Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Re: Those who would rather tear us down than build us up

This recent post may well have homed in on the key problem that stands in
the way of LANL’s success right now – the prevalence of negative
thinking. As several people have noted over the past months, there has
been a preponderance of negative views expressed in this blog – posters are
endlessly critical of (other) projects and groups and divisions and of the
support staff. They hate the past management and the present management,
and are working themselves up to hate the future management even though
they don’t yet know who they will be. They variously despise the DoE,
for-profit companies, other labs, anyone who isn’t a TSM, Congress, and who
knows what else.

It might be that the negative people self-select themselves to post in this
blog, but I don’t think so. I think this negativity pervades the entire
town. It certainly comes out every time there is a bond issue, such as the
current Civic Center referendum and some of the recent school bonds. It
certainly is evident in the constant carping about the county
administration and the County Council. There just seem to be lots of
people in town who prefer to tell us what is wrong and why things won’t
work than to do anything constructive to improve the situation.

There was a 60’s saying that fits here: “If you are not part of the
solution then you are part of the problem.”. It seems to me that if
anything jeopardizes the lab’s future success, and even its future
survival, it is that too many people are part of the problem and not enough
are part of the solution.

I am not so naïve as to believe that all these negative people will, like
Scrooge, have a conversion experience someday and become positive. For
adults who have negative attitudes, the negativity is too much a part of
their self image and who they are. They are trapped in this world view and
are unlikely to every find their way out of it. However, one can hope, for
the survival of the lab, that if this much promised wave of resignations
ever does take place, it will include a high proportion of the negative
folks, so that those who remain can get on the with positive actions to
save and improve the lab.

Bill Godwin


I agree with your perspective, to a limited degree. There are reasons why many people working at the lab have negative perspectives - the list is partially reflected in the compendium of posts to this blog.

I'm sure you've heard this one before...

The Monkey Story on Company Policy

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been around here.

And that's how company policy begins ...
And now, go to the next post by John Horne.
If you can read that and come away with a "positive" outlook, you should cut back on your dosage of Prozac.
Bill and 5:06,

While I'm not a behavioral psychologist, I agree with a good deal of what you both have to say. Where I differ, particularly with 5:06, is that I have a lot of trouble with some aspects of the monkey story.

Specifically, while the LANL staff has certainly had some bad times recently, they haven't been all that bad in comparison to what the rest of the country deals with every day, in far too many work environments. Lots of people have bosses that are jerks, work for mindless corporations or bureaucracies, are challenged to survive scapegoating, layoffs, and even misappropriation of pension funds. It probably isn't a popular thing to point out but the LANL staff and Los Alamos county have had it very good for a very long time. Disagree? Poll some of your friends who work elsewhere and get laid off every 2 years. Or a friend who is slaving away on the tenure track chasing an appointment that never quite seems to happen. Talk to 65-year old ex-Enron employee.

From my viewpoint (and it is somewhat informed since I worked at LANL and lived in Los Alamos for over 20 years)the monkey analogy would be more accurate if instead of spraying them with water everytime one of them tried to climb the stairs, you showered them with candy. Of course that wouldn't make any sense, but I suppose that's why I left --- I got tired of watching you beat each other up when you have an embarrassment of riches all around you.
Positive news about LANL seems in short supply during this time of anxiety and uncertainty, however, this non-LANL item really lifted my spirits (symbolic as it may be). From Yahoo --

"Mexican army convoys and a navy ship laden with food, supplies and specialists traveled to the U.S. Wednesday to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort."

For me, the "stair climbing" is analogous to "trying to do the best thing for the mission and the country." It is encouraging to hear that somebody saw "candy" being showered on employees by their management for trying to do the right thing.

I'm fairly certain that I am not being showered with candy, hence my pseudonym. I am also certain that just because management exhibits varying levels of malicious behavior elsewhere, that does not make such behavior "good business practice."

I have observed good managers in the past, and I know what to look for to identify a good manager. I seldom see such beings in the area of the lab in which I am employed.

Maybe a change will help, maybe not. Time will tell.
Sure the lab has had some bad times recently. So have the people in New Orleans, and the people hit by the tsunami, and the 9/11 victims, and the Enron employees who lost their pensions, and the victims of genocide in Bosnia, and people who get cancer or lose a child or…etc. etc. It rains on everyone’s parade from time to time. What distinguishes survivors in such times is that they don’t spend all their time bemoaning their fate. They pull up their socks and dig themselves out of the rubble and get on with their lives. There is a business principle (not widely understood) that says that “Sunk costs don’t matter; only future prospects matter”. In other words, past history is just that, history. All that really matters are the prospects from here forward.

It really isn’t productive to keep complaining about past mistakes, nor to spend a lot of energy predicting future disaster. The negative folks who are sure whatever new is coming will be surely bad, whether it is the new LANL management, the Civic Center, or what have you, are just a drag on the whole system. If there are too many of them, the system grinds to a halt, despite the best efforts of the folks who look to the future and work hard to improve things.

In the end, attitude makes reality. For negative folks, bad things happen all the time. For positive folks, life is fun and full of promise. It is the same external conditions for both, just a different attitude shaping each individual’s reality.

What has this to do with LANL’s future? Just this, if the negativity is too pervasive, it is going to kill your future prospects. Useful things get done in the world by those who solve problems, not by those who just complain about them. Useful things get done in the world by those who believe their efforts will succeed, not by those who are sure they will fail. Useful things get done in the world by those who build up, not by those who tear down.

If the lab and the town can’t overcome this current tide of negativity, neither will go anywhere.

Bill G.
Maybe I just don't get it....if they don't like thier job or the town, why do they stay? Nobody is making them stay. Bitching and moaning get nothing done. If you think you can run the town better, run for county council. If you think you would be a better manager, apply for the position. This blog if full of arm chair quarterbacks. If you don't like it here, either do something to make it better. If you do leave and find the "perfect" town and the "perfect" job, please comment back and let us know where it is. Hope to hear from you soon.
Interesting post, Bill. I just had an experience with some Los Alamos negativity and am rethinking some of my future actions as a result.

In this particular case, it was criticism of any and all actions toward (what I thought were) positive ends, not connected with the Lab.

Further, no alternatives beyond vague ideas that someone besides the critic would have to fill out.

This is a not atypical academic approach. It's been exacerbated by the management behaviors exemplefied by the monkey story, but what the critics forget is that they need to live with all this too and that they have choices of how they act.

You can be part of the problem or you can be part of the solution.

Cheryl Rofer
08:58:03 PM:

Not all of us are "arm chair quarterbacks". Many of us made a choice, and left. There is no perfect job, but there are better alternatives to what LANL has become.

Speaking from experience, now.

I think the original post was fairly accurate. I also agree with the statement that we do sometimes forget how good we really have had it over the years. I grew up in this town and whilemy family was never well off-my dad was a craftsman for zia company I never missed a meal and other than an occasional strike my dad never missed a day of work. When I left town as a young man and went to work In construction I found out if your foreman didn't like you-tough. Go find another job. Or when I shared my work place with two thousand hogs.That job sucked and stunk! Mr Green jeans I am not.I came back to town and have earned a good living for almost twenty years.And had the chance to work with and meet some of the most interesting and intelligent people on the planet. And do some work that actually helped this country. For that I am thankful. But I have also seen a change here. I worked in the real world for several years-some good companys and some not so good.I have to say that I was treated better in Los Alamos than anywhere else-until a few years ago.There used to be a sense of shared fate and mission here.We all worked together to get work accomplished-be it fuel pellets for Cassini or running a DI water line at Meson(TA-53).I think the change started with the tiger team, was made worse by the very porrly handled RIFs,Wen Ho Lee and then Nanos.Prior toNanos things could have been fixed but that man did irreparable and deplorable harm. Now it seems to be CYA and Managers only thinking of their little kingdom.Not all managers but many,many more than there should be. Enough to do real harm to the lab, programs, UC's reputation and real harm to real workers-Todd and John. So yes there is negative thinking and it is warrented. But there are also thousands of good people here who want nothing more than to be treated decently and allowed to do work-whether that is putting a data base together,or doing some construction or research on a bose Einstein condensate.(as you can prob tell I am not a physicist). There are real problems that need to be addressed at LANL and they need to be fixed. That is a fact. This blog has provided an outlet for some of the facts to get out. It has also provided a place for me and I suspect others to say what we really think and feel with out worry of getting fired. That in it self is some what of a paradox-letting out all the negative so we can start down the path of positive change.
9:24 has it right. Things have gone downhill and it is time to face that fact so the we can be proactive about turning things around. I find it ironic that the same people who see nothing but negativity in others are, in fact, pointing out a serious "negative" aspect of our problem just like those they judge so harshly. It is the worst kind of ignorant fallacy to say that we should just "get over it" (whatever "it" is) just because there are hurricanes and assholes elsewhere in the world. The fact is as long as we put up with assholes in our management, the more assholes we will have in our management. For me, at least, the blog is a breath of fresh air for the simple reason that it is an outlet for otherwise suppressed and ignored facts of life at LANL to be honestly aired. Sure, sometimes the truth hurts, but that is the price on the toll road to excellence. Of course Horne is raving, but how many of you read his words and learned a few things you didn't know. You would never have read his account anywhere else.
Of course Horne is raving. He was treated shabbily by the worst director in LANL's history. Imagine yourselves in his position: scapegoated in an attempt to cover up management's weaknesses. Would you just "get over it"?
One has to remember that we had a director who went to Washington and trashed his employees in front of Congress. And we have a contractor, UC, who supported him.

Until we see a change in contractor, we will not see much of a change in negative outlook.
Since Oppenheimer, this Laboratory has seen fit to destroy the lives of innocents who work here. Does this make sense? I say only in the eyes of those who will protect, at any cost, their perception of the Lab's reputation. This is why Walp and Duran were fired. This is why Horne was given a security infraction, after having received a Written Reprimand (slightly reversed, wouldn't you say?). This is why another whistleblower received a Written Reprimand after cooperating with the FBI to gather evidence used to indict those criminals stealing from the Lab (yes, some were stealing big-time, but not that Ford Mustang!) This is why the retaliation experienced by John and Todd and other employees wrongly accused continues, and will continue throughout the remainder of their working careers.

This retaliation extends to working spouses left behind, forced to continue employment to support their family. Thankfully, HR and those "in the know" watch out for it when it comes to the spouses. But I believe that's only because they protected themselves by joining the Union and becoming Union officials.

As far as LANL tracking their terminated employees (some are allowed to voluntarily resign after being fired for rigged-up performance issues only):
1) It took the involvement of Union Stewards to get S Division to investigate why a manager lied about an employee's security standing, impacting their continuance of their Q clearance. Security agreed with the employee and Union that nothing adverse should be reported and the employee's clearance standing did not suffer. This manager has since been promoted; I'm sure for doing a "good job" for the Laboratory.
2) For 2 different employees, LANL argued against unemployment benefits (again, these terminations were for performance issues only, not security nor any other kind of policy infraction).
3) Though documentation assures these employees their future applications will be treated as any other applicant's during the job hiring process, this is simply not true - many years later, they suffer from continued black balling, both internal and external to LANL.

This is simply the price employees pay when working for a big employer in a small company town. Yet now the job security, long-term stability and benefits thought to exist that might offset that price are being threatened. Do employees feel their trust, loyalty and hard work of many years betrayed? Yes. But we must take action in positive ways to offset this victimization. Or else our feelings will rot to something evil. Thank you for speaking out, John. And thanks to Doug and Brad for giving us the forum to speak out.

I'm the original poster of "Tear us down rather than build us up". And I voted against the Civic Center (for reasons I don't wish to distract this forum with). Just one survivor attempting to rally around something positive.
I am currently helping a large number of people in the town and a growing number in Santa FE coordinate their efforts to help the victims of hurricane Katrina.

This seems to be a very positive effort.

Anyone want to help?
The 09:24 post states what seems to be a common conception on this blog, namely, "I think the change started with the tiger team, was made worse by the very porrly handled RIFs,Wen Ho Lee and then Nanos."
In my experience it was not the Tiger Team which started the LANL problems, it was LANL's response to the TT. The other DOE sites (including Sandia) also had the TT visits; they did the corrective actions and moved on. LANL chose to obstruct the DOE, did not perform the corrective actions, and lied about the results. I was involved in drafting some corrective action plans, which were never completed by LANL management. This pattern of obstructing the DOE, not correcting problems, and lying, has poisoned LANL since the TT. It continues to this day. The 1995 RIF, done in the face of DOE objections, was another example of same. The dismal LANL security practices, culminating in the Lee case and the "hard drive" case, more of the same.
It seems that reform, by whoever manages the Lab, must begin by working with the DOE, correcting (not avoiding) problems, honesty and openness. The TT did not create the problems at LANL; but LANL's response to the TT set up a very destructive management style, which persists.
For newcomers, the Tiger Team inspections of the DOE sites were initiated by DOE Secretary, and ex Admiral, James Watkins after the Rocky Flats horror show in 1989, when Rocky got busted by the FBI. On the whole the TT did a lot of good in the DOE complex.
Many of the "Tiger Team" findings were ludicrous. One such "finding" was that all bicycle riders be required to dismount and walk their bicycles across the Omega Bridge pedistrian way. DOE can not supercede local traffic ordinances.

Blind obedience to stupid guidance never a solution.
The biggest reason for me leaving was the negative attitude at LANL. Watching people tear each other apart over 10+ year old grudges that had nothing to do with now was just too painful.
Having worked for SNL now for 6 months.. I have come to realize how much UC/LANL obstructs and tries to bury itself... and this attitude has gotten so deep that many employees do it as standard practice not realizing they are perpetuating the crap they complain about.

I can say after 6 months at SNL, most of the baseless complaining at LANL (complaining of being rained on when its candy...) will get you fired. Complaining about real things will get stuff fixed or you will be informed of why/when its broken and can decide if you want to stay or not.

You are in luck. There will be a new contractor next year. It will be UC/Bechtel or LM/UT. It will not be UC.
One reason for so much negativity is because of so many DOE "findings" which are incredibly ridiculous. Intelligent people are driven to negativity when they constantly tilt at windmills. And trying to offer logical solutions to problems for which the DOE offers up its findings is definitely tilting at windmills.
To 7:55 am: "This is why Walp and Duran were fired" (the Lab's reputation)

You need to get educated. They were fired because they TRASHED the Lab's reputation by being "gotcha" cops with no perspective and a single minded focus on cathing the "perps". In countless interactions, Walp in particular behaved as if he were hired to bring God's justice to the heathens at LANL.

You must be a real smart guy.
Well, I personally think this blog and MANY (not all, but many) of the comments that have appeared in it are not just negative whimpering. This blog has done more to acquaint LANL staff about what goes on throughout the Lab than any other forum, of any kind whatsoever. It may well have caused the tipping point for finally getting G. Peter Nanos onto to his new UC career path at DTRA. Pointing out a problem, with care, can be a great positive way to rebuild a damaged institution like LANL, and that may show more real commitment and care for the Lab than cheerleading.
Especially striking is the little "core values" sidebar that pops up on the HR link to the LANL website. If someone had the full complement of these "core values", he or she would last through their probationary period at the lab. When I joined the lab in 1979, a few old timers counseled me to keep my head down, don't make waves, don't get noticed, and you'll make it through to retirement. I failed to take that advice and got noticed for raising issues on the structured series study and budget-fiscal matters. I was promptly and summarily flushed out in the next RIF. So the "core values" in the PR section of the HR webpage are fake. The lab will never be what it was. The days of Oppenheimer Bradbury are over, permanently. You do what you are told. You shut up. You punch your time card and collect whatever retirement is left for you when they put you out. This is a Weberian bureaucracy, not a lab. Your are here because you can do the math and the technicians can't. End of story.

That's *wouldn't last* through their probationary period. Soory for the typo.
I'd like to hear Bill Godwin's take on the LANL Checkpoint Survey results this year.

Not much written about the results, but they do not seem to paint a picture of a generally "upbeat" Lab population.
In the checkpoint survey, DX was down in almost every category including several "zeros" - not a single person had any positive belief of any sort in that category. I have never seen that before. Still, who wants to bet that the DX Division "leader" not only keeps his job (for which he was never qualified in the first place), but gets a fat raise for doing a good job under tough circumstances e.g. firing innocent people because Susan told him to. Those surveys often do convey the truth, but they mean absolutely nothing otherwise. The vast majority of employees don't even bother to fill them out.
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