Thursday, March 24, 2005

Clarification of Nanos' IBM reference, and the analogy isn't too far off

From Anonymous:

Clarification of Nanos' IBM reference, and the analogy isn't too far off

I think that Director Nanos' reference in recent Congressional testimony to IBM's turnaround had nothing to do with the long-ago PC introduction, but actually refers to the much more recent transformation of IBM from a near-bankrupt bloated whale on the beach into a giant profit generator under the direction of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. His book, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance," is a fabulous read. When Gerstner left General Mills for IBM, after much arm-twisting, I wondered what a breakfast cereal guy could do in this firm, but he accomplished an amazing transformation. However, it required making many omelets (breaking eggs).

I imagine that the Director intended to compare LANL with IBM's former condition, and to compare his intentions for LANL with Gerstner's for IBM. There may be some interesting similarities between what Gerstner found at IBM and Nanos found at LANL in terms of insularities and fiefdoms. However, there are also disturbing similarities, e.g., IBM restructured its retirement program, and the LANL recompetition threatens to do the same.

IMHO, LANL is actually in a current state not that much different from IBM before Gerstner. What company could withstand what the lab has been through since last summer and, indeed, since 1999? It has been observed (but not on this forum, I think) that organizations approaching terminal collapse react by making everyone generate lots of happy-talk to bolster the corporate image.

This is happening in at least one LANL directorate. Each week, every project is expected to report up to line management something in the form of a "highlight" that can be boasted about further up the line, and back to the directorate to make everyone happy. Divisions in this directorate keep spreadsheets that account for how many pieces of happy-talk have been generated by each project. Objections that research projects simply don't work that way have been met with "Just give us nuggets in simple language and short sentences that anyone can understand."

The not-very-good movie "Office Space" pretty much captures the current LANL environment, and reflects the mood and morale of people I know who work at LANL. Truly idiotic management practices (see above) coupled with tons of petty and inscrutable rules are driving morale to new lows. I heard LANL people say long ago that "GI Jane" was their training film (Overcome Any Obstacle!), but "Office Space" is its replacement.

Comments:
And according to http://www.allianceibm.org/pensionlawsuitfaq.htm#Q2 IBM lost a lawsuit challenging aspects of their retirement system restructuring to a 'cash balance' plan as discriminatory to older employees.
 
I think the Lab needs to follow ESA's lead on this. The Deputy Division Leader sent out a powerpoint slide saying "ESA is a good place to work!" to everyone in the Division and recommended that people print it out and put it up in their work area. Quite the morale booster.
 
All this talk about tipping points and change agents reminds me of the corollary that for every true genius, there are a thousand self-proclaimed martyrs, misunderstood savants, and madmen aiming for the title. Nanos' self-comparison with Gerstner seems to fall short of glory. Anyone can throw art at the wall and claim to be a master.
 
I'm weary of fulfilling the TPS Report requirement.
 
What's the TPS Report Requirement?
 
Watch the movie Office Space. You'll learn everything you need to know about LANL, and TPS reports, in the first 10 minutes.
 
Don't take my stapler!
 
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