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6 questions to Urs Jan Ammann

January 10, 2012 | LND | SDC Experiences |

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Urs AmmannIn our interview series “6 questions to…” we ask people from in and around SDC and the KM world the same 6 questions. Our goal is to offer insights into different working methods, different ways of looking at individual and institutional learning, and different ideas and opinions on how to make organizations more efficient… And, along the way, to hear interesting stories and experiences our interviewees have in store!

Today: Urs Jan Ammann, the Head of the Chancery of the Swiss Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Which of your tasks do you consider to be most effective? What makes you efficient in these tasks?
I am most effective in visa delivery, thanks to 20 years of own experience having worked in Besançon, Rabat, Bucharest, Kinshasa, Washington DC, Tunis and Addis Ababa and the routine I have built up ever since. Visa delivery follows a standard practice to be followed similarly for all embassies. The key is to verify that applicants will return back to their home countries and not remain in Switzerland. Not all countries, however, are the same. Risks of false documents are higher in one country, requiring in-depth examinations and different kinds of guarantees. Technical innovations such as the introduction of computer based issuing of visa need time to get adjusted but at the end they increase efficiency. At the end of the day, it is the routine of applications examined and visa delivered that helps me to adjust to any particular situation.

What part of your work would you like to reduce? What would you like to spend more time with?
The administrative work load in the direct contact with the Head office in Berne consumes a lot of time. Despite the principle of decentralized execution of tasks as “Centre of competence”, we are supposed to consult with Bern still very often. Furthermore, the integration of SDC into the administration of the Embassy has been decided without clearly indicating how and with what resources this has to be achieved, again a workload that could be reduced if things would be clarified early enough.
If there is too much stress, time to listen to people gets limited and impatient reactions may be the result. There is a saying that helps me to reduce stress: “To suit everybody is an art nobody masters. (“Aller Leute recht getan ist eine Kunst, die niemand kann“), in particular in service delivery.
I would like to have more time for the interaction with my collaborators and with the clients at the counter. As a service center the client’s satisfaction is key. The same is true for the collaborators that would like to get their work appreciated and esteemed. I would like to give more time to the human part of my work.

What practice or tool for exchanging information and experiences with colleagues would you recommend to others?
At the Embassy, a chain of meetings enables exchange, helps to connect and stimulates everybody to participate and to be motivated in its work. Within the small teams of the Chancery and the Embassy we regularly meet and communicate orally, briefly exchanging about practical challenges of the week. Issues of strategic importance are discussed at the bimonthly and quarterly meetings of the whole staff that allows everybody to participate in important discussions and decisions about orientations and activities common to all. Short, standardized minutes serve as “Aide Mémoire” and are appreciated. Emails are important but the oral communications allows to show interest and respect for colleagues and their work. As head of the Chancery, these short meetings assist me in supervising my colleagues and being supportive and proactive.
Joint, regular coffeebreaks do not only lift up the team spirit but allow as well the exchange among the team members. Sometimes, they even develop into informal team meetings.
Personally, I have noted down “words of wisdom” I learnt from colleagues or I found in a publication or in the internet. A colleague at the Embassy in Tunis once told me: “Do good and talk about it“, as well towards the boss that is not always aware what you do. From Bruno Manser, the ecological activist in Borneo I learnt: “Those who have understood and do not act haven’t understood anything!”. And somewhere else I learnt: “Take it easy but take it!”

What does organizational learning mean to you, in your organization?
It means to me: “A team can do it better”. I look at collaborators as sand corns that all together make up the team and, ultimately, the organization. The organization provides the conditions (staffing, finances) to allow the teams to do a good job.
Learning means to be open for positive or negative lessons to be learnt. I believe that I have learnt something from everybody, both from their successes and their failures.

What would you change about the organization you work for to make it more effective?
I am working far away from the Head office and do not exactly know how it functions. Important to me is the unit I am working in and that has to do a good job. A good team, delivering good services, that is what I care about.
The Head office invites us to suggest new or improved templates to be shared with all Embassies. Incidentally I have made such kind of propositions.

Which article, video or website that impressed or surprised you recently would you recommend the blog readers to look at?
I recently read an interesting supplement of “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” about CEOs and their management and leadership principles. One of the issues was how managers deal with their weaknesses and whether they should show them or not. This reminded me at own training courses in management and the role of personal qualities.
In my private life I visit an internet forum for Nikon photography.
My most important website: Google. There I always find what I am looking for!

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