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Heart of the action: LE Staff action plans lead to innovations.

Action planning provides a means for staff to collaborate to solve problems and generate solutions. Locally Employed (LE) Staff supervisors learn of such planning in the Foreign Service National Supervisory Skills (RP248) course, where they identify a situation they would like to address and determine the needed steps to achieve the desired outcome. RP248 is an FSI course taught at the Regional Service Center in Frankfurt and at posts in the region of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. LE Staff members can apply for it on FSI's website.

An effective action plan specifies a goal, identifies the benefits of achieving the goal, acknowledges the barriers and determines the time and resource requirements. In the RP248 course, supervisors share their plans with colleagues from other posts and get their feedback.

Employees who actually carry out the work develop the action plans. These plans have resulted in initiatives such as implementing Merit Based Compensation (MBC), establishing an innovative model of the American Corners program and developing an online resource for personal vehicles in Spain.

LE Staff member Lauma Uzija, human resources manager at the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia, helped the embassy implement an MBC program in January 2012 based on an action plan developed one year prior. MBC, a performance management plan, provides an alternative to the within-grade pay-increase system by recognizing individual performance with rewards or salary increases.

Uzija credits the action planning segment of RP248 for the program's success, saying the segment made her "focus on the key factors of a planning process, such as time horizons, barriers and involvement of various parties." She said the implementers of MBC made adjustments as the plan evolved, "but we never lost the vision of every step coming together at the end.

"We faced the most common barrier associated with any change--resistance," she said. Most of the pushback came from employees with heavy workloads, different knowledge and experience levels, or not ready for additional responsibilities.

Support from the Frankfurt Regional Support Center staff and 100 percent participation of LE Staff and their supervisors helped the plan succeed, Uzija said.

As a result of MBC, overdue annual work plans were eliminated, as were late employee performance reports, a sure sign that the change has been accepted. The program ensures that performance monitoring and feedback is continuous throughout the rating year, and resulted in many supervisors focusing more on reviewing the quality of work and mutual feedback instead of just checking off deadlines.

Another LE Staff member involved in action planning is Aurelio Sevillano, customs and shipping supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. The embassy used an action plan to develop an online "one-stop shop" for all questions related to privately owned vehicles called the Car Book. The Car Book uses a question-and-answer format to address such issues as importing and operating a car in Spain.

Many inbound mission staffers read the book, Sevillano said, and Customs & Shipping uses it as a reference, saving the section "quite a bit of time in answering routine questions."

The online resource, he continued, also promotes dialogue with customers, clarifying procedures and preventing surprises. "When we started the action plan," he said, "the idea was to provide information, but communication has flowed in both directions, benefiting the customer and service provider alike."

Vitor Santos, director of the information resource center (IRC) at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon worked on an action plan to use IRC resources to establish a network of American Corners (AC) within university communities. Portugal's ACs are located exclusively within top-tier university libraries and cater to academic audiences, making them somewhat different from traditional ACs. The action plan aimed to provide ACs with access to U.S. commercial databases (through the eLibraryUSA), something most Portuguese academic libraries lack.

Now, the embassy has a network of ACs at such key Portuguese institutions as the University of Lisbon and the University of Porto.

During the past two years, the embassy and ACs have collaborated on programs on books and eBooks, media freedom and space exploration, the later involving NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski's talk at NOVA University's Faculty of Science and Technology.

Action planning is relevant to all supervisors seeking to implement continuous improvement. When LE Staff participate in the planning process, they develop ownership in the work and are motivated to carry it out and see the results. Action planning is not a magic wand, but it is a powerful tool for promoting improvement and collaboration.

By Warna Gillies, educational specialist, Regional Support Center, U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt
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Title Annotation:locally employed
Author:Gillies, Warna
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jul 1, 2013
Words:759
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