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June 2000

Great moments in Delphi history

Strictly confidential

Have you always wanted to submit that really good Delphi question, but didn't know how? Or perhaps you were wondering if the service is truly confidential. According to Delphi coordinator Janet Evans, every effort is made to keep the questioner's identity confidential. All Delphi questions are submitted to management without any names or identifying information attached. Delphi questions and the questioner's identity are kept in a locked file. Once the question is satisfactorily resolved, the name of the questioner is destroyed.

Janet Evans. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Although many questions come to Janet via e-mail, she will also correspond with the questioner at his or her home address. "When I write to a questioner who's supplied a home address, I go to a mailbox to mail the envelope so no one can even see that an envelope is going out the door," Janet explains.

Some tips from Janet on writing effective Delphi questions:

  • Include enough details so that the respondent will be able to give you a satisfactory response.

  • It's appropriate to make general comments about a situation that troubles you, but to get a response, you need to actually ask a question.

    If you're having trouble putting your concern into words, Janet will be happy to help you draft a Delphi question. Call her at ext. 1114 or e-mail her at jevans @ucar.edu. Remember, anonymous questions will not be answered; you must identify yourself.

    Based on conversations and feedback she's received, Janet guesses everyone has at least one Delphi question they've always wanted to ask--something they feel strongly about. So why not go for it? "The process is confidential, and the chances are good that somebody else is wondering the same thing." •

  • The Delphi lineage

    There have been seven Delphi coordinators since the service began. Each coordinator is chosen through an all-staff election. He or she serves a term of four years and may stand for reelection for one additional four-year term. No individual may serve as Delphi coordinator for more than eight years.

    Med Medrud 1974-1976

    Suzanne Van Scotter 1977-1978

    Gil Granger (re-elected for 2 terms) 1978-1986

    Belinda Housewright 1987-1991

    Pat Kennedy 1991-1994

    Rene Munoz 1995-1999

    Janet Evans 1999-present

    For over 25 years, UCAR/NCAR has offered a Delphi Service whereby staff members can submit questions to management about UCAR policy and procedures and yet safeguard their anonymity. In ancient Greece, the original Delphi oracle sat in a shrine, ate laurel leaves, and then had a vision interpreted by priests. The UCAR/NCAR Delphi coordinator has a less exotic job, but one equally important to our staff.

    "I don't actually answer the Delphi questions. I'm the go-between for staff and upper management," says Janet Evans, current Delphi coordinator. "I act on behalf of the questioner, and I'm the only one who knows his or her identity. Management sees a question, but the questioner's name is not disclosed."

    Since the service began in 1974, hundreds of Delphi questions have been submitted, providing a unique perspective on our organization. Some topics show up again and again: recycling, smoking, pesticides, snow removal. Other issues are linked to the time period from which they sprang: mopeds, drug testing, radiation from desktop monitors, in-line skating, the move to Foothills Lab, flying the American flag (requested during periods of conflict abroad), and dress codes. The most frequently asked questions focus on human resources and facilities; few questions pertain to research or science.

    The credo of the Delphi Service hasn't changed that much since it was written in 1974: the service will "allow all staff members to submit questions and complaints on any subject concerning the organization, with strict safeguards to guarantee anonymity. . . . The NCAR Delphi Service will be dissociated from any vested interest of management and will be a function maintained by and for the entire staff." Current Delphi policy can be found on the Delphi web page.

    Some themes have recurred in the hundreds of Delphi queries received over the last 26 years. Questions that have shown up more than once include:

    Other frequent issues:

    Questions of general interest to staff have been published in Staff Notes Monthly since Delphi began, but even questions that go unpublished (at the request of the questioner, for example) have an impact. Former Delphi coordinator Rene Munoz recalls, "I sent one particularly sensitive query to someone who thoroughly researched the questioner's issue, agreed with the questioner's view, and then adjusted policy so the problem would not recur."

    Staff may also challenge what they consider to be an unsatisfactory answer. For example, this issue includes a follow- up to the question and response sequence on smoking at FL published in the March 2000 issue of Staff Notes Monthly .

    "The Delphi process certainly serves a useful purpose," says UCAR president Rick Anthes. "It brings important issues out into the open where they can be addressed, sometimes in a humorous way." In this article are a few of the most memorable questions from the Delphi archives, some edited or paraphrased to fit. •

    The case of the "privileged parkers." (1981)

    Editor's. Note: At one time the Mesa Lab parking lot didn't have stripes.

    Question: Over the past several months, I have noticed an ever-increasing number of "privileged parkers" in the NCAR parking lot. These individuals, now numbering in the dozens, [can be] recognized by their uncanny ability to park their vehicles at all angles in the parking spaces except at a right angle to the curb like everyone else.

    My questions are (1) Should these persons be given their own "privileged" parking area (preferably in the outer parking circle)? (2) Could these persons be reminded to park like everyone else, that is, at a right angle to the curb? (3) Should the lot be striped to designate the individual parking spaces?

    Response: [This month] George Lamb (manager, Physical Facilities Services) met with Blair Smallwood (Operations and Safety) and Carl Randall (Security) to discuss the 'privileged parkers' problem. They also considered the misuse of the one-hour parking on the south edge of the Mesa Laboratory lot.

    For the angle parkers, Carl will ticket the vehicle and suggest that those who wish to park at an angle, to please use the outer ring on the east side. For those who have been parking the entire day in the one-hour spaces and who do not have a current medical restriction, Carl has been ticketing the vehicles and keeping a record of the violations.

    Stripes on the parking lot may help those who have trouble parking correctly. We do not plan to apply stripes in the next few months because we expect to resurface the lot next spring. If our budget allows it, we will consider striping at that time.

    --Wray Freiboth [then deputy director, Administration]

    Are mopeds bicycles? Are horses dogs? (1977)

    Editor's Note: This is the full text of the question, which includes the tongue-in-cheek title. The question appears to have been prompted by a shortage of bicycle racks and mopeds being parked in those racks. We're not sure where the horses came in, but staff member Gary Aitken was commuting on horseback and "parking" on the mesa around this time (see photo).

    Question: I propose that the way to tell a motorcycle from a bicycle is that the motorcycle has a motor. If it is a motorcycle, it should park with its big brothers. If it is a bicycle (not a horse), it can park in the bike rack. What is our policy?

    Answer: A moped is not a bicycle but is a motorized bicycle which is defined by Colorado law as "a vehicle having two or three wheels with operable pedals which may be propelled by human power or helper motor, or both, with a motor rated no more than two- brake horsepower, a cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 c.c., and an automatic transmission which produces a maximum design speed of not more than 30 mph on a flat surface."

    For the present, mopeds are permitted to park in the bicycle racks or motorcycle area. Should this become a problem because of an inadequate number of racks or tie-downs, some other arrangements will be made. . . .

    --Wray Freiboth

    Why can't sick leave be converted into vacation credits? (1975, 1982, 1986; below is the 1982 exchange)

    Question: NCAR's sick leave policy is very generous. However, some employees take advantage of it and use sick days as fast as they accumulate. Employees who seldom use their sick leave keep their accumulated days to the maximum and lose the rest. Has the possibility of converting sick leave into vacation leave ever been discussed? It seems to me that employees who always come to work, not always feeling well, should be compensated for their loyalty.

    Answer: The possibility of changing UCAR's sick leave policy to include either a partial payoff for unused sick leave or a conversion of extra sick leave into vacation has not been seriously considered by the Personnel/Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) Department. There are two major reasons for this.

    First, sick leave is viewed as an insurance to be used if there is a need, not as a reward for good attendance. The organization developed the sick leave policy to dovetail with the long-term disability policy so that employees would not suffer financially in the event of a major illness or accident. The seemingly generous limit of 86 days of accumulated sick leave provides that benefit.

    Second, UCAR's vacation policy provisions are certainly competitive with [those of] comparable organizations and with our UCAR member universities. While additional vacation time is always nice to have, there does not seem to be an overwhelming need to add to our vacation accrual at this time.

    An abuse of sick leave should be handled by the employee's supervisor. UCAR's policy on sick leave reads that "it is the responsibility of the employee to show that his/her request for sick leave is justified. A certificate from a competent medical authority may be required to substantiate any claim, and in all cases when sick leave extends 21 calendar days or more, a doctor's certificate will be required to substantiate the sick leave claim."

    --William Curtis [then director, Personnel/EOP]

    Comment and update (2000): Some things change and some don't. The gist of Bill's response from 1982 is still true. Sick leave is still provided as an insurance for employees who need time off for illness; it is not seen as a way to reward good attendance.

    Current surveys show that UCAR's sick leave benefit is still very competitive. In fact, surveys show that all of UCAR's time-off policies (vacation, holiday, etc.) are competitive.

    We have modified the sick leave policy since 1982. Employees must now submit a doctor's note when sick leave extends for 14 calendar days or more. More information on sick leave can be found in the UCAR Benefits Manual

    --Bob Roesch, director, Human Resources

    Why does the Delphi questioner always lose? (1979)

    Question: Why does the Delphi questioner always lose?

    Answer: Because he or she is frequently not asking a question but making a suggestion, and the Delphi system is not well set up for dealing with suggestions. The Delphi process severely limits management's ability to find out what the person actually has in mind, what problem is being solved, what alternatives have been considered and rejected, and so on.

    As a matter of fact, Delphi coordinator Gil Granger tells me the record of responses to suggestions over the last two years has not been all that bad. A hiring policy for apprentices was clarified, a needed improvement in shift assignments for one staff category was achieved, job descriptions in Staff Notes Monthly were expanded, and confusion was reduced in the scheduling of building care, all in response to Delphi questions.

    --John Firor [then executive director, NCAR]

    Can't the slow elevators be speeded up? (1976)

    Question: In a previous communication, I complained about the slowness of the NCAR elevators. I think most persons think a five-second dwell time is too long. How about a three-second dwell time (plus the time it takes to open and close the door)? How about trying it out before saying it isn't a good idea? Or finding other ways to speed up the elevators.

    Answer: The elevators serve all age groups and the present speed is consistent with that service. However, NCAR is required by federal regulation to make the building accessible to the handicapped. Experience with this may require the doors to be slowed to a hospital speed of seven seconds. [Unable to determine respondent's name]

    Update (2000): The ML elevators now have a three-second dwell time. This is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The shorter time is permitted because of motion- sensing devices that detect when somebody or something is in the doorway. In this event, the doors retract and an audible signal is provided for sight-impaired users until the doorway is cleared, at which point an additional three seconds are provided until the door starts to close.

    --John Pereira, director, Physical Plant Services

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    Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
    Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall