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Foreign ministry stuck in past: Review

NZN 27/06/2017 Pattrick Smellie

New Zealand's foreign ministry is stuck in the past with its approach to career management, skills deployment and information management, says a review of its performance.

The review finds a bruising period of internal restructuring has left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade anxious about change and with a weak internal culture.

The Performance Improvement Framework report was requested by MFAT under its new chief executive, career diplomat Brook Barrington, replacing former NZ Post chief executive John Allen, who led a restructuring exercise overseen by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

"The ministry is experiencing increased confidence and cohesion and is in a good position to continue the evolution of its organisational direction and capability," say the reviewers, Jenn Bestwick and Sandi Beattie.

However, foreign ministries around the world are reconsidering traditional ways of operating and an increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable international environment requires MFAT to "accelerate and focus on its efforts to align its culture and operating model with achievement of its 10 year strategic ambition".

This rather than relying on an organisation strategy and model that have been "relatively static".

The ministry needs to rely less on "career MFATers" and more on a model "that better supports its people to have fulfilling and successful careers and which facilitates the organisation to recruit and retain expertise at all levels based on modern leadership and management practices".

Among changes the PIF proposes are to end the traditional practice of "rotating" staff between overseas postings, where staff performance is widely praised and Wellington "desk jobs", where the ministry is perceived not to replicate its offshore successes.

The reviewers also suggest the ministry tends to be too secretive with too many of its documents, leading to a tendency to "over-classification" and it finds MFAT is among the slower government agencies to embrace information management technology, despite information being its stock in trade.

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