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From the Director: Decision Making at SLAC

(Photo - Persis Drell)The foundations of effective management include making decisions in a timely fashion, managing risk, and establishing and balancing priorities. Those are the major requirements of any manager’s job. As our organization becomes more complex, it becomes more difficult to make decisions efficiently and effectivelybut doing this is essential if we are to keep the organization moving forward.

As laboratory director, I have to make decisions on the strategic issues that are critical to accomplishing the lab's vision and mission. While I make the decisions and take responsibility for them, I need input and advice to ensure that I have adequate information to make a good decision in a timely fashion. The Executive Council of the laboratory—which includes the Chief Operating Officer and the Associate Laboratory Directors—is responsible for providing me with the advice I need to make the best choices for the lab.

In a similar way, many other informed decisions must be made throughout the entire organization. Decision making always benefits from close proximity to the facts and I believe decisions should be pushed down into the organization to empower the manager most familiar with the pertinent information and details. For any decision, there should always be one line manager who is the decision maker. That individual is responsible for considering the totality of input and analysis to make the best choices within the scope of his or her responsibilities and authorities. That means that this person is responsible for obtaining perspectives and technical advice as needed and appropriate.

To facilitate the decision process and to advise key line managers on policy and operational issues that cross cut directorates, sub councils are being set up within the laboratory to advise key line managers. The line managers will serve as the chairs of these sub councils and will determine the sub council membership in consultation with the Associate Laboratory Directors. The chairs will be responsible for making decisions or prioritized recommendations to line management based on the advice of the sub council. (It is important to note here that although the sub councils will facilitate an atmosphere of collaboration, their objective is not consensus.) The sub councils will need to prioritize the issues that they address; in some cases issues will be delegated from the Executive Council.

The sub council chairs are authorized to make decisions or prioritized recommendations that balance all the input they have received, that support the vision and mission of the laboratory, and that are consistent with our core values.

The first sub councils have now been established in the lab's most critical mission support areas. The sub councils are starting to meet and the feedback from the process is, so far, quite positive. Lab staff should feel free to communicate with the sub council chairs if they have specific input to make.

This is a new process for the lab, and it will take us a while to get comfortable with it. However, the sub council chairs and members will receive training to support them in this process, and when we learn to do this right we will have instituted a clear decision making process that is functional and equitable for all directorates. I believe that through this process, we will take an essential step forward in the quality of the management of the lab.

Persis Drell, SLAC Today, May 9, 2008