Building Professional Development

Frankfurt’s program cultivates leaders

By Belgin Vanderploeg and Nicole Tellier

The Department of State spends a considerable amount of time and resources recruiting and onboarding talented Foreign Service officers, civil service employees and locally employed (LE) staff. When it comes to the professional development of these employees, Department programs typically place responsibility on mid- and senior-level officers to mentor junior employees. A team at the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt embarked on a new and innovative approach, advocating for a program that works on professional development at all levels, across multiple agencies.

Developing leadership, management and professional expertise is a lifelong process and both an individual and organizational responsibility. As the largest consulate in the world, with nearly 1,000 employees from 39 U.S. Government offices focusing on bilateral and regional operations, Frankfurt’s Professional Development Program (PDP) was re-envisioned for the participation of all consulate personnel.  | Cont. |6
Participants include senior-level, mid-level and entry-level Foreign Service and civil service officers, contractors, LE staff and even eligible family members and members of household—all operating under the vision of boundaryless leadership. Frankfurt’s PDP operates on the belief that everyone in the program, regardless of their rank, position or career path, has a particular skill set and knowledge base to share.

Paul Fochtman, headmaster at the Frankfurt International School and a speaker for the PDP leadership series is shown the Frankfurt Consulate museum by General Service Officer Joe Zadrozny. | Photo by Kenton Ward

This emphasis on inclusivity is seen within Frankfurt’s PDP board composition, programming events and cross-agency mentorship program. For example, a first or second tour (FAST) officer working in IT can be paired with a senior-level officer in a non-State agency—like the Transportation Safety Administration—who is interested in gaining a better grasp on the Department’s technology initiatives. In Frankfurt, this reverse mentorship pairing is simply viewed as people helping people. Whether mentees are looking to develop knowledge, enhance skills in a targeted area, gain insight on successfully managing work-related challenges, learn how to navigate networks across the Department or gain greater clarity on their own career path, Frankfurt’s PDP helps foster invaluable symbiotic relationships between mentors and new colleagues looking for one-on-one professional development.  Hervé Irion, a second tour information management specialist benefited first hand from the PDP.  He stated that “the program helped me to come out of my comfort zone. I received training and served as a control officer. I am looking forward to using that skill at my next Post.” Another participant, Kristen Weaver, a consular officer, said that her mentor helped her discover the timeless relevance of the 1930s leadership and management classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Mentors and mentees in Frankfurt have built mutually beneficial interagency relationships that serve as a model for interdependence. 

The audience of the April 19, 2018 PDP presentation called “My Darkest Day,” where senior leadership shared some of their toughest days in the Department of State. | Photo by Cristina de Bettencourt Costa

In addition to mentorship opportunities, Frankfurt’s PDP organizes up to two events per month covering leadership methods and styles, avenues for cross-agency collaboration and the development of other professional skill sets. Biannual training is offered to consulate employees who are interested in serving as control officers for VIP events and PDP visits, which ensures that the consulate maintains a large pool of employees available to support important visitors at a moment’s notice. Professional development speakers have included individuals across government agencies discussing various topics including: how to best handle public queries concerning U.S. policy; strategic decision-making between the Departments of State and Defense; methods for maintaining operational consistency during Foreign Service transitions; the importance of ensuring an adequate work-life balance; employee evaluation report writing; promotion panels; and bidding strategies. In one session, Deputy Principal Officer David Elmo, along with Consular Chief Mary Emma “Mea” Arnold and Deputy Consular Chief Mark Marrano, shared anecdotes about their darkest days in government service and lessons learned from uniquely difficult moments in their careers.

Beyond an internal speaker series and training events, the PDP offers select opportunities for consulate personnel to engage externally and network with other diplomats, government officials and business professionals, thus building a stronger connection to the local community. In 2018, the PDP team organized visits to the European Central Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the Hesse State Parliament, the Frankfurt Airport and the U.S. Army Europe Headquarters in nearby Wiesbaden. These opportunities provided enriching experiences for consulate employees beyond their standard work requirements. Connie Kohlgraf, a locally employed staff member, noted that the trip to the Frankfurt Airport helped her understand how the facility operates and how to better serve its guests and VIP visitors—especially important knowledge for supporting future delegations. 

Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark of the U.S. Air Force gives a presentation as part of Frankfurt’s PDP leadership series on May 5, 2018. | Photo by Kenton Ward

At a post the size of the Consulate in Frankfurt, the ability to inform and engage throughout the community is always a challenge. PDP board members found creative solutions to address this problem. Leveraging post’s state-of-the-art digital signage system to promote events ensures that sessions are widely advertised and well attended. A newly developed SharePoint site also helps promote and archive the group’s work. Used together, these technologies have allowed the PDP to do more with less. 

Consulate Frankfurt is now operating with a committed, inclusive and interdisciplinary PDP team that seeks to empower all personnel to take ownership of their own professional development and to share their valuable experience with others. 

Belgin Vanderploeg is a management officer working in Frankfurt’s Regional Contract Support Office. Nicole Tellier is an office management specialist working in Frankfurt’s Regional Engineering Services Center.

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