Secretary-General Urges Staff To Strive For Excellence, Stressing UN Performance Will Turn Detractors Into Supporters


`Nobody Argues with Success‘, Says Kofi Annan In Address to Staff; `My Mission, However Impossible, Is Your Mission Too‘

NEW YORK, 9 January (UN Headquarters) — The following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to United Nations staff today:

As I speak here today to United Nations staff around the world, my feelings are both of humility and of pride. I am humbled by the enormous task ahead of me, by the daunting responsibilities that the Secretary-General is called upon to shoulder. But I also feel greatly honoured. Not only personally but, most of all, as a fellow member of the Secretariat for so many years — as one of you.

The selection of a career staff member for the position of Secretary-General carries with it a recognition of all of you, the staff of the Organization. For we are above all a team. I do not think anyone who achieves success in the Secretariat can rightfully claim that he or she has done it alone. I have always believed that success is possible only when it is built on the support and cooperation of others. We have worked together successfully for many years. Today, I am counting on your continued support, your commitment and your dedication to the essential work of the Organization.

I once read that the worst thing that can happen to you in your career is to get to the top of the ladder only to find that it has been placed against the wrong wall. I do not think there are many of us here today who are in any danger of facing that frustration. Quite the reverse. If I remember correctly, one of the questions in a recent Staff Union survey was: “After your experience with the United Nations, if you could go back in time, would you join it again?“. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed answered that yes, they would.

As one who has spent more than three decades with the Organization, I can understand that response very well. Service with the United Nations is more than just a job. It is a calling. No one joins the Secretariat to become rich and famous, to be appreciated and applauded, to live a life of ease and comfort. We join the United Nations because we want to serve the world community; because we believe this planet can be a better and more secure place; and because above all, we want to devote our time, our intellect and our energies to making it so.

Wherever we are — in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, in the regional commissions, the information centres and every mission, programme and operation — and whatever task we may have, political, technical, military or clerical, we are there because we want to ensure a brighter future for all the human race.

Since my election, I have received an overwhelming outpouring of confidence, encouragement and goodwill from colleagues all around the world. That has been both comforting and inspiring. All of you want to see the creation of a more efficient and responsive Organization. All of you want an Organization which works together more effectively in the pursuit of common goals. All of you want a United Nations better able to meet and address the immense challenges facing the international community.

Today, I repeat the pledge I made in the General Assembly, that the next five years must be, above all, a time for healing.

We must heal the financial crisis of the Organization, which cannot be expected to move forward if it is dragged down by the burden of unpaid dues. But at bottom the financial crisis is a political crisis — a crisis of faith in the Organization. It is up to us to prove to the Member States that their contributions are used wisely and efficiently for the implementation of programmes which they have mandated.

We must heal relations between the Secretariat and the Member States, and put an end to the acrimony that has characterized some recent exchanges in this house. Every staff member has a part to play in this effort, above all by performing your functions to the very best of your ability. We know that much of the criticism of the Secretariat has been arbitrary and unfair; but we must remain open to honest and constructive criticism. We also know that we can do more to restore the confidence of the international community in us.

In this process, we must heal the morale of the Secretariat. You have all been living with the spectre of downsizing and job insecurity. I know that these have been difficult and challenging times. We must, however, carry on, secure in our ideals, moved by the strength of our convictions. The next five years are not going to be a period of convalescence but of resurgence. This is the time when we — all of us together — face the exciting prospect of carrying our Organization into the twenty-first century.

The challenge of this new adventure is formidable, for the Member States and for us. It is up to the Member States to define what they want the United Nations to be and to do — to outline their vision of the goals they want us to attain, and to set new priorities. But it is up to us to shape this instrument of peace and progress to fit that new identity, to chart a route towards those goals, to develop the skills required to meet these challenges. This means that we will need to reform. To many of our critics, reform just means more cuts, and so I understand that talk of reform may be viewed with concern by some of you. That reminds me of a wise person who was once asked whether we should be concerned, or even fearful, about the future. The reply was: Why should we be concerned? We have had so much experience with the future, by now it is familiar to us.

It is the same with reform. Sometimes, it must seem that the United Nations does nothing but reform. What we have to do now is not undertake more half-measures or rush to embrace new changes. We must take stock. We must look at ourselves from top to bottom, so that this time we can use reform as a tool to make this Organization more effective and successful. One principle should be of overriding importance. Reform is not an end in itself. It is a tool to create a more relevant and a more effective Organization. Reform should not simply mean change for its own sake — that is the path to disruption rather than to meaningful and long-lasting progress.

Neither do I see reform simply in terms of dollars and cents. Of course, the Organization has to be efficient, but not to the point of threatening our effectiveness in fulfilling important mandates. I do not believe the disjointed incrementalism of the past, with its baggage of duplications and overlaps, was a positive evolution. Equally, I have never believed that disjointed downsizing, with arbitrary staff cuts that weaken essential capabilities, can bring real improvement.

It is not reform when, for lack of funds, we have to turn our backs on massacres and suffering and the collapse of civil society. Real reform will enable us to put in place new mechanisms for confronting the world’s political and economic crises promptly, courageously and efficiently. Real reform requires an ongoing search for excellence — in our structures, in our procedures, in our methods, and above all, in the performance of our staff. In this I will not compromise. I expect from each and every staff member, at all levels, a total commitment to excellence. I expect the Secretariat to work together and at all times to function properly as a global team. I expect staff members to be flexible and mobile, and willing to serve wherever they can best contribute to the Organization’s tasks.

As we reshape and rebuild for the future, it is quite possible that some units, functions or occupations in the Secretariat will be lost. Our task is to see this not as some unforeseen disaster but as a normal development in a constantly evolving Organization, and deal with it through procedures that are fair, transparent and humane.

In turn, for those serving the world in the last years of the twentieth century and preparing it for a new millennium, I will strive to ensure that Member States recognize your efforts and grant you the best conditions of service possible. No more must Governments vote to limit the salaries and benefits of United Nations staff while subsidizing their own nationals in the Secretariat. We must have one international civil service, with competitive conditions of service and practices for all of you irrespective of where you are from.

I pledge to you today that we will develop a new management culture in the Organization. Our senior managers across the world must understand their obligation to properly manage the staff — the human resources — entrusted to their care. It is my intention to hold my managers accountable for providing the full range of career support to their staff in their day-to-day work. We can do more to enhance overall performance by ensuring greater opportunities for growth including promotion and mobility. In my view, managing people is about enabling staff members to “make a difference“ — contribute their best — to the unique work of the Organization.

Already, I have taken a number of important steps to empower Heads of Departments to take more decisions in their fields of work. I remain strongly committed to delegation of authority and I intend to ensure that senior United Nations managers exercise appropriately and responsibly the authority that is delegated to them.

As a former Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, I know the value of open and frank communication between staff and management. I have already met yesterday with your Staff Committee. The views of staff at all levels — expressed both individually and through elected staff representatives — are of abiding interest to me. It may not always be possible to meet all of the expectations of staff, but I pledge to you today that your Secretary-General and his senior management team will listen carefully to your concerns and aspirations. My decisions will always be taken with the best interests of the United Nations — and therefore of its staff — at heart.

The staff of this Organization are its most precious asset. You have suffered from misinformation and even disinformation for long enough. We can always do more to tell our story, but in the long term, there is really only one guaranteed prescription for dealing with unjustified criticism. It is for each and every one of us to keep giving of his or her very best.

At this time, let us recall the great sacrifices that many of our staff have made in the cause of the United Nations around the world. Each year, some have made the ultimate sacrifice. In tribute to those of our colleagues who have lost their lives in the service of the Organization, I call upon you all to rise and stand for a moment’s silence.

We are the United Nations, and we believe our Organization can fulfil the vision of our Charter, of a world where “we the peoples“ strive together for peace, freedom, economic and social justice and human rights. But the burden of proof is on us. The strength of our convictions will lead others to believe. The excellence of our performance will turn our detractors into supporters. We all know, nobody argues with success.

One of my distinguished predecessors spoke of the post of Secretary-General as “the most impossible job in the world“. But my mission, however impossible, is your mission too. We are nothing if not a team. And in this team, every member has a vital role to play. Each individual can make a difference. If everyone contributes fully, the result will be far greater than the sum of the parts. I appeal today to every staff member in every duty station to work with me to make our impossible job possible — to fulfill the enormous expectations the world has of us. There is no alternative to the United Nations. It is still the last best hope of humanity.

That is our collective challenge. Now let us get on with the job.