Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Checkpoint survey - an alternative interpretation

Letter to the Newsbulletin
Oct. 19, 2005

Checkpoint survey - an alternative interpretation

I examined the data from the "Checkpoint Survey" and come to somewhat
different conclusions than detailed in the Daily Newsbulletin article on
Oct. 14. On the one hand, I would agree that there seems to be high
confidence in the safety and security of operations. But the disturbing
part emerges when one examines trends over the past three years in
questions associated with morale, communication and confidence in
management. There is a sustained downward trend, or notable drop, for the
following survey questions:

* I have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the
Laboratory as a whole
* I feel that existing channels for employee communication with upper
management are adequate
* The Laboratory keeps employees informed about matters affecting them
* I would recommend [the Laboratory] as a good place to work
* Laboratory management will act on problems identified in this survey
* Productivity in my group has increased during the past year
* Priorities or work objectives change so frequently I have trouble
getting my work done
* I feel the Laboratory encourages and supports innovation and creativity.

It also is important to note that "Morale in my group is high" is at the
subterranean level of 32 percent and "Managers are held accountable for
unethical behavior" has plunged to 37 percent.

What can be done about this? I am increasingly disturbed by the lack of
meaningful dialogue between management and staff on these issues, and on
the whole issue of "what went wrong" in 2004. Granted, we are in the period
of waiting for the contract award, but wouldn't it be advisable for the Lab
director and the associate directors to act on the low state of morale and

We have just been through a period termed by Physics Today as the "annus
horribilis," a period that I would characterize as the worst times of the
institution in 60 years, and I can't recall being invited to a single
meeting to discuss problems faced by the technical staff. (One exception is
a meeting held by ADSR Terry Wallace, which wasn't exactly advertised to be
along those lines but apparently went there anyway.) We appear to be in
"head in the sand" mode when it comes to fixing the gulf of mistrust
between management and staff. It would appear that there is an abundance of
reasons for pessimism about our future prospects.

--Bernard Foy

Bernard, I agree that there is not a lot of dialog on the stand down. However, I am also uncertain what you are looking for, and what you are hoping the result will be. In your earlier post you listed a dozen wishes, including a pledge that there will never be another stand down. Would that pledge raise the morale of C Division? Consider that this summer there was a serious accident in RC-1, and there was a tremendous cry from regulators to shut down C Division, yet it did not happen. Kuckuck stood the ground that a stand down was punitive and unwarranted. There were several other incidents this summer (and fall), and again, Kuckuck has stood the ground. I think you do see a huge difference in the management between Kuckuck and the narcissus Nanos (one cares about the lab, the other cares about himself). But, how can Kuckuck promise never to shut down the lab?

I believe that we are still experiencing the various levels of loss associated with the stand down. Conversation would help for some, but I believe must are somewhere else now. By the way, I did go to an open meeting with Terry Wallace in T division, and the division had an open and honest discussion of issues for 90 minutes (I think you are talking about a similar meeting in C Division). In the end, the discussion focused on the future. In is obvious that the future is really uncertain, but I now have a glimmer of hope. I believe that we can find our science focus again, but the answer does not reside in the past.
W76, I agreed with most everything you said, up until your last sentence,

" I believe that we can find our science focus again, but the answer does not reside in the past."

I disagree with that bit completely. If past mistakes cannot be acknowledged, then there can be no guarantees that they will not be repeated. Current management under Director Kuckuck is admittedly better then when Nanos was here. But current management's refusal to openly admit to the horrendous cock-ups that Nanos committed (with the full and extended compliance of the University of California), we will have no confidence that another UC-supported manager won't screw up just as badly.

If you can't admit your mistakes, you can't learn from them.

Let me add 2 cents to what Doug just said:

C. Paul Robinson, the candidate for Director of LANL on the LockMart/UT team, has publicly, and very clearly stated that he thought that shutting down the ENTIRE LABORATORY for SEVEN MONTHS (emphasis intended) was uncalled for. (Note for the record that Robinson has stepped down from being President of SNL to devote full time to the contract competition.)

Mike Anastasio, the candidate for Director of LANL on the UC/Bechtel team, has not commented on the issue. (Note for the record that Anastasio has kept his day job as Director of LLNL.)

It looks to me like this is a major disparity.
Does it bode well for the future of the Lab?
Should the staff care?
Can we expect a response from Anastasio in short order?
A beginning to improving the LANL culture would be a serious response to the survey. For those Groups/Divisions where member don't feel safe in expressing their opinions, take corrective action, immediately. A culture of fear will never be able to correct its problems.
As for Kuckuck refusing to do a stand down, that's fine I guess. But, what did he do instead? If LANL management responds to these incidents , and openly shares what they did, this will build confidence in the workforce. The history is that they don't share, and we see the managers responsible getting promotions and raises.
Overall, the problem with LANL under UC is that they don't act like a University at all. The managers are secret skulkers, hiding their problems. Air the problems out, share them around, and fix them. The main idea with problems is not to have them twice.
Have the C Division problems been fixed? They are very real and very serious.
"Can we expect a response from Anastasio in short order?"

It's a bit late for that, don't you think? Also, look at from UC's perspective: they screwed up. They know they really, really screwed up. But their lawyers are undoubtedly telling them to not admit to *any* culpability with regards to Nanos. This, in the expectation that the deep pockets of the UC legal defense fund can wear down the plaintiffs in all those on-going law suites which were inspired by Nanos' actions. Admitting even the least bit of culpability would essentially cause UC to lose the majority of those law suites.

UC, in essence, can not find it within itself to "do the right thing".
Doug -- I agree that we can not forget the past, and that is not what I meant with my post. However, waiting for UC or a Lab Director, or Mike Anastasio to apologize is not going to fix anything. Nanos' place in history is secure -- the worst director, with the worse possible actions. I would argue that Nanos is bigger than UC, or all the managers in his posse. He is a villian of historic consequences.

That said, I want a focus on making LANL the best it can be. Given all the boundary conditions, the "best it can be" is a huge challenge.
Fair enough, W76. Your attitude is commendable, also.

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