A good general rule is that any organisation starting to talk about ‘excellence’ has a serious mediocrity problem. Excellent people and organisations don’t need to worry about excellence. They just get on with delivering it.
Alas the FCO has launched a new scheme intended to help its staff claw their way back towards earlier high standards of professional behaviour and technique lost during the New Labour years: Diplomatic Excellence
I can’t find the details of this new programme on the Web. The FCO’s own website is curiously coy on the subject:
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This programme can not be classified or in any serious sense ‘confidential’. So please can a helpful FCO reader drop me a copy? email@example.com
It seems that in at least one respect the same old same old is alive and well. One of the definitions of success of this scheme is (I gather) "a workforce reflecting the full range of talent in society".
Why should the FCO aim to ‘reflect’ stupid people and clever people, not to leave out dull, useless people? Does it really want to employ a couple of the UK’s best bricklayers, candlestick-makers or chartered surveyors?
Part of the problem with the FCO as with much of government in the Western world is that it has sunk into SPMR: the Swamp of Post-Modern Relativism. Thus not only is stupidity not punished. It is not even identified as a category of behaviour.
Take this FCO job advertisement for a ‘Reputation Manager’:
“Maintenance and development of the UK narrative around FCO and its value proposition, using insights from research and evaluation as well as knowledge of the evolving FCO strategy to inform resonant messaging.”
Who wrote that insane text?
More importantly, who approved it?
Most importantly, who decided to waste public money by creating such a job and the associated expense of recruiting someone to fill it?
The problem here is that the mediocrity of the end-result comes directly from the impoverished original thinking.
The papers proposing and accepting this idea and then various drafts identifying the wording for the advertisement will have been seen by dozens of FCO people. Did no-one have the courage to say that this is stupid and wasteful?
So it’s not enough to shoot the messenger this time. Wider ruthless measures are needed.
Memo to William Hague
Identify these people at different levels. Then sack them all.
Excellence starts and finishes with being uncompromising with anything but the best.