Managing the World Bank Group ‘successfully’

The Board’s Executive Directors have left their second selection criterion dangerously inadequate. 

  • “experience of managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector”

I would have thought “successfully managing” is what the world expects. Maybe that goes without saying, even if the Board’s recent history on selecting World Bank presidents from available nominees is uneven.

Let’s consider some markers for “successfully”.

Let’s see what results were achieved during the candidate’s tenure, and what can be attributed to him or her.  A lot of résumé padding involves taking credit for things others do and would have done anyway, activities done by teams of staff with external partners they know. Examples I can think of are NAFTA2 (aka USMCA/CUSMA), IDA replenishments, ‘clean’ audits. Not eligible would be Brexit, the SDGs, and the Paris Accord (a collective success for negotiations, and a collective ‘incomplete’ for early implementation).

Talent management is what managers primarily do. What is the candidate’s experience at attracting and retaining senior staff? Have non-performers been exited for cause, and have any left because they felt the candidate managed poorly, to the organization’s detriment? Are there incidents of harassment and retaliation, whether by subordinates in HR at the candidate’s instigation or at her or his own hand? (This is where due diligence by a search firm would be useful, not just about direct action by the leader but in identifying a corporate culture where middle managers harass and retaliate, or play favorites. Are women being promoted and does he (or she) work well with them? Ask some! Does the manager handle gossip appropriately? Are threats, temper tantrums and hissy fits part of the manager’s toolkit? Have they worked?

Has the candidate ever had an executive coach, and what was the coach’s impact on how she or he manages? Would the candidate’s supervisors and direct reports see it the same way?

International exposure” is tricky. Managing money and becoming rich from excessive compensation does not necessarily demonstrate skill with less quantifiable success measures, or with people. A global CEO travels in cosseted luxury, with private aircraft, and even the pages of the FT or The Economist, or a love of foreign cinema, doesn’t confirm cultural competency, a virtue in its own right as well as one that needs to imbue a workplace and staff’s work with clients and stakeholders. 

A restauranteur’s cuisine, even in an international airline’s hub city, would not count; Maybe on the ‘management’ side, since restauranteurs start as small business entrepreneurs and rarely as chefs. But under that permissive view of management experience with international exposure, I’d be thinking of José Andres, not Gordon Ramsey. Probably not Anthony Bourdain, either.

Organizations with international exposure” covers a range of public and private activities. Other international organizations are tricky: the IMF is clearly on the list, but the record of some UN specialized agencies can be limiting in terms or focus/specialization as well as geography, and even other MDBs (including the traditional ones, and the new ones like AIIB and NDB) aren’t analogous to the Bank in terms of ownership dynamics, influence, and behavior. INGOs large or small, particularly ones that benefit from government contracts and lack external evaluation and competition, are questionable, and the effective advocacy role of some of them some major Bank Group owners may find  uncomfortable or irrelevant. A record of support for human rights, would be helpful, as would having in place respectful workplace practices that embrace and balance diverse staff cultural attitudes to achieve organizational results.

For someone from banking and finance, does their current or former employer have effective controls about money laundering, and application of relevant global legal and regulatory standards relating to labor and unions? Have their employers paid bribes, or been credibly accused of corruption? Is there an anti-bribery policy in place, and is it respected?

An individual who works globally may enjoy various ways to legally reduce taxes. All nominees should submit their latest tax returns and financial asset holdings for ex ante scrutiny by lawyers and accountants the Bank would hire. A summary of the chosen candidate’s assets would be published promptly on the Bank’s website, as is current practice.

Familiarity with the public sector” goes beyond compliance with all laws that apply to them, having voted, or writing op-eds replete with talking points about the role of the state. Ideally, a respected record in a senior position in government or a public international organization, whether elected or civil service, would demonstrate broad public policy talent and ability to communicate it in a vocabulary the audience understands. (Think Lagarde, not May, or Obama not Bush.) 

Successful service on a board or in an organization that promotes global public goods relating to climate, environment, or social equity, would be evidence of competence leavened by empathy and pragmatism. The public sector depends on engaging stakeholders: does the candidate engage authentically with fans and critics when the cameras aren’t on? Does the candidate see this job as a way to make a large tax-free salary while traveling the globe making statements written by others, or is there a genuine commitment to public service, and to asserting and maintaining the credibility of the Bank Group and its development mission?

This entry was posted in Candidates, The Process and tagged , , , by Paul Cadario. Bookmark the permalink.

About Paul Cadario

Paul Cadario is the Distinguished Fellow in Global Innovation at the University of Toronto. Cross-appointed to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the Centre for Global Engineering, his teaching and public engagement focus on sustainable solutions for poverty reduction, including governance and the behavior of organizational leaders. Paul joined UofT in 2012 after a 37-year career at the World Bank. His frontline experience working on West Africa and China, prepared him for Bank management, working to set up the Bank’s programs in the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. He led the change management and process reform for the Bank’s global information systems, preparing the Bank for an era of decentralization and transparency. From 2001 until 2012, he was responsible for oversight, quality assurance and compliance for the Bank’s trust fund portfolio, working with Bank staff, recipients, and development partners to ensure results and integrity.

4 thoughts on “Managing the World Bank Group ‘successfully’

  1. Mme Lagarde was a successful Minister of Finance of a G7 country, and the managing partner of the largest (at the time) global law firm. The Europeans took advantage of the chaotic Wolfowitz departure from the Bank to resolve an ethics issue across the road.

  2. Let’s face it! Selection criteria don’t mean much, neither in internal or external recruitment processes. It is all about internal or international politics. Christine Lagarde was selected as General Manager of the IMF in 2012 without meeting many of the selection criteria: lawyer vs economist, no development experience etc… but she has been doing a great job! It is all about leadership, dedication and integrity.

  3. No disagreement. All good points.

    Some INGOs have never published an evaluation. The ones that survive do. Evaluation lets them show that their results are aligned with donors’ and funders’ expectations, despite examples of some whose workplace climate and employment practices have been exposed and rightly condemned.

  4. Paul, the attack on candidates with NGO experience and calling them out for potential conflicts of interest is very one-sided. Lets pick apart your statement, which has three components.

    NGOs that benefit from government contracts are questionable – if that is the case, we should also have to rule out experience in private sector firms that benefit from government contracts. Are you prepared to do that?

    NGOs that lack external evaluation are questionable – what sort of evaluation are you demanding? Most RDBs/MDBs/private sector have audits and competition (dealt with below). INGOs also have audits. If you are referring to development impact evaluation – It would be nice, but I don’t know many private sector actors that conduct that! So are we ruling them out? Or are you assuming that profitability is development impact?

    NGOs that lack competition are questionable – I don’t know of many INGOs that lack competition in any area of activity. There is much competition in bidding for gov’t contracts. There is also huge competition in raising private sector donations. For research side much competition from private sector, NGOs, think tanks and academia. For advocacy side there is incredible competition with private sector/lobbyists especially, as well as think tanks. Ability to raise funds for an INGO works just like ability to be profitable for a business. Failure means bankruptcy/closure.

    There are basically no institutions that are analogous to the World Bank in terms of ownership dynamics, influence, and behavior. That should not rule out candidates who have never worked at the World Bank. I think it would be good to make ED uncomfortable over some subjects…

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