grossman: Well, Patty, we have two challenges actually. Challenge number one is to deal with the complexities of dual-career families, dual-career couples, who are both in the Foreign Service and I sort of, you know, make sure that all the information's out there. I'm part of a dual-career couple; my spouse is also a Foreign Service officer. So the first challenge, really, is to deal with two people in the Foreign Service at the same time, and we currently have about 1,000 people all in who are members of what we call tandem couples. That's probably not a very nice way to talk about it, but that's how we talk about it. And over the years, we've had to change many, many regulations and ways of doing business to deal with those issues as that number has grown. So, for example, in 1998, my predecessor, I think, did a wonderful job in reassessing our whole policy toward tandem couples and we try our best to send people to the same post. We do a much better job at this than we've done in the past, and I think that's a good thing.

We also, as your listeners, I think, would understand and need to make absolutely sure, though, that we're not disadvantaging those people who are not members of tandem couples, whose spouses are not in the Foreign Service. And that actually turns out to be a very tricky piece of business, as does making sure that we make -- as does making sure that we get all the nepotism rules right. And as people have gotten older, it was one thing when I was a junior officer and my wife was also a junior officer, but when I go out to be an ambassador suddenly, then that whole set of relationships as it applies to nepotism becomes quite tricky. And we've tried to deal with this in a way by just applying as much transparency as possible to any arrangements that we make. We try to make sure that both parts of the couple can work. Sometimes nepotism rules don't make that possible, but we do our best.

The other big challenge is the one you also raised, which is dual-career couples where one of the partners is not in the Foreign Service. And this is really an increasing challenge for us, and it goes back to the conversation we were having in our last segment about retention. I actually believe this is one of the key retention issues for us going forward. And we're going to have to just do a better job in making sure that employment opportunities are available for spouses and we've got some ideas here. We've negotiated now about 137 what we call, work agreements with foreign countries so that our spouses can work on the local economy. We have tried very hard to keep information flowing to those people who want to work so that they know how to apply, what's the best jobs for them.

But an experiment I'd like to try, and I hope to get it done early next year, is to spend some money on a pilot post, which I'd like actually to be Mexico, where we would just pay for a headhunter, and we would say to that headhunter, "we want you to work in Mexico City and we want you to help our spouses, who wish to work, get jobs." And we want to try that. I don't know, really. We're trying to figure out the expense and whether people would be interested in this. But I think if we can get that done, one, it would be a good morale booster and, two, it would be a very good experiment to see, actually, whether this might be applied worldwide.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you talked about some of the challenges recruiting employees, and I'm wondering how is the State Department using technology to recruit employees?

Mr. Grossman: Well, we're trying to use technology more and more, Paul, and we live now in a technological age. People are not interested in sending in a self-addressed, stamped envelope to find out what your business is like, they want to look on your Web site.

So we have revamped our Web site for recruiting. We have also tried now to get as many people as possible signed up for the Foreign Service written exam on the Internet. And I'm pleased to say that 78 percent of the people who took the test last Saturday did actually sign up online, and that's a good thing. It saved us, actually, a lot of money and, I imagine, seemed more modern to all of those people.

And the other thing that we've been experimenting with, which seems interesting to me, is we've also started, sort of, some chat rooms for people interested in the Foreign Service. And two times now with one of the Internet companies, I can't remember which one, we've actually announced and had a segment where we talked about the Foreign Service and people were able to ask questions, we were there to answer them. It worked out extremely, extremely well. And on the State Department Web site, we know that people are interested in this because after consular affairs, after the travel warnings and travel advisories, it's recruitment that gets the most hits on our web site.

Ms. Fisher: How does the State Department attract a more diverse workforce?

Mr. Grossman: It's something we need to do a much better job of. One of the ways that we hope to do that is to more actively go out into communities where we think that that diverse workforce lives. Now, I have what's called Diplomats in Residence who go out to various universities around the country, but I don't have enough of them. And one of the things we want to do is get more Diplomats in Residence and then target them in areas, whether that's the Southwest or in places that are historically African-American colleges, other places, so we can bring in a diverse workforce. And to go back to Paul's point, I also think that technology ought to help us here to spread out our net a lot wider.

The other program that we're very, very proud of, and again, set up by Secretary Albright and my predecessor, is what's called the Foreign Affairs Fellows, which is for disadvantaged students who we are actually paying for a certain amount of their education in return for, just like ROTC, a certain amount of service in the State Department. That program has worked extremely well. We have 56 Foreign Affairs Fellow and graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow people in the State Department now, and that number, I think, is going to grow.

The other place we found where we can really have an impact on diversity is by aggressively using interns. I don't know how it is in your business, but in the summertime, you know, the interns run our department. And those interns now, if we can attract them from a diverse community, what do you know, they get interested in the State Department, they like their experience with the Department, and then they're prepared to come back. And so I've asked our people to be much more aggressive in following up with interns if you come to us, whether you're a sophomore in college or a junior in college. We then ought to pursue you to take the test or become part of the Foreign Affairs Fellows program.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you talked about some of the challenges of working with spouses who are both in the Foreign Service, and what I'm wondering about is the balance between work and family. How about families within the Foreign Service and the challenges they face?

Mr. Grossman: One of the things I believe that has changed for the better in the Foreign Service and really at the State Department, not just the Foreign Service, but our Civil Service colleagues, as well since I joined, is there's a much better balance now between work and family, and I think that's a good thing. We are trying our very best to pay attention to Foreign Service families in the same way that our military colleagues are paying much more attention to military families. I mean, we ask people to go abroad, sometimes into very difficult circumstances, and the employee goes to work during the day. They work in an English-speaking, American-looking office all day, but the family is out there, and we need to do a lot more training. We need to provide more language training. We need to provide, through our Overseas Briefing Center, a much larger ability for people to manage that.

The other thing that has really now become a big issue for us, and I would assume for you all, as well, is the whole question of looking after elderly parents. I mean, here again is something that when I joined the Foreign Service 26 years ago, it really wasn't much of an issue. But certainly when I was the ambassador to Turkey, when I was the Assistant Secretary for European affairs, what do we see? More and more and more people with these responsibilities.

And so again, we have just instituted a new program called Life Care, which is really based on a program of elder care to provide for people overseas the information and support that they need if they're faced with having to manage the challenges of an elderly parent. This is an increasing challenge, and I know it's not one that we have alone, but when you're out there in Bangladesh, it's magnified and we really need to step up to our responsibility.

Ms. Fisher: Mark, you mentioned a goal of increasing training, but I am aware that you do offer quite a bit of training today. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Mr. Grossman: We offer a large array of training. Obviously, we do a lot of language training and then we do a lot of job-specific training. If you're going to go out to be an administrative officer at one of our embassies, we can send you to a course for administrative officers. The big breakthrough in the last year, though, and here I give full credit to Ruth Davis, who was also at the conference that you sponsored the other week, is she's opened now a leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute. And her belief is that if she can get people in training from the very beginning of their career, all the way through their careers, we'll do a much better job in having the right kind of managers, and so I'm a huge supporter of this effort.

One of the things that, you know, we say to people is that we have kind of a 19th-century view of the profession of diplomacy, which is that anybody can do it and that somehow any amateur can come and be a diplomat, and I don't think that's right. And we, though, have to take the first step to show that it isn't right by being aggressive, being active, and then requiring the right kind of training for our people. Again, I don't know how it is in your business, but we often make a mistake of asking people to take management positions before they've been trained to do it and then we wonder why they don't do so well. Well, that's not their fault; that's really the responsibility of the business in your case or the institution in our case.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, speaking of becoming a diplomat, could you briefly explain the oral and written exam that you take to become part of the Foreign Service and how those might change?

Mr. Grossman: Well, right now, the written exam is really an effort to take a large number of people who are interested and bring that number down to a manageable number of people to interview. And we gave the test this year last November the 4th, just a couple of weeks ago, and we had 13,000 people sign up, we're very pleased with that, and about 3,000 people will pass that test. And we'll ask those 3,000 people to come in various forms and times to have an oral interview next spring. And so, we'll work through that process and then I hope we'll be able to offer 700 or 800 of those people jobs. The budget is still a question mark, but that's our target.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay, great. Well, hold that thought and we'll come back with the rest of that answer in just a minute. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Mark Grossman, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Director of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State. And joining me is another PwC partner, Patty Fisher.

Mark, in this last segment, we would like to talk about the future, and we all know that technology and especially the advances are changing our society. And my question is, how has technology affected your work at the State, and how do you see it changing your work in the future?

Mr. Grossman: I think it'll change the work that diplomats do, maybe beyond all recognition in some ways. Let me give you two examples.

First, we are right now still an organization in which you are, and how would I put this, in which you are rewarded for how clever you are in obtaining information rather than how important that information is to the team, and that has to change. And there are many examples in government, and I hope sometimes now in the State Department, as well, where people are trying to change that attitude. I guess the term of art is to become a knowledge-based organization and that's what we need to become. Information and people are the two most important assets that we have, and we need to manage both of them better. And we need to start managing information by recognizing that everybody has to be part of the information chain if we're going to go forward.

The second thing is, I believe, that how we deal with information to our public, not the American public only, but to our foreign public as well, has to become much more technologically adept. Let me give you an example of that. During the war in Kosovo, in Sweden we have a wonderful, wonderful far-sighted ambassador in Sweden, and he decided to put up a web site so he could get out information on the American perspective on what we were doing in Kosovo. So they stood this web site up one of the months of the Kosovo war, and in a month, had 10 million hits. There are 4 million Swedes. So this ability to reach large numbers of people, I think, is going to change in very many ways the work that diplomats do. We're going to have to do a lot more media, a lot more dealing with people, and a lot more use of technology.

Ms. Fisher: Aside from the technology and being able to manage information, it seems to me that diplomats have to have a knowledge base that just expands so many subject matters. What kind of skills do you require to gain that kind of knowledge?

Mr. Grossman: Well, Patty, I think I'd step back a minute, though, and think about what the value-added is of the diplomat and certainly someone from the State Department. And again, we're here talking about overseas, and we haven't really focused very much on our Civil Service colleagues, but that's important, too. But overseas, what's the value-added of someone from the State Department? The value-added is someone who can provide context. What's all this mean? You know, what does it mean to live in Turkey or Belgium or Bangladesh or China? And as other parts of the United States government, all the other parts of the executive branch who are working there need context. How do I do this? How do I manage this?

And the other thing that we provide in terms of value-added is we integrate foreign policy. So yes, there are people from many other government agencies, but the integrator of that policy really is the Department so diplomats have then two challenges. One is to be able to make that value-added in terms of context and integration and also to know enough about subjects to be serious. And that's why I say the training is now so much more important. If you look, as we were talking about earlier, at the 18 or 19 strategic goals of the United States, nobody joins the Foreign Service, nobody joins the State Department able to understand, manage, or lead in all of those areas, and we need to train for that. And also, as we were talking about before about the study that was done, I mean, heck, we're not going to attract people unless we can attract them through training. So I think if we keep focused on what the goal is, if we keep focused on what our value-added is, and then fill in and recognize that, as you say, we've got to make sure we're up to date with the challenges that the United States faces, I think we'll be all right.

Mr. Lawrence: We sort of posed my next question, which is, what type of training will be needed to get these skills?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I think two kinds of training, really three. One is, I don't want to leave this program without saying that the kind of training we do now in languages, in skill-specific training are unimportant; they really are. People ought to speak the language that they're going to. People ought to understand the technicalities of their jobs so that's one category of training.

But the second category is what we talked about in the last segment, which is leadership and management training. We have got to bring people up to their full potential when we ask them to lead other people. And so we've got to deal with that on a continuum across people's careers.

But third, I think goes back to the point that Patty was making. We need also to be training people to deal with all these new actors. I mean, you're not born with the ability to be on television. You're not born with the ability to manage your relations with nongovernmental organizations. You're not born with the ability to talk about scientific issues. You need to be able to do that as part of your professional development, and I think that's something that we will have to really focus in on. The diplomat of the future is going to have to do all of these things simultaneously. The days are gone when everybody's going to be, kind of, a specialist down some stovepipe. It isn't going to work.

Ms. Fisher: Mark, what advice would you give a young person contemplating a career in foreign diplomacy?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I obviously would tell them to come on down. (Laughter) I hope that we can get as many people as possible to be interested. And in a sense I don't mean to be argumentative, but I would make the pitch that it isn't foreign diplomacy, what I'm asking people to do is to serve their country. What I'm asking people to do is be for the United States and represent the United States of America abroad and to kind of push forward America's purposes abroad.

So there's really very little foreign about it. I mean, there are some days, actually, I think we ought to change the name of the Foreign Service because people think it's the Foreign Legion or the Forest Service. (Laughter) But what it's about is promoting and protecting the United States of America. And as I said earlier, I mean, I can't provide the kind of salaries that a private sector company can provide, and there may be a lot more obstacles sometimes to dealing with the government than perhaps in the private sector, but there is something very, very satisfying about public service. And that's what we ought to keep focused here on is that we're asking people to make sacrifices and to do things they might not otherwise do in the service of their country.

And I know our military colleagues very, very effectively talk about the need for military readiness, and we need to talk more and more about the need for diplomatic readiness. We need the right kind of people and they need to have the right infrastructure and the right backing from our public if we're going to get this job done. The world is a very dangerous place, and we're asking people to go into it to serve their country and I think we ought to support them.

Mr. Lawrence: Going forward, what do you think will be the major challenges the State Department will face?

Mr. Grossman: I think the State Department is changing now, but will continue to change from being essentially a passive organization to an active organization. I don't say passive in any denigrating way. Our job for many years was to go abroad and observe and report. I think all of this conversation we've had would lead you to conclude that this is going to be a much more active job in the future.

And that's not to say that I've been, you know, kind of bored and hanging around for 26 years nor all of my predecessors. We've done an important job, but new people are going to be pioneering because they're going to be much more active. They're going to sell the United States more. They're going to participate more in our foreign policy, and I think that's a good thing.

So the Department's organization and its people have to really look hard about what the job is, what's happening in this world. And again, to go back to the conversation we were having earlier, it's not any more of the job to send memos and points and who should say what up top, it's now the job that you have to do this, and I think that's a very exciting thing.

Mr. Lawrence: We're about ready to have an election and so I'm curious, everyone's planning for a transition. How is the transition being planned for at the State Department?

Mr. Grossman: Well, we in the Bureau of Human Resources are planning for a transition by trying to get all the information that you could possibly imagine together. And whomever wins the election and whomever sits across from me and wants to know where people are and what they're doing and how many people are where and what they're all up to, I hope I'll be able to answer those questions.

Mr. Lawrence: And what kind of management advice would you give those new people in terms of running the Department?

Mr. Grossman: Well, I don't know if it's my place to give management advice. I want people who come to the State Department, whether they are political appointees or whether they are new officers, Foreign Service or Civil Service, to recognize, again, public service; to recognize that the State Department is the essential partner if we're going to have a sensible national security strategy for our country; to recognize that the people in the Foreign Service and the Civil Service have sacrificed to be part of that national security structure. This is a serious place, it ought to be treated seriously, and that if you'll treat it seriously, then this is a Department that will really perform for whomever asks it to.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, Mark, and Patty and I want to thank you for spending so much time with us.

Mr. Grossman: Well, I thank you for the chance. I appreciate it.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been the Business of Government Hour, a conversation with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

To learn more about the endowment's programs, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

Marc Grossman interview
11/16/2000
Marc Grossman

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