World Bank staff survey highlights discontent with senior management

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim speaks with staff in Lebanon during a visit to the financial institution’s office in Beirut. Results of the bank’s staff survey reveal a strong discontent with its senior leadership. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Results of the latest — and long anticipated — World Bank employee engagement survey were made available to staff last week, and they highlighted strong discontent with senior leadership at the global financial institution.

With a notably high participation rate of 79 percent, the latest survey revealed a drop of confidence in senior management compared with the previous survey conducted in 2013.

Just 38 percent of survey participants indicated that the World Bank Group’s senior management “clearly communicates” the institution's “strategic priorities” — down 13 percentage points from the 2013 staff survey. In addition, only 33 percent indicated they have “a clear understanding of the direction in which [senior management] is leading [the World Bank Group] — down 9 percentage points. And 26 percent indicated senior management “creates a culture of openness and trust” — down 9 percentage points as well.

Further, just 34 percent indicated “confidence that the [World Bank Group] will take action on the engagement survey” — a drop of 11 percentage points from 2013.

These results come amid contentious reforms World Bank President Jim Yong Kim initiated across the global financial institution in 2013, which included a dramatic shift in structure as well as a $400 million cut in operational expenses that has necessitated staffing cuts.

They also follow a controversial investigation — initiated by the World Bank and undertaken by the law firm Locke Lord — of LGBTI activist and World Bank Senior Country Officer for the Maghreb Fabrice Houdart, who was accused of leaking a draft of the bank’s social and environmental safeguards. Houdart, a well-known critic of bank reforms and of senior management is regarded by many as a whistleblower who was unfairly singled out for leaking an internal document. While Houdart was cleared of leaking the “strictly confidential” safeguard document, the investigation found he leaked an “official-use only” document. As a result, Houdart was demoted and issued a salary cut.

Kim addressed staff in an internal message Thursday, after the survey results were made available and underscored his commitment to respond.

“As president of the institution, I’m accountable for not just what we deliver to our clients, but also the environment under which we work and the institution’s strategic directions moving forward,” Kim wrote. “I’m committed, together with other leaders across the bank group, to respond to your message and to make improvements.”

Kim wrote that he met with all World Bank Group vice presidents to discuss the results, and identified leadership, internal bank processes and career development as three key focus areas for immediate action.

“I and the senior management team have heard your feedback. We will do better,” the World Bank president stressed.

The Executive Committee of the World Bank Group Staff Association also responded to the survey results in an internal message to staff, calling them “sobering, humbling, embarrassing, humiliating, appalling and a number of other adjectives that could be added to the list.”

The committee added that if the survey’s results aren’t addressed in a timely manner, it could result in “serious institutional risk in terms of reputation, delivery and finances.” It called this “an excellent opportunity for senior management to take a step back and engage in some deep introspection,” adding that senior management needs to converse in particular with staff close to clients and make sure their voices are heard.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.