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UNHCR's Career Management System Project

Executive Committee Meetings

UNHCR's Career Management System Project

13 September 1995


1. This report is provided to inform the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme on UNHCR's continuing progress in the development and implementation of the Career Management System (CMS). It also indicates how UNHCR is responding to the Executive Committees recommendations on the project.

2. At its forty-fifth session, the Executive Committee (A/AC.96/839, para. 27), inter alia:

(a) Urged UNHCR to integrate the project with other key UNHCR initiatives to improve programme delivery and to take steps to involve Executive Committee members together with staff and their representatives and members of UNHCR management;

(b) Urged the High Commissioner to ensure continuation of strong support and involvement of senior management and direct dialogue between all participants;

(c) Requested the High Commissioner to keep the Executive Committee members fully informed of project progress through a presentation to the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters early in 1995, and by continuing to encourage members to put forth their ideas and make available the experience gained by their national institutions in implementing similar projects.

3. The objective of the CMS project is to improve performance and advance achievement of UNHCR's humanitarian objectives through better human resources management. It will meet this objective primarily through reform and integration of three elements of human resources management:

(a) Revision of the current staff appraisal system to a system that allows consistent appraisals against the same criteria and in the context of defined objectives which are uniform throughout the organization.

(b) Creation of a staff development system based on specific and required training programmes that would support the attainment of the organization's objectives.

(c) Establishment of a framework to support both individual and organizational career planning.

These components interrelate within the same competency framework so that each element supports and enhances the impact of the others.

4. The project can be divided into four distinct phases: development, testing, evaluation/revision and implementation. These phases were established at the beginning of the project, which continues on its original time schedule.


Phase One - Development

5. The developmental phase, which ended in June 1995, consisted of data collection and system development. Current progress on the extensive data collection effort was reported to the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters in April (EC/1995/SC.2/CPR.8). The product of the developmental phase is the CMS user guidance manual, available to Executive Committee members at the forty-sixth session. The manual contains the competencies required of UNHCR staff members and the methods to implement the new system.

Phase Two - Testing

6. The second phase, in the form of a pilot project, is now underway in six countries and in one Division and one Bureau at Headquarters. The pilot began with training of all participating staff. The objective of the training was twofold: first, to explain the individual elements of the system and their interrelationships; and second to give practical training on the skills needed to implement CMS. The required skills relate to both the determination of individual objectives within the broader context of organizational objectives, and to methods of communication which improve team work in reaching these objectives. The courses, each lasting two and one half days, outlined the basic management principles incorporated into CMS. These include the need for managers to define clearly and to communicate both objectives and a series of methodical steps to reach those objectives.

7. The competency frameworks define performance standards required of each individual staff member. It is important to note that these competencies were developed through extensive consultations with field staff. They were then validated through the consultations with the responsible Division or Bureau in Headquarters. Through this validation process, the competencies incorporate the various current initiatives to improve UNHCR operations. They would then be presented to staff as standards for individual performance.


Phase Three - Evaluation/Revision

8. During March and April 1996 the pilot project will be evaluated. This evaluation process, which is the third phase of the CMS project, will be undertaken with all staff who participated in the pilot, through a written questionnaire and, finally, through interviews with about 10 per cent of the pilot participants. The evaluation will focus on two main points. First, it will appraise the actual mechanics of the system: how well did the CMS forms work, were the competencies complete? Second, it will assess the degree to which the system encouraged managers and staff to set and work towards specific objectives. While both elements are important, the second is the more critical. It is at the very heart of the desired change in UNHCR's management culture.

9. The training provided to staff participating in the pilot will also be assessed in the evaluation phase of the project. Indications from the initial evaluation of the pilot training suggest that training for the implementation of the Career Management System should be provided in the field, through regional or sub-regional courses attended by designated focal points from each UNHCR office in the area. They will then return to their duty stations to train other staff in their office. This is the least expensive approach to training, increases staff participation and sense of "ownership" of the project, and establishes one "CMS expert" in each office during the implementation phase.

10. At the end of the evaluation phase of the project, any needed changes in procedure, forms or training programmes will be made.

Phase Four - Implementation

11. With the assessment and modification process completed by June 1996, the project will enter its fourth and final phase: implementation for the entire organization. Training will begin during the summer of 1996, when the final texts of manuals and forms will be produced and distributed. The first exercise in setting objectives for individual staff members will take place in the last quarter of 1996, and the first performance evaluations using the new system will be made in the summer of 1997. Other benefits of the project will be implemented earlier. For example, the use of core, job and, where relevant, managerial competencies in the assessment of candidates for UNHCR posts can begin during the pilot phase.


Integration with other UNHCR initiatives

12. Every effort is being made to integrate the CMS project into overall efforts to improve UNHCR's management. The UNHCR Senior Management Committee, which is the focal point for the coordination of management activities, receives periodic briefings about the progress of the CMS project. Plans to organize courses to provide detailed training to representatives on financial and programme procedures include training in human resources management and CMS principles. Planning of future UNHCR computer systems takes fully into account the needs of the Career Management System. Plans for the delegation of human resources management functions to the field are based on the principles of CMS. The design and implementation of a comprehensive training programme, including decentralization of training activities and implementation of training by Divisions and Bureaux other than the Division of Human Resources Management, incorporates the elements of the CMS project.

Involvement of staff representatives

13. The Career Organization and Management Implementation Team (COMIT) is composed of members nominated both by management and the Staff Council. COMIT is a forum for an exchange of views between its members. It plays a key role in advising the CMS consultants and the project coordinator. It promotes a flow of information about the project. The staff-nominated members have taken the initiative to organize open house discussions on CMS for the benefit of General Service staff. The CMS newsletter, copied to Executive Committee members, is regularly circulated in English and French to all staff.

Involvement of Executive Committee Members

14. The CMS project has benefited from the assistance of Executive Committee members from its earliest stages, when Permanent Missions to the United Nations Office at Geneva assisted in distribution of information to potential consultants on the project. Periodic progress reports have been made to the Executive Committee. During discussions of these reports, useful comments and advice have been received from members of the Executive Committee. Other comments and guidance have been given in less formal settings. UNHCR continues to invite members to contribute to the success of the Career Management System project by sharing their ideas and national experiences with similar projects.