Review of the secretariat structure and operations

Beginning in 2018, the UN Climate Change secretariat undertook a thorough review of its  organizational structure, operations and use of resources, in order to determine how it could best support the needs of Parties and non-Party stakeholders—in an effective and cost-efficient manner—in the global transformation needed to achieve the purpose and goals of the Convention, Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement.

The review was supported by an external consultancy, and included an examination of three interlinked areas:

  1. organizational structures and operations - to better align secretariat capabilities and structure to respond to the emerging support needs of governments under the Paris Agreement, while at the same time delivering on a large portfolio of continuing mandates that Parties have given the secretariat over the years;
  2. allocation of core and supplementary resources - to provide clarity on the structure, functions and funding model necessary for the secretariat to deliver its services;
  3. administrative services – to improve cost effectiveness and sustainability.

The external consultancy applied a five-stage methodology using a participatory, inclusive and transparent process, involving over 340 staff in surveys, meetings, workshops and focus group discussions over a nine-month period to achieve the project’s objective. The review concluded in 2019 with recommendations for both structural and non-structural change.

Implementing change

As a result of this review, the secretariat launched a comprehensive organizational change initiative in 2019 that concluded in late 2020, encompassing the implementation of a new organizational structure and a series of non-structural initiatives to enhance the secretariat’s leadership, performance management and organizational culture. 

A new organizational structure

The recommendations of the review phase included a proposal for a new, high-level organizational structure that had been tested with secretariat staff through consultations and workshops. Through the initial stages of the implementation process, the proposed structure was further refined and operationalized, resulting in the organizational structure outlined here.

This new structure enables coherence around mandated activities, collaboration across multiple areas of expertise, adaptation to changing political realities and the forging of effective relationships with diverse stakeholders.

In order to help ensure a fair, effective and collaborative transition to the new structure, the secretariat established a network of transition focal points for each programme to support the logistical and administrative transition, and created an innovative Staff Management Group (SMG) to propose a mapping of staff to the new structure.  The SMG consisted of 12 staff members, nominated in equal parts by secretariat leadership and the Staff Association Executive Committee, representing a wide variety of diverse backgrounds, experience, placement in the organization, grades, gender and nationalities.  As a result of this process, approximately 94% of fixed-term staff were successfully mapped into the new structure.  Moreover, the secretariat was able to find solutions for the few staff who could not be mapped, to allow them to find new opportunities in the secretariat, while ensuring equitable treatment for all staff.

As part of the structure implementation process, all job descriptions in the organization were reviewed, and revised and classified, as needed.

Leadership development

A new leadership development programme was created, including workshops on supervisory skills and change management that were completed by 96 per cent of staff with supervisory responsibilities in 2019.  A parallel staff development programme has also been created, with workshops for non-supervisors.

Performance management

A performance management working group was established to develop recommendations for changes in the secretariat’s performance management process.  These recommendations were submitted to the secretariat’s Management Team, and following a process of staff consultation, are currently in the process of implementation.

Cultural change

A key pillar in the implementation process was the establishment of the Network4Change, a broad network of colleagues focused on enhancing the secretariat’s culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing through a series of dynamic working groups, focussed on diverse topics ranging from organizational culture to well-being and from resource mobilization to climate data.

The N4C demonstrates how flexible and agile in-house networking initiatives can drive cultural and behavioural change and support hierarchical systems efficiently, including to break silos and support a cross-collaborative approach throughout the secretariat. The N4C draws primarily on in-house resources by engaging colleagues at all institutional levels and empowering them to shape their work environment. Furthermore, the N4C aims at finding continuously sustainable solutions to work together, increase resilience and stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Next steps

One of the purposes of the structure review and implementation has been to ensure the adaptability of the organization to the changing needs of the Parties and non-Party stakeholders and ensure that the secretariat remains “fit for purpose” into the future.  And so, with the completion of this initiative, the secretariat is integrating its on-going change initiatives into the day-to-day work of the organization, such as through Human Resources and the newly established Network4Change and Organizational Development and Oversight functions.

Through these efforts, the secretariat aims to maintain the momentum to continuously improve in the areas of leadership, performance management, transparency of decision-making and reporting, and to further develop the new collaborative and cross-cutting ways of working across the organization.

The implementation of the structure is further elaborated in a summary report from Fitch Consulting, an external consultancy that supported the review and implementation phases of the change initiative