Thursday, August 11, 2005

Venomous, mean-spirited anonymous comments.

Doug-

Interesting that some here count the character assassination of a
living, working, diligent Laboratory employee (manager or not) to
carry less weight than the defamation of a dead friend. Whether the
accused be Jeep, Fred, Sue, Phil, Micheline, Tom, Pete, etc., these
are people who have focused decades-long careers on serving the
nation and the Lab, to the best of their abilities, and whose future
careers can be destroyed by your “many venomous, mean-spirited
anonymous comments.”

It is the most transparent hypocrisy to claim innocence in
anonymously slandering someone ‘because they deserve it (though we do
not need to prove it)’ but to decry the defamation of a friend.

Gary


Comments:
Gary said:
"It is the most transparent hypocrisy to claim innocence in
anonymously slandering someone ‘because they deserve it (though we do
not need to prove it)’ but to decry the defamation of a friend."

I suspect we will not see this again since the blog does not allow anonymous comments. I hope we can contiue to pick on you in the best of spirits.
 
Larry-
Perhaps you will have better luck in picking on my arguments.

An even better concept will be to think thru some of the real challenges facing LANL and start exploring the solution space in a non-contentious way. Start with the assumption that everyone here is trying to do well at their jobs. Recognize that the enemy is not the boss and it is not the worker, but rather processes, attitudes, structures, etc. that get in the way of excellence. The spectacular creativity of LANL staff might be channeled in a positive way to put forward workable solutions (or to understand and accept that other experts provide).

Please note that in our complicated work-space, solutions that ignore major parts of the overall equation can be expected to fail. None of us would casually assume that we can put a particle beam into space, design a replacement weapon, develop a new cosmological approach, solve a waste remediation problem, etc. without really studying all of the relevant elements of the problem. And we are REALLY good at those things.

So we should candidly examine what drives the burdensome regulatory environment, or an overly conservative management approach, or staff/managers who cut corners on security/safety, etc. Also we should get real experts to help us understand how similar problems are solved is other, maybe simpler environments. We can learn some of this stuff.

However, throwing grenades at others in the organization has no constructive purpose.
Gary
 
Doug-
Congratulations on your decision to end anonymous comments. It is the right thing to do.
Gary
 
Gary Stradling said:
"Larry-
Perhaps you will have better luck in picking on my arguments."

I always pick on your arguments when I don't agree. Actually, sometimes I agree with you.

"An even better concept will be to think thru some of the real challenges facing LANL and start exploring the solution space in a non-contentious way. Start with the assumption that everyone here is trying to do well at their jobs. Recognize that the enemy is not the boss and it is not the worker, but rather processes, attitudes, structures, etc. that get in the way of excellence."

See, I agree with you completely and you can replace "processes, attitudes, structures, etc." with DOE. They get in the way of excellence. How do we get around this problem that has existed for more than 25 years? We would not be in this mess if it were not for DOE.

"So we should candidly examine what drives the burdensome regulatory environment, or an overly conservative management approach, or staff/managers who cut corners on security/safety, etc."

I learned a long time ago that you can't fight bureaucrats, and I'm the guy who always said to fight back if you are right. Just play their game and the will leave you alone. The conservative management approach is what DOE wants. See my suggestion above. Some people will always cut corners. Let's hope they are few.

"However, throwing grenades at others in the organization has no constructive purpose."

My comment about picking on you was meant in a joking manner. As a comedian, I guess I should not quit my day job. I hope you don't think I was throwing a grenade at you.
 
Gary:

For now I will go along with your assumption that everyone at LANL is trying to do his job well. That doesn't change the fact that many are manifestly unqualified to do their jobs, having been subject to the vicissitudes of the Peter Principle. The problem we most urgently need to address is how to recognize and remove these people while implementing a training plan which will groom a generation of successors who would not be over their heads.

Anonymous hacking at those people does nothing to help, unless you subscribe to the notion that the hue and anonymous cry raised by this blog led to the ouster of Nanos. Honest, measured criticism of an inept manager may help -- even if we assume that the manager is indeed trying to do a good job. It may even lead to an understanding by the critic that the manager has more irons in the fire than just the one intended for the critic's sacred cow, and that Bad Management in this particular instance may be nothing more than an effort to juggle competing priorities and limited resources.
 
Jim-
I appreciate your thoughtful comment. Over the last two days I have been puzzling how to best respond. Please pardon the length of my comment. The correct answer is probably book length.

You suggested that incompetent individuals should be spotlighted and somehow be removed from their positions. There may be rare cases where this is applies, but usually not.

A 10,000-person institution exhibits bell-curve distributions across a range of demographics. There will be some people here who are out of their depth. In addition to managers who have lower-than-normal skill or temperament to manage well, we have a number of staff who have “retired in place.” Our anecdotal experiences are insufficient to diagnose whether the distributions at LANL are skewed significantly against comparable institutions, but I will bet that some here have meaningful data on this institution.

If we share the assumption that the managers and employees come to work to do a good job, and if a good job is not always getting done, there must be reasons. New managers initially sense a great opportunity to accomplish something excellent, and to show their latent ability to lead people effectively. Those that fail at this hope must be more disappointed than anyone else.

What I say below applies to the regular person, not the rare malingering employee or the rare corrupt or cruel manager, who should be identified as soon as possible and removed.

In my experience as a parent, employee, or manager, harsh criticism (while being most people’s first response) is not very effective.

One of my colleagues at the beginning of my professional career (Nat C.) mentioned at performance appraisal time, that it did not matter how glowing the appraisal, if the manager had to slip in a criticism, the experience was stinging and the employee went away felling low.

Each of us has aspects of our lives where we do not do so well—on or off the job. We are usually well aware of our weaknesses, but hope that others do not tag us with them. If those around us constantly point out our problems, life is desolate and our motivation to grow is eclipsed by a sense of failure. Parenting experts recommend a praise-to-criticism ratio of 7 to 1. It goes against human nature to bite the tongue and to trust in the ability and desire of others to surmount their problems, but this really pays off. In the workplace, enabling managers or employees by encouragement, trust, and recognition pays dividends in performance.

Still, if the structures and organizational requirements of the institution put either managers or employees in a situation of frustration and impotence, where they are required to do things that are made excessively difficult, it will not be long before unhealthy situations result. An imbalance of negative performance from either managers or employees is a diagnostic of an institutional problem.

So, rather than seeking to spotlight failures of individuals, it will be better for us to focus on standards of performance, enabling processes and effective organizational structures. It cannot be done bottom up, but really has to come from the philosophy, standards and practices of the institution--top down.

Principle-based management has the edge on more convoluted theorizing. It takes time for people to learn correct principles and to unlearn counterproductive habits. It is the inclination of most people to misuse authority and power, but with time, experience and training most of us will also gravitate to a better way. There is an insightful body of literature on this subject. It is not by accident that Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has taken the world of business management by storm.

There are a lot of people much smarter than I on this subject. Dwight J. always impresses me with his organizational insights and management skills.

LANL is going thru a period of transition. The bidders are motivated to do a good job. They have put their best people into their proposal preparation efforts and into their management teams. Details and philosophies will be somewhat different between them. There will be gaps and errors in what they propose. I have hope that which ever wins the contract, that they will apply best-in-class approaches to helping LANL structure itself for excellence and success. This will have to include dealing proactively with the difficult environment that history, politics, DOE, DNFSB, and Congress have put us into (well maybe we share a little bit of the responsibility too!). I also expect that they will look outside of LANL for a top-notch practitioner in organizational health for the diagnoses and cure for issues that exist here.

I have great confidence in Los Alamos and the great people who work here. We have had an unparalleled history of accomplishment and service to this nation and our future will be every bit as bright. Alternative sources of technical expertise to address national security needs are fading. We have an important mission. I have every hope that we will surmount current problems and succeed in that mission.
Gary
 
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