Monday, May 23, 2005

ADSR Emailgram


This emailgram from ADSR Terry Wallace may be interesting to blog readers as an indication of how seriously the Lab management takes employee retention issues.


ADSR Emailgram
May 23, 2005

The Laboratory faces an extraordinary challenge concerning its workforce. LANL's staff has performed extraordinary service to the nation in the last 60 years, and the workforce is unique within the DOE complex. However, the uncertainty of LANL's future, the crushing burden of paperwork associated with "getting work done," and the emotional toll of the last year, pose immense obstacles to retaining staff and recruiting "the best and the brightest." I am struck that the institutional approach to retention and recruitment is very "first come, first served," with little planning or appreciation for unintended consequences. As an example, we (LANL) respond to retention mainly with occasional offers of increased salary - which typically breed resentment within teams and groups.

With this in mind, we have instituted a task force within SR along with HR to look at retention and recruitment issues. This task force is developing suggested methods to be used by managers to generate informative dialogues with the individuals who possess the capabilities needed to sustain their organizations. It will also create better understanding of the perspectives necessary to overcome the challenges and obstacles inherent in recruiting and retaining top talent. I have also asked the task force to develop a longer-term, "best practice" approach to our staffing strategies and succession planning. Closely associated with this initiative are our needs for knowledge capture and transfer tools in general and, specifically, to effectively manage the "memory loss" which may be inherent in the immediate days to come. A cross-institutional team has just developed a knowledge capture and transfer process which will be offered to managers and their groups in June.
I want to assure you that I consider these issues as serious challenges for not only SR but also for the institution as a whole. Recruitment and retention affect the entire workforce from entry and mid-level to our most seasoned employees who may be considering retirement. Replenishing and retaining our scientific and technical talent at the Laboratory is a persuasive priority regardless of who wins the contract competition. Beyond the obvious pension concerns, these issues are compounded by the high average age of our workforce and the fact that more individuals, who are eligible to retire, are seriously considering the option due to the increasing challenges of our work environment.
I am most interested in your input and feedback - from new hires to long-career employees.

The lab is just now figuring out that retention is a serious problem? I realize that Wallace is at least trying to do something, but it is shocking that the rest of senior management is just getting around to the fact that no one will be home come December.
It is amazing to me that ADs communicate so differently. I am in SR, so I get Wallace's emailgrams every week. I also get Seestrom's communications, and my wife gets nothing from Marquez in ADA. Why are the senior managers not on the same page? No wonder nothing ever happens on the 4th floor. Wallace is talking about retention, Cobb is talking about electrical safety, Seestrom is whinning about all "her workers" need to get over it, and Beason is telling us about a director of morale.

Maybe UC should ask LM how to communicate. Just a thought
I was just sitting here thinking the same thing: Jeez, one AD-level manager just now figured out there is a serious problem with staff retention. I wonder if any of them have yet noticed the connection between a spike in requests for retirement interviews and Dynes' & Foley's folly of last week.
To be fair, I think Wallace has been working on this for some time -- long before the Foley snarls (NO!, make the business case). I know that SR has been trying to find an institutional way to approach retention -- in fact, Wallace came and talked to me about what it would take to get me to stay here. I also know he has done that with 6 others on my team. The issues for all of us is not money, it is about getting to do my science.

I believe in UC - Wallace seems almost naively positive about academic freedom and how UC has foster that in every part of our lives. In the end, I have decided to stay, but I don't sleep well at night yet.
I hadn't been sleeping well since last July. Recently, I finally decided to retire, even though it is at least 5 years earlier than I had planned. I'm going to go to an organization where the management enables my ability to do science, instead of impeding me. I've been sleeping much better since.
The retention issue is related to the morale issue. I observed more than a year ago in seeing viewgraphs from one of the management retreats that morale was understood to be a major problem, but that no approach to dealing with morale was addressed. It is well known that morale is one of the biggest factors in safety and security, as we were so firmly made aware in one of our security stand downs many years ago. I suggested to the director (Nanos) that he should address the morale issue and the goals that he was so fond of promoting would be much more readily achieved. The management instead has chosen to do everything it can to degrade morale and to make sure people leave quickly. I also suggested that we should encourage those retiring and about to retire to be put in positions of mentoring to bring some of the younger folks along. There even could be incentives given to this. Instead the incentives are to drive people away. Needless to say I never even got a thanks but no thanks from the director on these suggestions. I think it is late in the game to be addressing retention. There is a lot of irreplaceable knowledge leaving this Lab at this time, and I've not really seen any serious concern about it from anyone in management. It is an area that I tried to work for a long time with no real buy in from the administration, even though it is widely recognized as a problem.
Not too good for morale to have a sociopath like Nanos as a Director.
Rather than complain about management- I'm going to make some simple concrete suggestions:

1. Ask your GLs to visit each person in your org. and ask for three things (in order of preference) that would improve their personal morale. Then make a point of granting at least one. (Hint: DL get a completed morale improvement list from the GL and spot check.)

It is amazing what simple doable things might make someone happy- a private printer, an air-conditioner, flex-time, one day a week alone with their door closed, a trip to a special class, a different office, a chance get in on the ground floor of a new science initive.

2. Give each person who indicates a 50-50 chance that they may retire in the next year an 'important stuff' note book to pass on to the next employee- where the keys are, what they are working on, what is half done, what is finished, etc. Give a big thanks or even token gift for this effort at retirement lunch.

3. This one is really important. Randomly quiz most of each group under you and see if they can answer several questions about your GLs and DGLs

A. Give your GL and DGL a grade for the last year's business operation, A through F

B. Give your GL/DGL a grade on the same scale for people management.

C. Have you witnessed or heard of ANY people mistreatment incidents under your current GL/DGL.

If your GLs get passing grades, great, keep them-
If they get 30% failing grades or have several reports of having mistreated people - personally investigate them further. Remember that what they act like in front of you may not be what others experience. If your info warrants, please be ready to remove a bad GL/DGL. Your underlings will thank you and morale will improve.
"If your info warrants, please be ready to remove a bad GL/DGL. Your underlings will thank you and morale will improve." This seems to fly in the face of observations made in the various upward-appraisal exercises of the last decade. Pretty consistently, the farther above oneself in the management chain a given manager was, the lower marks one was likely to give that manager. Most people seem to like, or at least tolerate, their GL; tolerate their DL with misgivings; and believe that their AD is a loser. (Adjust the starting point upward or downward as appropriate, but the pattern is the thing.) This was documented in analyses of the upward appraisals.

The pattern may have changed recently -- lots of things have -- but I don't think so, and if it still applies, an exercise like the one 12:14 proposes may be a bad idea. Why undercut the manager who not only is closest to you in terms of shared experiences, but also is more likely to be satisfactory than the one doing the undercutting? GLs already have to put up with the responsibility-without-authority problem and bizarre behavior from above; why make their jobs even worse? I don't get it.
Gee, they're about a year or two late in figuring this out! Now that so many good people have departed...
Dear Management,

Nothing says "thank you" like cash.
Of course you would not undercut a good manager- I would give mine an A-.

But there are a few bad apples, the ones who give rise to the horror stories which become legend. Those few need to go.

How do you root them out? Do you think they tell their own boss that they are terrible? No, so you need to ask their subordinates. (People are for the most part fair, the good to ok GLs will get As and Bs) The misguided LANL upward appraisals don't ask the hard questions....
The upward appraisals are not very effective. For one thing, the response rate is 25% to 35%. Secondly, similar to this blog, it is mostly the dissatisfied (in some cases character assassins) who mostly participate.
Actually the average upward appraisals are pretty glowing.
For those that are not, the few 'bad' managers are allowed to just ignore them or explain them away.

The point is: We need some way to identify and remove poor managers.
"Thank you for the opportunity to convey grave concerns about the current morale at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the benefits/pension issue, and the pending mass exodus unless something is done quickly to provide incentives for employees to stay." This is the opening sentence of a letter I sent to Domenici, Bingaman, Udall, Wilson, and Richardson in early January. We have already lost many, many outstanding people. It is most disturbing that they truly believe they can quickly transfer what equates to thousands of person-years of experience into meaningful archives by using a "knowledge transfer" team. I believe Terry Wallace is genuinely trying to do something in the bigger long-term picture. Also, if one can believe James Rickman, just 3 weeks ago he said the average age of LANL's workforce is 46. That does not seem to be unusually old for an organization like LANL. It is already too late to avoid some significant damage to LANL's knowledge base and will only get worse unless some incentives are offered.
I figure most of the posts indicate that the existence of an official Mentoring Program and the nod given it by John Browne are largely unknown. Browne had a glimmer of recognition that attrition rates and recruitment problems were going to result in a serious brain drain if it weren't addressed. Unfortunately, the nod seemed too feeble, especially when it was or could have moved down the chain of command to the Division Leaders and Group Leaders, to really support the program to its fullest potential within the scientific ranks, the tech support as well as the admin support realms.

There were some successes for the masses in the first couple of years and the focus has now shifted to 'growing' Group Leaders into higher manager levels. Not all bad if they learn or improve some people skills and really learn how to lead a workforce.

It amazes me that this whole issue is just now gaining attention or credibility in the upper management!

As an aside, Nanos' lack of interest in dealing with or even acknowledging the need for addressing morale issues reeks of the standard Navy attitude that "If we had wanted you to have a family/life/wife/etc., we would have issued you one."
Concerns over retention issues have gone on for perhaps the last 15 or so years. This has been looked at for solutions from the Director's level on down. Even the good bosses have not found a sure-fire cure, probably because they just don't have the power and authority. UC and DOE would have to be firmly behind a meaningful retention effort. I think another issue that has complicated a retention effort is that "retention" has too often come to mean the desire to keep experienced people with lots of knowledge (and have been at the Lab for 30+ years) from retiring. In the 1990s a mentoring program was announced, and it was intended to have these highly experienced people spend time mentoring younger, newer people to the Lab so their body of knowledge would not disappear. I don't know if this has been a success or not Lab-wide, but in my little part of LANL it was abused. It provided an excuse and funding for some TSMs to retire and then return as consultants, making big bucks in the process. And these guys were able to pretty much do whatever they wanted to do, except mentoring young folks. Only recently have I seen concern over keeping the younger people.
I thought we were supposed to encourage staff to leave so the impending budget problems next year would be mitigated. Maybe it does't apply to SR, or do they want to keep the layoff option open?
We were involved with a knowledge capture effort in the weapons program about 5 years ago that had a detailed plan to move forward but funding for it was not forthcoming. It was deemed too low of a priority. It should have been done years ago and become part of the normal operations of the Laboratory. I've retired and have come back to the Lab part time, but it certainly isn't a money bonanza, and I'm actually considerably less expensive to the Lab than before I retired.
Upper management, including Wallace "does not get it." To keep and recruit the good personnel needed, the non-value added parts of today's Lab work experience have to be eliminated or be extremely streamlined. That includes most of the current safety, security, procurement training, procedures and paperwork (LOTO, IWD's, STOP training, randomly open ACREM libraries, etc.). People do not care what DOE, NNSA or S-division demand; they will not waste their lives and careers doing b***sh*t. Either make the work experience reasonable or they will continue to "vote with their feet". Another one of my colleagues just announced he can't take it anymore and will be retiring 10 years early; he said he would come back as an consultant but only if he doesn't have to do non-technical work.
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