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From the Director: Workgroup Meetings Redux

(Photo - Persis Drell)
(Photo by Harvey Lynch.)

This week lab staff braved wind and driving rain to come to work group meetings in Kavli auditorium. As in the past, I used this forum to let staff know what's on my mind and, more importantly, to hear what is on your mind. The discussions have been lively and informative. Each group has its own personality!

This time I started by speaking about the tremendous success of LCLS and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. On a scale from "doesn't meet expectations" to "meets expectations" to "exceeds expectations," the LCLS and Fermi telescope "annihilate expectations!" I also talked about areas where the lab is improving but still have a long way to go, such as safety performance, human resources, procurement and finance. In other areas, where we know we need to invest for the future, we may have to defer major investments since there is only a limited amount we can do with the resources we have. We are in the process of making decisions on what we can realistically accomplish this year.

The questions and comments from the audience were varied. We had a lot of discussion around the recent laser incident. I was expecting that some might give me a hard time for lab management's decision to shut down the Class 3 and Class 4 lasers at the lab while the investigation was pending. I was delighted that no one questioned that step at all. Furthermore, no one saw this as just an isolated issue involving one individual who made a bad decision. The laboratory is ready to use this unfortunate incident to learn and move forward and that is what we will do with it. I was very very pleased by the discussion.

I encouraged complaints and I got some. They divided into two categories. There were people who raised issues constructively with a clear articulation of the problem, and an attempt to offer solutions. That was most helpful, especially when there was an understanding of the lab-wide implications of the issue.

There were others who were simply irritated because they wanted to do a task "their way" and for whatever reason that was not possible. This second category can be more difficult to address since it can be hard to understand the real issue at stake, but there was good dialogue and we tried. Certainly, "custom' solutions" are becoming less common at the laboratory as we try to standardize practices across the lab where it is possible and makes sense. We will always have real exceptions where custom solutions need to be found, but that should be… well… exceptions… and not standard practice. It is extremely important we provide lab wide services in a way that still lets us get the mission accomplished but it requires both good service providers and good "customers" of the service for this to work effectively.

I encourage continued feedback, both from those of you who attended the meetings and those who didn't make it. Send me an email. Use the feedback button on my column in SLAC Today. Drop me a note. Come visit. On specific issues, try taking them directly to the responsible department heads and directors. However you are most comfortable communicating works for me. However, if management doesn't hear from you, we won't know what is on your mind and can't make improvements.

And for those of you who heard about my escaped snake…we found him and he is happily back in his cage (well…at least I'm happy about it)!

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, October 16, 2009