Background

The HLCM Chair brought to the Committee’s attention the background documentation to inform the thematic discussion. In introducing the item, she recalled some of the key messages from the joint HLCM/HLCP session of October 2014 on the characteristics of a fit-for-purpose UN system.

Discussion

The Chair observed that the UN system has made significant progress in addressing many of the operational imperatives required to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, including through Organizations’ progressively developing global service delivery approaches; implementing several policy platforms for joint and more efficient service provision, especially in the areas of procurement, banking, treasury, and harmonization of financial management practices and definitions; increasing accountability and transparency through the adoption of authoritative international standards such as IPSAS, the Three Lines of Defense; IATI, etc.; investing in data availability and knowledge sharing, including the development of a UN system Data Catalogue; redesigning the United Nations common system of salaries, allowances and benefits, soon to be considered for adoption by the General Assembly; harmonizing human resource policies in the area of recruitment in the field; and, implementing the Delivering as One approach for country level operations through the adoption of Standard Operating Procedures.

The Chair stressed that the 2030 Agenda calls for integrated solutions. An integrated approach applies equally to the management and operations of the UN system, particularly with respect to innovative use of technology, workforce design, funding modalities, and monitoring and accountability for results. Another prominent element of the Agenda is the requirement for quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data, which HLCM is strongly committed to supporting.

The Committee’s deliberations on this agenda item were stimulated by three presentations on initiatives that are at the core of HLCM’s work and central to organizations’ individual efforts to modernize and innovate their operational models.

 

The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources addressed the Committee on “Directions for a strengthened Human Resource agenda”. She recalled the significant work already undertaken to strengthen human resource management in recent years and stressed the important contribution of staff in achieving a fit-for-purpose UN system.

 

Some transformational changes to realize a new vision for a global UN workforce had been identified by the HLCM in its discussions in 2014. The ASG/OHRM proposed some topics for discussion. First, acknowledging that staff may rotate in and out of the UN system and also between organizations more than they do today, she noted the need to support and manage permeability between the system and its partners. Mobility of staff fosters professional development, sharing of good practices, and leveraging resources across more than one organization. In order to promote mobility, the UN system could identify common professional groups in several areas that could gradually be managed more jointly to create cross-organizational professional networks. The Assistant Secretary-General further invited members to share their views on the expected role of the human resources function with respect to giving strategic advice, driving change and supporting transformation, and on how HR can help to enable and equip staff to support the “people agenda”.

 

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Management delivered a presentation on the “UN Secretariat's experience with the new global service delivery approach”. With implementation of the first release of the United Nations Secretariat’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (Umoja) anticipated to be complete by the end of 2015, and a number of other enabling transformative initiatives (e.g., the UN ICT strategy, IPSAS, Global Field Support Strategy, Inspira, and mobility) well advanced, the Department of Management has begun looking for further opportunities to consolidate and integrate administrative processes. To this end, the General Assembly will consider at its seventieth session the report of the Secretary-General on “Framework for a global service delivery model of the United Nations Secretariat” (A/70/323). If endorsed, a detailed proposal, including business case, cost estimates and location options, will be developed for the General Assembly’s future consideration, in line with the UN Secretariat’s phased approach toward shared services.

 

The Under-Secretary-General expressed appreciation for other UN system organizations’ willingness to share their experiences with global service delivery, including through the recent survey completed by the CEB Secretariat, whose results provided HLCM members with a wealth of information on the approach and analysis conducted by organizations when embarking in major initiatives of this type. The Under-Secretary-General noted that three key lessons had emerged from the survey: ensure ERP readiness prior to consolidation; implement strong governance to ensure accountability to stakeholders; and, invest in change management.

 

In the context of this discussion, the USG invited members to comment on what they might have done differently in establishing their shared services arrangements, what had worked well, and whether there might be interested in sharing services across organizational boundaries.

 

The UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Management Services spoke on “Expanding collaboration in business operations by harmonization or mutual acceptance of agency business processes”. He observed that UN system organizations have been responding to various mandates to simplify and harmonize delivery of administrative services, in particular from the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR).

 

The Assistant Administrator indicated that the rationale behind the “mutual acceptance “ approach was to enable agencies to make use of each other’s institutional infrastructure through the adoption of compatible conceptual, contractual and procedural frameworks in each relevant function, including through the adoption of professional standards, in order to meet local needs for operational support.

 

The Assistant Administrator noted that this was happening to some extent in the present; indeed, the work carried out by HLCM and its networks has applied the concept of harmonizing up to the level required to accept other organizations' business practices. The common Forex platform, the joint global and local banking contracts, the common Long Term Agreements (LTAs), the mutual acceptance of procurement review processes, the HR framework for common recruitment and staff mobility, the adoption of IPSAS and of the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Three Lines of Defense Model are all relevant examples. However, there would be substantial benefit to using this approach systematically within an agreed framework.

 

The Assistant Administrator stated that, with its strong functional networks, HLCM would have a key role in determining, in collaboration with the UNDG Business Operations Working Group, the next steps to advance the principle of mutual acceptance, including with respect to governance mechanisms. He suggested that a barrier analysis was needed and noted that one common barrier to cooperation is often knowledge - it is often that staff at country level are unaware of progress and agreements made at the HQ level. It will therefore be important to have clear principles on the direction forward supported by strong communication.

 

In the ensuing discussion among HLCM members, there was wide agreement that harmonization of business operations should be pursued wherever possible, while recognizing the diversity of the organisations as one of the UN’s strengths, and ensuring that there is no negative impact on programme delivery. Diversity is a strength that can be captured through mutual recognition. HLCM members also noted that there were many areas where harmonization has already yielded excellent results, including both substantive improvements and savings. Reporting and accountability are areas where the HLCM has a comparative advantage, particularly towards harmonizing donor reporting. 

 

Many speakers voiced strong support for the concept of mutual recognition. It was also acknowledged that harmonization and recognition were not mutually exclusive. One suggested workable approach was to start with clustering organisations by thematic, operational or geographical similarity. Efficiencies achieved through this cluster-based work could then be communicated and used to bring this approach to scale. It was emphasised that mutual recognition implied recognition of best practices and should always aim to simplification. Many noted that much work has been accomplished in this area already and could be carried forward so as not to reinvent the wheel.

 

The importance of the functional networks to establish the parameters for moving the mutual reciprocity agenda forward was noted by the Committee. A number of interventions identified some of the main challenges for harmonization and mutual recognition in the diverse reporting requirements, as well as in the lack of coordination among different Governing Bodies across UN system entity.

 

On the presentation of the Under-Secretary-General for Management it was observed that it was feasible for UN system entities to pursue defragmentation, simplification, consolidation and system-wide collaboration.

 

Regarding the transition to a global UN workforce, speakers observed that the universal, integrated SDG agenda would need to be accompanied by a strategic repositioning of the UN system on the management and operational sides to ensure no disconnect between the goals and the means. Increasingly staff would need to be able to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships and work across sectors and locations. There was a need to review the balance necessary between longer term staff and shorter term expertise and between specialists and generalists. Many members echoed the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources’ observation that in a workforce that is fit for purpose, staff members need to be able to easily move between organizations and also in and out of the System in order to ensure that the organisations profit from current good practices and expertise from outside the UN system. It was acknowledged by many that currently the simplification and effectiveness of procedures for mobility have not progressed sufficiently, and that the Pension Fund would need to be adjusted to allow for more mobility in and out of the system. Staff rotation among organisations and the permeability between the UN and its partners are not yet ensured. The importance of developing cross-organizational professional networks, especially in management areas, was emphasized.

 

In concluding the discussion, the HLCM Vice-Chair pointed out that the 2030 universal integrated agenda will have implications for the substantive work of the organizations, as well as for staff profiles and business models.

 

The Vice-Chair noted that, on business operations, much of what needs to change lies within the organizations’ authority. She noted the wide agreement on the concept of mutual recognition and encouraged HLCM members to keep simplification and best practices as guiding principles.

Communication and internal and external awareness were found to be crucial. To illustrate this point, the Vice-Chair referred to the business practices review by UNDG and HLCM in Delivering-as-One countries, which showed that barriers to internal cooperation were often lack of staff awareness, lack of cooperation by managers at different levels or lack of support by headquarters or regional offices. The Vice-Chair noted the responsibility of HLCM members to communicate successful examples to the respective governing bodies, as well as to multilateral bodies such as the ECOSOC. 

Action

 The Committee:

  •  Committed to further operationalize transformational changes to realize a new vision for a global integrated workforce, including through the implementation of an effective inter-agency mobility framework, with approaches to support and manage permeability between the system and its partners, the creation of cross-organizational professional networks, and the strategic re-design of human resources functions to drive change and support transformation.
  • Welcomed the conclusions of the survey on global service delivery models, and noted that, through individual efforts to reduce operational costs with the establishment of global service centres, the UN system had laid the foundation for the provision of operational services across organizations.
  • Recognized the value of applying the concept of mutual recognition of agency business processes, including through a cluster approach; acknowledged that harmonization and mutual recognition were not mutually exclusive; and encouraged HLCM members to keep simplification, effectiveness, efficiency and best practices as guiding principles.