Vol. 2 - Settling into a new assignment and work environment: what could work better?


by Michael Steffens and Luca Palazzotto


In this second episode of our threefold saga, we would like to address a number of issues we argue could help both the EEAS and the Commission to value its staff, reduce turnover and leverage better the specific competencies of each of us. This does not only concern administrative support by IT but also improved information regarding posts during mobility and adequate induction processes.


Improving the job matching process


Colleagues could become effective much earlier and the mobility exercise would be much smoother if everything would fall into place.


One key aspect to achieve this is to improve access to information on the posts and the quality of the information provided.


The Commission and EEAS work largely with generic job descriptions that hardly give any detail on the portfolio of the colleague to be replaced. A fall back option for many, was to check on the portfolio of a post holder via CRIS. However, since now project documents are linked up to ARES it is hard to get access to relevant information.

With the arrival of OPSYS, it even gets increasingly harder to get an overview of a colleague’s portfolio or an overview of anything else. This undermines a proper matching process during mobility and rotations exercises, and ad hoc recruitments.


Improve the mobility table

During mobility, the tabular overview should contain key data on the job vacancy (e.g. contract numbers for projects managed, thematic areas, cross-cutting responsibilities) to improve the job matching process. It is important that we can smoothly settle into the new country without surprises that could create major disruption for the entire duration of the mission. For an education expert, for example, it should be clear from the table in which type of education support the Delegation engages, e.g. basic education, higher education.


USHU calls on the administration to ensure the mobility table carries adequate information on job portfolios.


Ensuring an induction period is organised

Most Delegations provide welcome packages. However, these usually are limited to administrative issues and do not cover procedures or practical issues.


An induction process should start with the formal introduction of the newcomers to the office. We think introductions should also extend to support staff such as drivers, cleaners and security staff.


The induction should include 10-minute slots with sector colleagues and the management staff to introduce the newcomers to the different portfolios covered by the Delegation, priority actions and possible synergies among programs. In addition, the elaboration of an action document would provide a pivotal opportunity to a wider group of colleagues to contribute to the process, e.g. from the FCA or administration sections. This would need more realistic timeframes to elaborate action documents. Job satisfaction is not linked exclusively to performing one’s own tasks, but derives also from knowing the objectives of the organisation we work in. It is truly a shame that colleagues in the administration sections are not more involved in providing feedback on what we do.

We call on Delegations to present action documents to all their staff members and to invite feedback by local agents from different sections in particular.


Going beyond handover notes

The pandemic has thrown us into remote work and while many may not want to add more online meetings, we think that colleagues would benefit from structured dialogues with their predecessors. Up to three conversations with the predecessor over a period of 6 months might help getting up to speed at work and improve networking between Delegations. This would complement the already existing handover notes. Although current guidelines already point to the importance of direct contact, this should be formalised and structured in a better way.


More structured and moderated exchanges regionally and thematically.

As mentioned above, access to action documents from other regions is becoming more difficult and this might be compensated by more exchanges between colleagues on a regional and thematic level. Launching trainings with a thematic or geographic focus would be an ideal way of creating such exchange platforms between colleagues. Nothing is more effective than the exchange with someone working on the same issues in a different country. We would like to see more regional meetings in particular.


The Commission’s collaborative platforms (not limited to Capacity4dev) also provide a digital space to support such efforts. However, a dedicated team would be needed to really get this off the ground across different regions.


At the same time, colleagues should also be given the opportunity to train on different sectors and broaden their scope of understanding and work. Job diversification plays an important role in EU Delegations since colleagues are likely to move from project manager to project manager posts,, and they will ultimately cover different thematic areas. Nevertheless, managers often do not allow their staff to participate in trainings related to different sectors they work on – not even if they are obviously linked to the future of development cooperation of the EU (e.g. on the Green Deal).


We call on management to facilitate exchanges between colleagues, in particular at a regional level, and to introduce a structured handover between colleagues.


We call on management to allow colleagues to explore different or adjacent policy areas in their different postings and to train on them in a timely manner.


Thematic support to colleagues in Delegations - Centres of Thematic Expertise (COTEs)

Those of us who have still worked with the Quality Support Directorate in DG DEVCO or have been working in HQ/Delegations for more than 15 years know that a large exodus of expertise has happened in the Commission – in favour of outsourcing expertise to consultants. The unfortunate effect for newcomers is that they have very little backup support to find orientation in their sector.


In DG NEAR, the so-called Centres of Thematic Expertise (COTEs) are supposed to remedy this situation. However, their impact has been so far quite limited: in fact the COTES should provide much more upstream support and ensure access to relevant information, e.g. to clarify the position of the Commission on certain elements of an action document or by providing relevant Commission Communications, toolkits and other type of documents. All too often, COTEs are acting simply as auditors on action documents and provide their detailed feedback only after the first draft is submitted. However, becoming part of the early stages of an action document would also ensure that their expertise is given more weight in the process and that it positively influences the overall outcome. This would be clearly in the interest of all involved parties.


Inter-section communication

At the same time, we would also like to stress the importance of exchanges between colleagues in different sections and with the relevant FPI team. These are crucial to ensure that colleagues remain effective in their work and can look at the same problem from different angles.


Improved knowledge management

Handover notes are a good way to navigate information on arrival to a Delegation. However, what if the portfolio slightly changed and you are now taking over from 2 or 3 colleagues? And, how about cross-cutting portfolios scattered among different actions? Better knowledge management would help newcomers to gain traction quickly. This starts from adopting a standardized structure of the shared drives across Delegations with a clear map of projects and thematic folders, and an equally well-fed ARES depository.

No structured guidance on organisation of shared drives is currently given and this leads to rather anarchic shared drive structures in most Delegations. It is a frustration to any newcomer in a position and must be addressed urgently.


USHU emphasizes the importance of substantive thematic exchanges between colleagues on a regional level and improved knowledge management. Not organising thematic expertise has repercussions on the quality of work and costs valuable time.


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