The HR Doctor recently had the pleasure of visiting
the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. to watch a
scheduled lift-off of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. NASA and Right
Management Consulting were great hosts. A pre-launch briefing, tour
of the facilities, view of the launch pad and interaction with NASA
staff was wonderful.
However, what was of lasting value were some
reminders of important strategic management skills which I saw amply
demonstrated during the event. First, the organization had a vision
of what it can be and where it wishes to go. No, I dont mean into
orbit. I mean a vision of the kind of organization NASA wants to be.
The vision, like all excellent visions of the future, is simple and
eloquent. It is designed to convey an excitement and a commitment.
In NASAs case the overall vision, as interpreted by
the HR Doctor, is to harness space sciences to benefit society in
health care, education, economics, exploration and innovation. There
was no mention of this or that particular project, such as the
Hubble Space Telescope, or the International Space Station. There
was no mention of the budget trouble of the day or the year. There
was no mention of who the agency head is, was or will be. Rather,
the vision is universal. It can be understood in many languages and
by multiple generations.
Many counties and cities adopt vision statements. It
is a popular thing to do. However, some seen by the HR Doctor are
multiple paragraphs long and appear to have been written by an
actuary, rather than a visionary leader. Vision statements should
contain few words, but should convey passionately held, long-range
NASA is subject to the same budgetary constraints as
nowhere near enough funding to meet the needs the staff
sees out there
not enough money to make the kind of difference the
dedicated team members know they could make if only if only
Congress would understand and be more supportive.
If only the president would raise the priority for
space sciences funding. If only, if only. Sound familiar? Any local
government official can share similar frustrations about how much
better the health care system, or criminal justice or education
would be under different circumstances.
However, what struck the HR Doctor about the
approach NASA has chosen as a model a model which many local
governments should adopt is that the vision is being translated
into reality by innovation and challenge rather than whining. NASA
is building business and education partnerships to demonstrate the
tangible value of space sciences to everyday life.
An international business park will be springing up
as part of a new Kennedy Space Center where corporations will be
able to directly harness the knowledge being developed by the
traditional work of the Space Center. The organization is the
steward of about 140,000 acres of wildlife and wetlands
preservation, making NASA a major environmental conservation
The tourism impact of the Space Center is obvious.
The job creation, the partnership with state government and the
economic impact are less obvious, but ironically will be as
important in the long run as the space missions themselves.
Twelve-thousand employees work at the Space Center, although only
2,000 are government employees.
NASA has learned that it is not only acceptable but
commendable to use words like outsourcing and core functions, so
the agency can focus on the essential functions. Even some of the HR
functions are managed by contractors a situation the HR Doctor
sees as a marker of things to come.
Finally, the importance of educating the public
about the vision and the innovation going on behind the scenes is
critical and well understood by NASA. What made this trip
particularly wonderful was the clear understanding that the vision
will not succeed without the team members who sign on to be part of
the effort. The people of the organization are the guardians of
vision and the single key component that will make it a success.
Every host I met, from the consultants great leader
Tom Shea and his event-planning agent Lucy Hardy to the NASA staff
members, knew his or her objective and business. They conveyed the
sense of confidence not arrogance respect and perspective, which
we should all adopt to be successful. The trip was more than a space
center excursion for the HR Doctor. It was a reminder that behind
organizational success is human resources excellence.
Heres to the closet space explorer inside every