Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/DSG/50
      2 November 2000
     Deputy Secretary-General Reviews Efforts to Streamline 
    United Nations Human Resources Management

    Fifth Committee Is Told Shorter Recruitment Timeline
    Among Objectives, as Greater Proportion of Staff Involved in Field Operations

     NEW YORK, 1 November (UN Headquarters) -- This is the statement of Deputy Secretary- General Louise Frechétte to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today on the reform of human resources management:

     It gives me great pleasure to join you today and to present to you the Secretary-General's new report on the management of the Organization's human resources.

     The Millennium Summit and the other special events of this millennium year mapped out a diverse and dynamic role for the United Nations in the twenty-first century.  But none of our ambitious goals and deeply held hopes for the United Nations will come true without staff of the highest calibre, who are motivated and given the fullest opportunity to develop their talents.

     The Secretary-General's report [A/55/253] is now before you.  It sets out a comprehensive human resources management programme.  And it updates you on the implementation of reform in 10 key areas.  Before commenting on some of the report's specific measures and highlights, I would like to say a few words about the context in which it was prepared and in which human resources management today is carried out.

     First and foremost, the field presence of the United Nations has grown to such an extent that two out of every three staff members are involved in field operations.  Gone are the days when we were solely a Headquarters-based organization.  Peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and technical assistance programmes now employ the bulk of United Nations human and financial resources.

     Second, you, the Member States, have intensified your demands for "value-for-money".  You rightly expect competent staff and managers to carry out the mandates you give us in the most cost-effective way possible.

     Third, the field of human resources management itself has undergone significant conceptual evolution.  In the past, it was often equated with administrative processing.  Today the management of human resources is understood to involve a more broadly conceived culture of staff development, high performance and continuous learning.

     It is both natural and necessary that the United Nations adapt to this changed and ever-changing internal and external environment.  And so we have.  It is now more than three years since the Secretary-General presented his plan for transforming the United Nations, including in the area of human resources management.  Starting from the overall vision which the Secretary-General submitted to you in the fall of 1998, we have elaborated a set of core values and competencies after consultations with hundreds of staff members.  We have improved human resources planning, streamlined the personnel manual and expanded the staff training programmes.  There is much better compliance with the Performance Appraisal System, and the recruitment timeline has been reduced from 465 to 275 days on average.

     With the Secretary-General's new report, the process now takes the next step forward.  Two areas in particular have been given special emphasis: the first is recruitment, placement and promotion; the second is the question of mobility.

     Let me start with recruitment, placement and promotion.

     Attracting and retaining talented staff is the core challenge of human resources management.  Yet the current process of filling vacancies remains terribly cumbersome and complex, and it lacks sufficient transparency.  Furthermore, the United Nations needs to act more quickly, and better anticipate its needs, while upholding the principles of geographical representation and gender balance.

     The Secretary-General's report sets out a new system.  At its heart are the authority and accountability of managers.  Currently, the final choice of candidates for a given post rests with the Office of Human Resources Management.  Under the new system, the final decision will rest with the line managers.  There are compelling reasons for this change.  First, if managers do not have a say in decisions of such centrality, how can they be held accountable for their team's performance?  Second, it is managers -- and not OHRM or staff -- who are best placed to judge which candidates possess the best combination of qualities and experiences to fill a given position.

     I want to stress, however, that we are not talking about endowing managers with unfettered power.  This new authority would be exercised within very strict guidelines.  Managers would be required to develop, well in advance, selection criteria and then apply those criteria in an objective and documented manner; this would, among others things, reduce the possibility of "pre-cooked" job descriptions.  Central review panels at each duty station, in which staff representatives would participate, would oversee the process.  Additional aspects of the system are spelled out in the report.  The new system would also reduce the number of steps involved, thereby cutting the time-frame for filling posts even further, from 275 days to 120 days.

     While these changes involve streamlining current arrangements rather than a radical departure from them, I am aware that certain aspects have aroused concern.

     One concern relates to the delegation of authority to managers and accountability.  To answer this concern, the Secretary-General's plan calls for OHRM to retain a strong oversight and monitoring role, including the authority to suspend staffing actions should the central review body find irregularities.  Staff would also continue to have recourse to existing mechanisms, such as the Joint Appeals Board.

     Another concern relates to what is thought to be a reduction in the role of the staff.  This is not so.  Their involvement would continue but it would occur at earlier stages, when job evaluation criteria are being established rather than in making the actual decision about who is best for a given job.  Even then, at the end of the process the central review body would be able to examine a manager's decision to ensure that proper procedures were respected.

     Let me turn now to the question of mobility.  Given the changing nature of the challenges facing the Secretariat, and in particular the growing importance of our field activities, the United Nations requires its staff to be well-rounded and multi-skilled, able to cope with diverse challenges and demands.  Staff require a judicious and to some extent planned series of exposures to a broad range of United Nations activities and assignments.  Versatility is especially critical for managers, current and future.

     We also need to be able to deploy staff quickly, sometimes within days.  Until now, we have remained generally passive in getting staff to serve in peacekeeping operations, regional commissions and difficult duty stations, and also in some of our programmes of technical cooperation.  Actual movements of staff have taken place on an ad hoc and voluntary basis, based on arrangements designed when the Organization was static.

     The Secretary-General has now set out a new mobility policy that moves us from a voluntary to a managed approach and which conceives of mobility not just in terms of movement between duty stations, but as movement between functions and occupations, across the United Nations system.

     One of the policy's key underlying principles is that staff do not "own" specific posts and managers do not "own" specific staff members.  We are moving gradually and cautiously to put this principle into practice.  Over time, we will put in place time-limited occupancy of posts, and link mobility and promotion.  We have already begun, in a limited fashion, the managed reassignment of junior professionals.

     We understand that the new demands for staff to become more mobile raise a range of issues, foremost among them questions of home and family life.  We will be approaching Member States to discuss the question of spouse employment to see what can be done to ease legal and other restrictions that have been a hindrance to mobility.  We also recognize the need to revise rules that seem to penalize mobility, to find ways to promote staff while they serve in the field, and to otherwise combat the "out of sight, out of mind" phenomenon that discourages movement.

     I am convinced we can have mobility while factoring in constraints, being fair with staff and showing sensitivity to their needs.  The scope, complexity and, most of all, the urgency of the work of the United Nations make it imperative that we promote mobility and create incentives for it.  It is no exaggeration to say that this issue, so entwined with the United Nations front-line responsiveness and presence in people's lives, is crucial to the credibility of our organization.

     Many more issues will require attention in the coming year. 

     We are looking at contractual arrangements, which are frequently haphazard, to the point of creating demoralizing and inequitable situations among staff members, including among some working side by side in similar jobs.  The Secretary-General will be reviewing the issues linked to the terms and types of appointment, and continuing the dialogue with the staff, before presenting specific recommendations to the General Assembly.  He would welcome the views of the Assembly on this issue.

     We are also undertaking a worldwide survey of work/life issues that influence staff members' work and their decisions about mobility.  This will help us address a number of questions, including flexible work schedules and spouse employment.

     We will also be studying ways to strengthen the system of career development to assist in the professional growth of our staff.  And we need to improve the internal system of justice, which is highly formalized, expensive and time-consuming.  A proposal to create an ombudsman mechanism -- a high-level figure, independent of both management and staff -- is also contained in the Secretary-General's report.

     A theme running through all of these proposals and reforms -- and the subject of a separate report [A/55/270] submitted to the General Assembly by the Secretary-General -- is that of accountability.  Accountability means that every staff member in the Organization should understand what is expected in his or her job, that everyone should have the tools and the training to do those jobs and that the means should exist to assess, fairly, how well that person is meeting those expectations.  Rewards for performance -- and sanctions for lack of performance -- emanate from these conditions.  Without them, true and fair accountability will be impossible.

     The Performance Appraisal System is at the centre of our system of accountability, and much has been done to improve it.  We have also taken steps to ensure compliance by all managers.  But it is important that the accountability chain starts at the top.

     That is why the Secretary-General decided to create an annual "performance compact" with his senior-most managers, which include their responsibilities in the area of human resources.  To assist the Secretary-General, OHRM is drawing up indicators to track progress with respect to considerations such as gender, geographical representation and Performance Appraisal System compliance.

     Accountability will also be enhanced by the newly established Accountability Panel, which I will chair.  The panel will review the reports of oversight bodies such as the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Joint Inspection Unit and examine the extent to which their recommendations have been implemented by managers.

     In their Millennium Summit declaration, the world's leaders said they would "spare no effort to make the United Nations a more effective instrument".  They added that they wanted the Secretariat to adopt "the best management practices and technologies available".  I believe the concepts and procedures the Secretary-General is putting forward in his report respond to this demand.

     I would like to conclude by mentioning the issue of staff security.  I know that this question is not on today's agenda.  But I wanted to draw your attention to the latest report of the Secretary-General [A/55/494], which contains very significant proposals for professionalizing and strengthening our security management system through changes in the number of personnel, the training they receive, the services they provide and the equipment they use.  I do not need to tell you how important it is to address this subject without delay, so that the staff who serve the international community have the safety and protection they need to carry out their vital assignments.  I hope you will give the recommendations contained in this report favourable consideration.

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