Thursday, May 19, 2005

There is just no excuse for any company, public or private, to perpetuate poor managers

Comment from the


Prior to coming to the Lab I worked for a world-wide organization that I was proud to be a part of. I felt valued. My supervisors (and there were many because I moved every few years) used positive reinforcement and provided guidance and training. I knew my contribution was part of something bigger than myself and I would enjoy telling my grandkids about my work there one day.

Fast forward to now.

My Nanos-like boss is an abuser and technically so far in over his head he can't make competent decisions. He sleeps through meetings. He is a blamer and scapegoats his employees. He doesn't listen or reply to feedback from his direct reports. He ignores all manner of advice unless it supports his positions. He is dictatorial and punitive. And amazingly, his boss puts up with his bad behavior and I can't understand why.

I really enjoy my work location and am proud to be a part of the facility mission. I really love the people I work with locally. So I stick it out hoping my abuser boss will go away through some upcoming reorganization and my life will return to a happier place.

Until I (and my family) am relieved of this daily weight, I will have a hard time being upbeat about UC's management team and the future of the Lab. I will do my best each day, despite the debilitating manager, in the hopes he will go away soon. This is the cross I bear daily and I doubt I am alone.

There is just no excuse for any company, public or private, to perpetuate poor managers who are technically incompetent and people abusers. Life is too short for this to be acceptable to anyone. And please don't say "just leave." If it were possible, I would have been gone by now. Los Alamos real estate values prohibit me and my family from either just quiting or leaving at this time.

Your Nanos-like boss sounds like my division's chief of staff. They must have both taken Nanos' management training course.
Hopefully, present and possible future Lab directors are reading the blog. I would like to suggest that we could describe managers at the Lab we have had that we really liked. And why. Many of them were exiled, or have gone underground. Some are still hanging in there.

PS I have no reason to brown nose. I am out with current contract end.

Sue Chasen
Sue Chasen:

Other than John Browne, I can't think of any LANL line or program manager that I feel acted out of anything other than extreme self-interest.
I hate to tell you, but LANL doesn't hire managers based on people talent. (I have worked here 27 years.) My best managers have been somewhat benign. Several have been downright illegal in their behavior.

I have a friend who has been going through groups, seeking a spot where they are at least fair.

I have seen:
1. Bosses who preach religion.
2. Promote their (untalented) friends.
3. Never come in to work, yet fill out timesheets.
4. Tell rude personal stories about other employees.
5. Bosses who yell,scream, and threaten.
6. Bosses who don't respect techs and secretatries.
7. Get this, someone who claims they hired a woman for her bust.
8. Bosses who lie on lab safety documents, which you must then sign.
9. Bosses, who while acting as above, will actively undermine you if you try to leave.

You might argue that some of these behaviors may be hidden, but I can tell you from experience that the LAB seldom gets rid of a bad, abusive boss, even when they have proof.

The best plan is to change groups until you find a decent one. Good luck. (And ombuds exists to protect the LAB, use it with caution.)
Your boss sounds like my former deputy division manager. He was notorious for pulling the "rug" -- funding and support -- out from people underneath him at will, retaliatory behavior, and hiring friends. He has no people skills, and is well hated by almost all of X division where he once worked and burned all his bridges. Since then, his goals have been to screw X division through his current position, protect his ineffective division leader who never delivers on any project and is delusional to boot, and protect his fraudulent group leaders. Talent isn't even an issue here, and 8:40 got it right, the Lab rarely punishes or gets rid of these people.
Cheer up - this is not just a UC LANL problem, same type of problems exist at PTLA.
Poor leaders can be a threat.

Know that many will stand with you. To do what must be done.

Keep the faith. And be proud of what you are capable of doing.
5/19/2005 08:40:10 AM lists some serious accusations, and I am here to report that I have seen all of them. There are few decent managers left. The good ones have either left management or totally left the laboratory. I am a recent retiree who left because I got sick of the items on the list.
I find the managers who are always preaching their religion and their politics the most difficult to deal with. There is no way to shut them up without risking one's livelihood. There ought to be a ban on proselytizing at work kind of like there is a ban on sexual advances at work.
I might add that it doesn't help their religion either. Actions speak louder than words and their actions rarely match their words.
There are groups where the supervisor attempts to hire his/her church members and church duties are assigned in team meetings -- seriously. And it isn't just one church. Several religions do this.
I was a TSM at LANL until a few years ago. I quit the Lab for the same sorts of reasons described in this thread. It was quite a psychological hurdle to jump over to get to the point where I made my decision to leave LANL. One of the major problems I saw at LANL is that the bad managers perpetuate more bad managers. The bad ones don't want to hire or promote another manager who may be smarter, more competent, and more people-oriented than they are. So, bad management becomes more entrenched in the organizational system, more powerful, more self-serving, and increasingly self-protective. A related problem I observed is that, as managers, especially the not-so-good ones, move up the LANL promotion ladder, they become increasingly isolated from the people and tasks they oversee. I've worked for other employers and most of my bosses were good people, leaders, and managers, and did not forget where they came from. My opinion, likely controversial, is that UC frankly has done a lousy job of providing sufficient oversight to weed out the bad LANL mangers and prevent new ones from getting onto the management ladder. A friend of mine, who is a retired senior military officer with lots of experience working with DOE and the major weapon labs, recently told me that he doubts very much that UC will win back the contract. For the sake of those of you employed at LANL I hope he is wrong. If UC does win, I very much hope it will have the courage and the determination to fire the LANL upper management (but I doubt it!).
I find it very hard to believe that most managers at LANL are "bad". Clearly, there are some that don't belong here. It is also true that the blog brings out the worst in people that can complain about preceived slights and under the hood of anonymous postings.

I have been at Universities, a defense contractor and now LANL. With the exception of Nanos, who was a world class bully, I don't think the managers here are markedly different.

We should emphasize the postive managers as suggested by Sue Chasen. This has the danger of being a free-for-all with slings and arrows for any manager so named. However, it might be worth trying:

(1) Carolyn Mangeng is a much maligned figure, and her connection to Pete was poison. However, she is incredibly caring for people, and she really does think institutionally. She was responsive to Nanos' orders, but that was her job.

(2) Bill Feiereisen, division leader in CCS. This guy is smart, helpful, creative, and works hard to imporve the entire lab.

(3) James Peery, Deputy for PADNWP. I have never seen a more thoughful manager than James. I wish that he could immediately replace Fred Tarantino.
Following the previous poster's theme, I have
know a couple of very good managers. These include Terry Wallace when he was at EES and Don Rej when he was at STB. Both these fellows really listened.

A couple of bad managers I have seen are Mary Hockaday and Ken Hargis. Both these people micromange beyond belief. They don't let anyone do anything, and then can't understand why everyone is not marching to their music.
Don Rej listens? Paahleeese.
heads up

The new LANL RFP has been released.
It is available on the LLNL home page.
I started reading some of the comments after I heard the story on NPR this morning and I have to send my overall support to my fellow UC employess. Yes, I work in UC, but I work on one of the 9 (soon to be 10) campuses, rather than any of the labs. However, I have a strong support for LANL, as I was born in Los Alamos, graduated from LAHS, and both parents retired from LANL about 10 to 12 years ago (they still live on the hill).

My belief in the Labs is almost fanatical, perhaps because I have watched it from birth to present. I have a fierce pride of the many accomplishments that the Labs have given to the world and to the safety of the nation, despite what others have said or what has happened during the last few years. I know that much of what we have today in the sciences is due to much of the research and development done at the Labs during the last 50 years plus.

I also know, that the Labs have the most intelligent and creative minds in the world. When I had told someone I was from New Mexico, they asked if I had any idea of a place where the highest concentration of PhDs worked and lived. During the Cold War, Los Alamos was in the top 5 places for the Soviets to bomb first in case of a war outbreak. If the work done at LANL (then LASL) was that insignificant, then no one would know you were there. And although much of the population of the US has no clue as to what the Labs do (and always associate it only with weapons), know that what you, as current employees, do is what the general population will use for their benefit in the future.

Finally, please know that you are not alone with the issues of bad managers. Unfortunately, I believe that UC is going through a phase of bad managers, as I seem to be surrounded by them myself, and I know of several other departments on my campus that have the same problem. Times have changed, and I dare believe that people have grown, so that such behavior should be dealt with appropriately, termination of Chancellors, Provosts, Deans, Lab Directors, etc. should be a part of what has to happen when the leadership is poor (and has been documented showing reasonable cause) to maintain the quality that represents the Labs and UC as a whole.
Anonymous : 5/19/2005 12:06:45 PM mentioned some individuals that s/he felt were good managers. OK, maybe since I did not have first-hand experience with most of them. BUT, when he stated that "Don Rej does listen," the commentor lost ALL credibility.
Agreed: LANL has had, and still has, numerous good managers at various levels. I enjoyed working for some of these folks before I quit the Lab because of the overabundance of poor managers and the increasing "gridlock" of being able to do my work and still enjoy it. The work environment simply became too poor for me to deal with. The problem is that there are just too many of the poor ones, with the faults described in this blog. They perpetuate themselves and they are not being dislodged! I also have worked for a number of employers besides the Lab, and, yes, I found mixes of some incompetent managers and good people. Darn few employers of any size are unaffected. It's just that at LANL, the bad ones are pervasive in number and position.
to 1:03 - often people confuse "listening to" and "agreeing with". As a group leader, I listened to everyone in my group. Usually, for every opinion, I would hear a counter-opinion. When I would decide in favor of one opinion, the others would accuse me of "not listening".

No one can satisfy all the people all the time.
To Anonymous : 5/19/2005 02:00:37 PM,

you sure got it right!
Odd but it seems the women manager types I've run into here are worse than the men (with a few notable exceptions). If we're talking inability to think, unqualified, etc they seem to use threats and retaliation tactics to "manage" people as a way of making up for their deficiences---certainly not across the board, but it seems to trend. Bottom line is a bad manager is bad regardless of gender and there should be no place for them in any organization.
Remember the comment attributed to John Browne, that management is like a tree full of monkeys ....
My experience with Mangeng was closer to 05:12:25 than to 10:12:25, of course you are free to disagree.
To 4:27:27 PM - Oh, good god, think like a scientist, won't you? That's a terribly stupid extrapolation. No wonder Congress doesn't want to listen to us. Just because you've had bad experiences with a female manager doesn't mean that women at Los Alamos aren't able to think, are retaliatory and are worse managers than any of the other idiot managers we've got. Don't attribute the characteristics of an individual to an entire population, please. The very best two managers I've had in my life were women, both at Los Alamos - but I'm not using my personal experience to justify saying that all women managers at LANL are competent visionaries. We're a national laboratory - let's try to be a little smart about this, okay?
Correction - My experience with Mangeng was closer to 04:27:27 than to 10:12:25, of course you are free to disagree.
hey babe---go back and read what I wrote. I didn't say ALL.... cluck
One needs to examine the root cause of management failures. Most typically, managers are appointed without the necessary time rising through the ranks. Seestrom went from deputy GL to division leader to AD in record time. Sara Scott never spent time learning leadership, and it shows. Brent Park jumped from deputy GL to DL. We have yet to see how he will do. However Sara has appointed 2 GL's, young and inexperienced, no leadership skills, who are as lost as babes in the wood. N division is coasting on past leadership success (while it was still NIS), and going down hill very quickly.
to 5/19/2005 10:36:28 AM
I agree with your points, well done. Major problems you listed:
1)bad managers perpetuate more bad managers
2) bad ones don't want to hire or promote another manager who may be smarter, more competent, and more people-oriented
3) bad management becomes more entrenched in the organizational system, more powerful, more self-serving, and increasingly self-protective.

I would add:
4) yes men are hired
5) leading to greater homogeneity and ultimately what LANL has become
6) true thinkers (not yes men) are culled quickly (never get leadership positions - label in negative fashions)
7) small egos lead to low integrity , low self-esteem, and low confidence = LANL managers
to 5/19/2005 06:40:28 PM:

Scott is worthless, she has been the arctypical yes person for Cobb and Immele. She doesn't have an independent self though in her head. Not technical only capable of copying and not attributing. She has hire in-experienced GLs because those are the only ones she can control and that would work for her. N-div last one out turn out the lights.
A good manager may occasionally err and promote someone who turns out to be a bad manager from the pool of applicants. The worse a manager is, however, the less likely a potentially good manager is willing to apply to work for them--it would mean committing to carry out the policies and decisions he knows he will oppose and that will make him look like a clone of the pointy-haired one. The quality of the applicant pool is thereby lowered, and it is more likely another bad manager will get promoted from the pool of sycophants. Senior managers are the only ones in position to correct the problem by removing the bad choices they made or inherited. Uncorrected, the quality of management can only get worse.

I have minor experience with Scott (serving of search committees), and I found that she is indecisive, and truly limited in her ability to be creative. However, I wonder if the vindictive posts here are really representative of her abilities. Analysis of N division shows two groups which have very major problems. This problems are the result of festering issues, especially in the intel programs (does anyone in the world actually think that Bill Johnson is anything but scum?). When division leader needs to fix problems they must be decisive, and continuelly engaged. this probably does not match the description of Sara.

There is a focus on the blog on the bad managers -- however, there are some GOOD managers. These are the folks that need to be identified for kuckuck. I understand that Kuckuck is evaluating every single member of his senior team, and all the supporting persons in his office. He is very intuitive with his understanding of people.

By the way, Kuckuck is so different from Nanos it is amazing. This is a man that wants to hear opinions and ideas!
get rid of Beck
The first person to go should be Cobb. Cobb is a petty bully, and basks in power. He screwed up B division, he now loves making deals with Wilmot about compliance, but they are totally unworkable.

The second person to go is Fred Tarantino. The guy is a power crazy guy that thinks he is not getting respect from LANL.
More whining, negativity, and unscientific thinking.

Grow up! Sue Chasen made a good suggestion that has been largely ignored in this thread.

What do you want the Lab to be? How do you plan to help get it there?

Your ego is not the center of the issues the Lab is facing. Surprise.
While we are on the subject of people who made a mess of things, Mary Hockaday certainly was not up to the task as DX Division Leader. She did not have a good understanding of the technology and did not know the people. Nor did she really have a reputation as an exceptional manager, either in the line or program role. So, what did she bring to the job? I don't know who the competing applicants were, but if she was the best choice, then further searching would have been appropriate.

When Hockaday became DL, she fired all of the GLs. Many of the new GLs were as unfamiliar with the DX Division technology and personnel as she is. Some were not very skilled in line management. She did not respond to complaints about the cowboys in DX-3. After the CREM incident, Hockaday got her golden parachute into the weapons program office.
To 4:27.

"Odd but it seems the women manager types I've run into here are worse than the men (with a few notable exceptions). If we're talking inability to think, unqualified, etc they seem to use threats and retaliation tactics to "manage" people as a way of making up for their deficiences---"

I am a female PhD TSM who has worked at the lab for 10 years. During this time, I've worked exclusively for men who were TLs up to the GL level. Believe me, I haven't worked for a man yet who I would consider a good manager or leader. There are plenty of bad managers to go around but I wouldn't say women are worse. I currently work for a male GL who is very vindictive, retaliatory and who uses threats to make up for HIS deficiencies. He stiffles ideas and blackballs anyone who isn't a "yes person."
The comments in this thread are interesting. I have heard most of these stories before, but the added details are helpful.

My question is more basic. How do we get from these insights to a well thought out strategic plan that would, over time, fix the errors, restore trust, and make this a better place to work.

I started a blog ( ) to provide a safe anonymous place to have the plan building discussions in more privacy. It is not clear whether a blog is the right approach.

So my question is:

What is a format that will allow those who are willing to work for the productive future of LANL to communicate, anonymously if necessary, in enough depth to create a detailed plan for that future and then to enact that plan?

The array of opinions on this blog is incredible, which is a positive aspect of the kind of open discussion that this format provides. LANL has its good and bad managers indeed, male and female, but sadly, the bad ones have taken over for the most part. As a SET member nearly ready to retire I can give a first hand account of dealings with various other managers. Concerning the folks mentioned in 10:39, Mangeng was among the few remaining decent people at the top. She wasn't perfect but no one is. She is very political, but tried to reached out to staff who ranked far below her and gave over 30 years of service ot the Lab. As a reward for this, Nanos and Cobb screwed Mangeng out of the acting deputy director's post. On the other end of the spectrum, Feiereisen falls among the bad lot of managers. He has an interesting and checkered past that included bailing from NASA Ames when someone he ticked off got into a position of authority above him and instituted accountability, which is to Feiereisen like kryptonite is to Superman. Also the whole NASA Ames computational fluid dynamics group had fallen apart under him. He was not the first choice for CCS Division leader; the brilliant Bill Press made the executive order to hire him against others' opinions and good ol' Ray Juzaitis, another exemplar of
irresponsible management, approved it. That calm, warm demeanor Feiereisen publicly displays in SET meetings is disarming and misleading, and hides a pathological personality; if you've ever seen him lose his cool when caught off guard he's like the
Stevensonian character Jekyll and Hyde. Feiereisen doesn't care about anyone or anything other than his dirt biking, gun collection, and traveling. He may care about the Lab as an institution so that he can
retain his job, but he does not care about staff or colleagues, as many former CCS personnel will attest. The number of people who have departed CCS division in protest to the erratic behavior of the division leadership is telling enough. Sue Seestrom should have put a stop to this behavior long ago but continues to turn a blind eye to it.

It is important to consider that while our current crisis may appear to be strictly the LANL working ranks versus G. Pete Nanos and the upper management maniacs, there is a lot of strife going on between the SET members themselves, and they are often viewed from below as all hating one another. Peery, since he was probably rightly characterized by 10:39 as one of the good guys, and is incidentally also under Seestrom's watch, has decent intentions but is an odd one. He departed Sandia Lab a few years back
claiming that he wanted to get his kids into the Los Alamos school system. The actual reasons he left are unclear. His public face of playing the cool intellectual who keeps his cards close to his chest is
not all that convincing. On the other hand, he comes across as a straight shooter when meeting one on one. If he doesn't like something he will say so, and he does seem to really believe in LANL's mission of
preventing world war three. Peery, like Feiereisen, was hired by Juzaitis, who never disciplined anyone for wrongdoing and himself was both well-hated by his enemies and well-liked by those he protected.
And Feiereisen has not exactly made Peery happy in the last year by expecting funds to be directed towards building more and more hardware
systems in CCS with nothing to show in the end. More than this, there are a lot of folks in the upper management levels at LANL who are willing to backstab one another, shift funding around to suit their own interests, and will protect their own jobs at any cost, even if it means losing talented staff to industry and academia. Nanos did not start this kind of behavior; it had been there for years, but he did exacerbate this serious problem. The shenanigans undertaken by some members of the SET and upper management have really hurt LANL's reputation and credibility, and morale, and has made all of the management and staff look bad in the eyes of Congress and the nation. I just hope that someday they can forgive us. Perhaps Congress members Stupak and DeGette don't get what LANL is about and should not spout off about shutting us down in ignorance, but most Americans don' t know what this place is about any more, and neither do I. I am glad to be rid of Pete's mandatory quarterly retreats and standing-room-only meetings, but am looking forward to retirement. It is no longer worth the toll on one's health and family.
I work directly for Tarantino - you can be sure he is only out for himself. He doesn't believe in doing the work but in smoozing the "right" people to make everything look good.
In response to the 6:57 anonymous posting, supposedly from a SET member, I would have to say that as a CCS employee I have not seen the behavior that is described in the posting. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is well known that Feiereisen disagreed with the SET's policy of blindly following Nanos' irrational directives. If the posting is in fact from a SET member, then this should put what was said into perspective. To me, it sounds like an attempt to do one last bit of damage on the way out.
6:57 has hit the nail on the head with respect to Feiereisen and Peery. James is the sort of leader we can use more of. Bill is the sort of manager that we need to be rid of. Both of them are extremely smooth and the only way to get to their core values is through a conflict where a difficult and unpopular decision must be made. James actually has institutionally minded principles behind his decisions. Bill's only principle is his own self-interest.
Kuckuck, Dynes, Foley, Nanos...these ARE the best and brightest, i.e. the world-class talent UC is famous for assigning to “manage” its interests. Until just recently the nation simply accepted, without question, the myth regarding UC's infallibility, and thus the infallibility of those it anointed to run its colonial outpost in New Mexico, AKA the Los Alamos National Laboratory. As to the question of why UC doesn't just admit it made a mistake placing Nanos or Foley at the helm...since when does UC ever admit mistakes? Indeed, why should UC ever have to admit ANY lapse in judgment, since it holds the keys to the U.S. Treasury and can finance litigation and public relation campaigns without concern as to the cost or benefit to the taxpayer? Would Lockheed do any better than UC? Not likely…but when all the dusts settles, and if UC is no longer holding the reigns at LANL, perhaps we should collectively place the blame where it belongs--on UC's shoulders…for UC never really giving a damn about its employees residing outside of California's borders, for treating New Mexico and its residents as a colony, and for never once admitting a mistake. Had a fraction of the money UC has wasted denying problems been spent, instead, fixing them, the contract for the management oversight of LANL would have never been put up for bid. This may be hard to accept, but it’s the harsh reality we must face. Otherwise we’re simply no better than those who led us to the abyss we now face.
I have only worked at LANL for 3 years, and I have seen a full spectrum of managers; from self-interested to idealistic team builders. But I find the ones who promote the LANL scientific mission over there own self-interest do not go very far. If their passion for their work and the work of others, out weights the political maneuvering of the upper management, they’re sure to fail.

I know a team leader/project leader who supported the LANL mission and demanded superior work from his team. Many of his team members appreciated his hard work and tireless efforts. But when it came down to promoting him to a Group Leader, his management said he was to "decisive". They wanted more of "yes" man that they could manipulate to their agenda.

Today he closes his doors and tries not to care. Not a team leader, not a project leader, just a regular TSM who single handily stood his group up during the stand down, when his regular management wasn't around. No thanks, no recognition, no nothing…

This is what LANL does to its up and coming leaders.
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