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From the Director: What You Told Us

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

In November, 722 of you on the site filled out a survey on the organizational culture at SLAC. This was part of the information gathering effort of "Team 2" and we in lab management expect their full report soon. When we have the report we will share it with you. However the survey itself contained a tremendous amount of valuable information that I want to share with you now, even in advance of the Team 2 recommendations.

I want to say from the onset that having 722 respondents was tremendous. It is striking how the strongest messages came uniformly from the staff of the laboratory, independent of directorate, job classification or length of employment at SLAC.

I also want to acknowledge up front that no survey tool is perfect, including this one. You made many comments that you were frustrated that the survey focused too much on safety and not on broader cultural issues and you were frustrated that you couldn't respond "does not apply" to some of the questions. However, despite some shortcomings, strong messages came through very clearly and I want to share those with you. In addition to my analysis here, I encourage you to look first hand at the full analysis.

I was thrilled to have more than 90 percent of the staff take ownership of their safety and the safety of their colleagues, as well as being clear that safety was more important than "getting the job done." Most responses showed that you trust your colleagues to work safely, you feel you get adequate training, and you feel that significant accidents are investigated and corrective actions taken. The lab has made a lot of progress in both our attitude toward safety and in our performance. This was extremely encouraging to hear.

However, there were several broad areas where clearly we in management need to do much better. A majority of your responses indicated that you feel that it takes a significant accident or operational failure to make changes happen. Furthermore, many of you said that your jobs can be difficult to do in some cases because the written rules and procedures don't reflect how the job is actually performed.

Another set of interrelated messages were that too few of you are seeing your senior managers in the workplace. I believe this is directly linked to the clear message that communication is a huge issue with only 60 percent of you feeling that there is good communication about issues going on at the lab and only 60 percent of you feeling that managers will respond in a positive manner when you raise issues and concerns.

Underpinning both of these messages is the low level of trust between management and frontline staff. Only 45 percent of you were positive when asked about trust issues and many of you, 27 percent, were negative. Low levels of trust can lead to poor communication. You said loud and clear that near misses are often not being reported. We must fix this and this will require both increased trust and better communication in every direction.

We are improving how we conduct our business at the laboratory but we have a long way to go. We are working hard to communicate but we clearly are not doing a good enough job. The full Team 2 report will have specific recommendations to address some of these issues and the leadership of the lab is committed to substantial improvements in the next year. However, I think we have to focus on communication, starting with more presence of senior managers in the workplace. I believe that with better communication will come more trust and better reporting of operational near misses. If all of us can work to communicate more clearly and regularly, I believe other improvements will follow naturally. If you have specific suggestions on how to accomplish this, please let me hear them!

I would like to end by, again, thanking all of you who filled out the survey. We can't fix what we don't know is broken! And we will fix what we learn is broken.

Click here to see the survey results (SLAC internal).

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, February 5, 2010