The Strategic Planning Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was willing to understand the real role of desk officers for the organization and define their potential. It also was highly concerned about the motivation of these professionals and their support. The research was conducted to reveal this information. It consisted of three main parts: literature review, interview, and benchmarking.
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Local ministries within the UAE as well as foreign ones were approached. It was found that directors and professionals have similar but not identical views regarding the desk officers’ range of duties and roles in the organization. Moreover, the ways in which support is provided and in which desk officers are willing to receive it differ greatly. The existence of such discrepancies led to the development of two proposals.
It was considered that desk officers should be responsible for gathering and analyzing the most relevant information about the country they are responsible for, communication with other professionals, cooperation with the ambassadors, and work on different policies and projects, taking part in diplomatic missions, and preparing reports. In an attempt to support desk officers, the seniors should provide monetary remuneration, praise desk officers, thank them by name, promote the, or give bonuses. This paper can be used by the MoFAIC as well as foreign ministries and embassies for the creation of new guidelines for future desk officers and improvement of employee motivation.
Today desk officers are believed to have an enormous effect on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) as their actions direct its operations and determine its future. Realizing this influence and its possible outcomes, the MoFAIC developed a vision that focuses on turning desk officers into outstanding professionals who are flawless within their line of work, both within and without the Ministry as well as foreign and domestic embassies.
Still, this aim can be achieved only after getting to know the current state of desk officers and defining possible alternatives that can alter the situation and make these professionals more ambitious and motivated. In order to receive all the needed information, the Strategic Planning Department (SPD) of the MoFAIC interacted with the students of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy (EDA), whose capstone project focused on this issue. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the current role of desk officers within the MoFAIC to define the potential for making them more efficient and to understand what their role should include.
In this paper, a concept of desk officer will presuppose a person that specializes in the country profile and has related knowledge and expertise within that country (Höök, Benyon, & Munro, 2012). These professionals are the political officers that bring it all together. They are contact points for foreign missions and domestic headquarters that assist in developing policies and guides for various projects, making sure that they are consistent with the foreign policy. Desk officers can represent different departments of one organization; that is why their focuses can change (politics, economy, law, etc.) (Mowbray, 2003).
Trying to assist the MoFAIC and reconsidering the position of desk officers, this paper will start with the examination of the current role of desk officers on the basis of the conducted survey. Then, after analyzing the received information and data gathered with the help of the literature review, what role desk officers should play in the MoFAIC and what can be done to enable them to perform it will be considered. Finally, conclusions will be made, and the next steps will be discussed.
This capstone paper will reveal the findings of the research and feedback received from the professionals. This information will be beneficial not only for the MoFAIC but also for the country’s embassies around the world. It will be rather helpful for the creation of new guidelines for future desk officers wanting to work in the ministry, giving desk officers clear incentives and a path on what to expect.
This capstone paper is based on the information gathered with the help of the survey, the benchmarks, and the literature review. It is prepared by a team of students who shared tasks and responsibilities in order to present a well-developed work.
The study started with the literature review. The knowledge received during this stage allowed for the definition of what should be discussed in detail as well as the design of the questionnaire for the interview. Eventually, at the end of the study, it included 10 reliable sources that consisted of the information that was critical for the research.
The study focused on the qualitative research conducted with the help of an interview with professionals who work at the MoFAIC. All 19 questions asked can be found in Appendix A. In general, they were divided into five sections that focused on political desk officers’ skill sets, their responsibilities and duties, challenges faced at work, interaction with other professionals, and personal feedback. This approach provided an opportunity to find out all the information needed for the paper.
Volunteer sampling was chosen for this study because it provided an opportunity to involve those that are willing to interact and are ready to share their personal experiences. Except for that, it was possible to agree on the date and time of a visit, which was critical because the interviewees had to be present at work and have enough free time. As a result, the sample consisted of 20 political desk officers.
In addition, eight representatives of the senior management team were questioned regarding their vision of the political desk officers’ roles. The researchers, being desk officers themselves, decided to implement the survey to their departments and collect data in this way. In order to ensure the sample’s security and privacy, the names of the interviewers are not mentioned in the text of the paper.
Finally, the findings of the research were benchmarked with those received from the conversation with the desk officer at the Ministry of Her Excellency Reem Al-Hashimi office and with the American and Spanish ambassadors as well as with the ex-ambassador of the UK to Lebanon.
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Role of Desk Officers
Typical Current Role
Today, the MoFAIC consists of multiple desk officers that represent different departments. They are focused on politics, economy, law, and other vital elements. Regardless of such discrepancy, the main concept of a desk officer is considered to be a professional that specializes in a country’s profile. Individuals that hold this position are to have a particular range of skills that can help them become more knowledgeable in their field (personal communication, May 30, 2016).
According to the information received during the survey, it can be stated that the professionals that work at the MoFAIC believe that their main role is to be experts in the countries they are responsible for. They often act as political coordinators that serve as a link between embassies and the Ministry. While working, desk officers receive information on every aspect of the country that can be used to generate reports, such as the Country Report.
As a rule, it is obtained from the UAE embassy. The desk officers are responsible for refining this information and making it available for other departments of MoFAIC that require it for their work. They also tightly cooperate with the ambassadors and help in issue resolution procedures.
In this way, the daily responsibilities are usually limited to writing executive summaries of the political reports that they receive from the missions in the country they are responsible for. If the official from that country comes to the MoFAIC, the desk officer is to be present at the meeting to take the minutes for the higher administration. These professionals are also responsible for the bilateral relations file of his/her assigned country or countries.
They update it monthly by gathering data from other departments and adding the one obtained from personal reports (personal communication, May 30, 2016). The efficiency of such activities determines the reliability of the MoFAIC’s operations and is critical for the UAE relations with other countries.
Possible Additional/Alternative Roles
The directors in MoFAIC believe that the role of desk officers should include knowledge enhancement, and this idea is supported by Munro, Höök, and Benyon (2012). Professionals should be responsible for attending a meeting or a conference regarding the country profile they are working with and learning about for the benefit of the whole organization. The directors believe that desk officers should constantly improve their knowledge to provide the MoFAIC with the most current data to omit misunderstandings with other countries (personal communication, May 30, 2016). As it turned out, desk officers are also ready to be more involved in the countries they are responsible for.
Similar tendencies were noticed in other ministries due to benchmarking. The ministry’s hierarchy within the UAE and other countries, such as the UK, the USA, and Spain, differs greatly, and that is why the roles of desk officers within them are not the same with the UAE (Desk officer, 2011).
The U.S. and the UK ambassadors mentioned that they tightly cooperate with desk officers and work together not only during some meetings but also when they have some new information to share or develop some projects. Together they can go to other countries to attend vital meetings (personal communication, May 30, 2016). Thus, they are more engaged with the ambassadors than the desk officers of the UAE MoFAIC.
According to the literature review, a desk officer should work on one particular country as long as possible as it allows one to perform one’s duties quickly and efficiently (Dokko, Wilk, & Rothbard, 2009). The knowledge gained during several years of experience can make him a more beneficial asset to the country. Rana (2011) states that desk officers are responsible for having real insight into the country and omitting unnecessary and inaccurate information. They should be able to participate in the multilateral dialogue by having decent knowledge in economy and diplomacy. The professional is to be able to reveal a wider picture of the discussed information and gain a deeper understanding.
One is to make records of discussions, capturing the key words. A desk officer is expected to take part in the process of policy formulation and execution, providing drafts of messages, speeches, documents, etc. Of course, much attention should be paid to the coordination role, which presupposes cooperation with colleagues from other ministries. A desk officer is to be a team player because one’s work presupposes constant interaction with employees of other departments.
Rana (2011) also believes that these professionals should teach the population of their native country, providing them with efficient information regarding international developments that affect its life. Finally, one is in charge of diplomatic missions. The professional is expected to develop a standpoint and make it credible.
Taking into consideration all mentioned information, it can be concluded that various professionals have different views regarding the role of desk officers. However, it is possible to identify the main aspects and pay less attention to those that are not commonly accepted and utilized.
First of all, it seems that the desk officer is playing the role of knowledge gatherer. The information one provides to seniors and other departments define the way they interact with other countries and affects the relationship between them. Thus, it can be said that the constant enhancement of knowledge that presupposes attending meetings and conferences and reading articles is vital for this professional. Except for that, one is to prepare reports for others to receive the information about a particular country. Desk officers should also tightly cooperate with the ambassadors as they require similar knowledge about the country and can share it in order to improve particular policies. They should take part in diplomatic missions because their experience can be rather beneficial for the participants.
Support for Desk Officers
According to the research, the majority of desk officers were highly motivated when then entered the MoFAIC, but the work turned became routine over time. Of these workers, 85% believe that it happened because of the lack of incentives given for their work. All desk officers claimed that they were not well rewarded. While 88% of seniors consider a cash incentive to be the most vital one, 75% of desk officers put it on their lowest priority “wish list.”
During the interview, professionals (75%) mentioned that their motivation started reducing six months after being hired. They (80%) claimed that it happened because of the negative impact of no acknowledgment and focusing on getting the work done.
The directors claim that support is currently provided to help desk officers perform their roles, which includes attending meetings with delegates from overseas missions and representatives of embassies from assigned countries in the UAE as well as taking minutes at meetings for the director and the senior management. They also believe that personal recommendations prepared along with summaries inspire them to actually analyze information, to be critical of the material they receive, and to add value to their productions (personal communication, May 30, 2016).
Going on overseas missions to their assigned countries is another way to support desk officers to perform their roles effectively; the more engaged they are, the more informed and active they become. Current desk officers also have the eligibility to communicate with various delegates from the overseas missions as well as the ambassadors of the assigned countries, which means that desk officers have enough authority and communication to gather the required data.
Possible Additional/Alternative Support
The interview with the ambassadors showed that they believed a cash incentive to be significant but considered that recognition and acknowledgment are more critical (personal communication, May 30, 2016). The same belief was supported by 60% of desk officers at the MoFAIC. The ambassador of the UK underlined that professionals’ achievements should not be forgotten over time even though some of their projects were not as successful as previous ones (personal communication, May 30, 2016).
The representative of Spain paid much attention to the director’s role. One underlined that it is critical to show desk officers the will to give them the power to make decisions and share their own views and preferences (personal communication, May 30, 2016). The ex-ambassador of the USA emphasized that when supported, desk officers often bring something new and innovative (personal communication, May 30, 2016).
All interviewees stated that the new generation of desk officers should not simply follow the steps of their predecessors but should encourage changes even in the framework of reports, briefs, and country profiles (personal communication, May 30, 2016). Being proactive and having a proactive director, they can become more knowledgeable and turn into experts who feel motivated and secure.
Desk officers underlined that they are willing to receive reward acknowledgment, and Harrison (2013) supports their desire. She states that recognition is vital for success, and her view correlated with Hrebiniak’s (2005): “What’s absolutely critical…is that the organization celebrates success. Those who perform must be recognized. Their behavior and its results must be reinforced” (p. 200). Harter, Schmidt, and Killham (2003) claimed that the employees are often encouraged by simple thanks with the identification of the reason of recognition. Other than money, the directors can refer to praise, promotions, bonuses, etc. (Tracy, 2013).
When considering the current support provided for desk officers at the MoFAIC and comparing it with the information received with the help of the survey, some differences can be found. Of course, there is no necessity to utilize all alternative ways of support and motivation, but it would be rather beneficial if the directors at the MoFAIC referred to some of them.
It is rather beneficial that a cash incentive is often used, and such an approach should not be abandoned. Still, better outcomes can be achieved if the cases in which it is used are reconsidered. Sometimes the reward is needed, but monetary remuneration can be considered to be a bit thick, or the employee hopes to receive something more but is provided with money only.
The directors and other workers should praise desk officers for little achievements and for the successful accomplishment of tasks. Such a reward does not require any resources but is highly valued. The same can be said about thanking by name.
Outstanding achievements should be rewarded by promotions or bonuses. Depending on the situation, it would be rather advantageous to allow desk officers to gain more from their jobs. They can receive an opportunity to have several free vacation days or have a better working place.
When providing support for desk officers, it is critical not to choose the same reward over and over, as its value would diminish in such a situation. There should be some hierarchy of rewards to encourage professionals to achieve more. Even allowing them to participate in some meetings regarding the country they are responsible for can be used to recognize achievements. An opportunity to go abroad with the ambassador can be appreciated by the desk officers as well.
Conclusions and Next Steps
This paper examined the current role of desk officers at the MoFAIC on the basis of the conducted survey. With the help of benchmarking and literature review, it allowed for the development of proposed roles and support. On the basis of the received information, it can be concluded that the role of desk officers had an enormous effect on the MoFAIC. Professionals’ actions and the way they perform their duties direct its operations, determining relations with the foreign ambassadors and the countries they represent.
According to the words of its employees, the MoFAIC is willing to see it desk officers as knowledgeable and efficient professionals who can successfully serve as a link between nations. Still, the study showed that desk officers and directors at the MoFAIC have different views regarding the role of the latter and the support provided for them.
After analyzing this information and reconsidering it along with both the views of foreign ambassadors and the literature review, proposals regarding the most critical roles and ways of support were made. It was considered that desk officers should be responsible for gathering and analyzing the most relevant information about the country they are responsible for. They should know as much as possible to determine reliable and authoritative data and summarize it for the seniors and employees of other departments.
In this way, they should communicate with other professionals and read related literature. They should also tightly cooperate with the ambassadors and work on different policies and projects related to the country they are focused on. They should also take part in diplomatic missions. Trying to support desk officers, the seniors should utilize various means. They can provide monetary remuneration, praise desk officers by word of mouth, thank them by name, promote them, or give bonuses, such as new equipment, several free days, participation in some meeting, or an opportunity to go abroad with the ambassador.
On the basis of this research, it can be stated that individuals who recently became desk officers and started working in the MoFAIC should:
- Find out what are their duties are in the opinion of experienced desk officers and directors and according to the relevant literature;
- Start gathering information about foreign countries (particular ones, if they are already known);
- Constantly improve summarizing, analyzing, and reporting skills;
- Attend meetings with foreigners;
- Be able to work as a team member;
- Employ innovative and creative approaches;
- Be proactive;
- Communicate with the seniors and express personal ideas, views, and expectations;
- Participate in policy designing;
- Cooperate with ambassadors; and
- Take part in diplomatic missions.
It should not be forgotten that this research was limited to the role of desk officers and support. In the future, it can also include an investigation regarding the challenges faced by these professionals and ways to overcome them. It can be discussed why and when they fail to perform their duties decently and how it influences the MoFAIC and international relationships.
- Skill Set
- As a political desk officer, what skills would you want to acquire to achieve your best?
- What qualifications would a Political Officer need to be successful in this field?
- Are the training courses you take in your ministry helping you achieve the right skill set you require for your job?
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Describe a typical day at work.
- What responsibilities should a Desk Officer have and what should they not have? What other departments?
- What motivates a desk officer?
- What demotivates a desk officer?
- Do you believe that your role currently is more towards administrative work or something else? How do you feel towards administrative work?
- What part of your job do you feel is most important?
- Do you face any challenges as a desk officer? Internally and externally?
- What were 3 challenges you’ve faced when you first held this position?
- How fast does your work get processed and is it important? What factors delay it?
- Do you feel that your work is recognized and appreciated by your department?
- Do you feel that your work is recognized and appreciated by your department?
- Do you get to meet with Ambassadors and influential people from your field
- Are you always in meetings with important figures? Such as the minister and minister of state with your country’s counterpart?
- Do you get to travel to the country assigned to you very often? Or to any other country to attend summits and conferences?
- How would you improve the role of a desk officer?
- Do you believe people resign from their role being limited?
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Höök, K., Benyon, D., & Munro, A. (2012). Designing information spaces. Haslemere, UK: Springer.
Harrison, K. (2013). Why employee recognition is so important. Web.
Harter, K., Schmidt, L., & Killham, A. (2003). Employee engagement, satisfaction, and business-unit-level outcomes: A meta-analysis. Washington, D.C.: The Gallup Organization.
Hrebiniak, L. (2005). Making strategy work: Leading effective execution and change. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Mowbray, J. (2003). Dangerous diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing.
Munro, A., Höök, K., & Benyon, D. (2012). Social navigation of information space. Trowbridge, UK: Springer.
Rana, K. (2011). 21st century diplomacy: A practitioner’s guide. New York, NY: Continuum.
Tracy, B. (2013). Motivation. New York, NY: AMACOM.