Environment and Culture

In addition to the four meta forces previously discussed, we also considered environmental and cultural contexts that influence NASA in the Future of Work study. Environmental factors include changing industry dynamics, such as the rise of the private space industry, as well as shifting political priorities and shrinking budgets. We define culture as “the underlying beliefs, artifacts, assumptions, values, and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of the organization.” Or another way of saying it, culture is “what most of the people do most of the time.” Each plays a crucial role in shaping NASA’s mission, strategy, and behaviors within an organization, and are explored below in serving as the foundation and fabric for our Future of Work study.

From the Uberization of taxis to the disruption of the retail industry by Amazon, the technology-moderated environment in which NASA now operates is more unpredictable than ever before. The many historic accomplishments along the way, from landing on the moon to sending rovers to Mars, are the result of navigating political pressures, tight deadlines and a need to effectively and efficiently steward the nation’s resources. Once the uncontested leader in an international space race, NASA is now challenged to work with industry and international partners on increasingly complex missions. The deregulation of the space sector is redefining how Americans access and engage with space. This turbulence in the environmental backdrop of the aerospace industry marks the start of a new space economy and provides NASA new uncharted opportunities.

It’s not just the external factors that will influence the way forward; internal organizational culture has a dramatic effect as well. The values that comprise the NASA culture—safety, integrity, teamwork, and excellence— have contributed to the many successes. NASA is known as a world-class institution routinely defining the cutting edge of science, aeronautics, and space exploration, and has a history of employing the very best talent, long recognized as a Best Place to Work in the Federal Government; a title it has held for the last 6 years. However, defining the culture at NASA is much harder than just listing its four state values. In fact, NASA has multiple micro-cultures that are the result of decentralized workforce that is dispersed across many NASA Space and Research Centers. This allows NASA to remain flexible and distribute its work effectively, but can lead to counterproductive habits, actions, and mental frameworks.

NASA is an enormous organization with more than 18,000 civil servant employees and many more contractors so understanding how the external environment and internal culture contributes to the Future of Work can be difficult. The backdrop environment and culture is not stagnant. In fact, it’s always changing and will continue to evolve. Being able understand is critical to remain competitive in the future. It’s only going to become more important from here.

About the Authors:

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

Ali Llewellyn | Ali has two decades of cross-sector experience in growing effective teams and engaged communities. A large-scale international project manager for many years, Ali envisions, trains and equips large and small teams to accomplish focused missions.

The Four Meta Forces – Mission, People, Technology and Place

The future of work is arguably one of the most explored topics in recent years and drives ongoing study, analysis, and contemplation by academics, practitioners and policymakers, and continues as a dominant narrative across fields broadly ranging from business to the arts. To develop our own Future of Work framework, NASA started with a detailed literature review to gather information on current and projected work trends. Next, the team pursued additional primary research to validate initial findings and listen directly to our workforce. We conducted 5 workshops, surveyed 100 employees, interviewed numerous leaders, and attended numerous conferences, seminars, and gatherings. The data collected from this process led to the observations and insights in the report.

During the literature review, we looked for recurring patterns and themes. We catalogued countless disruptors and drivers that revealed unprecedented change and new possibilities in the Future of Work. From this research, we identified four largely uncontrollable external factors that influence our organization. These factors, or meta forces, include mission, people, technology, and place. They act as lens to view the future of work at NASA.

Mission: Space as an industry is emerging with increasing and new competition. The influence of existing laws, complex regulations, policies and processes impact NASA’s ability to implement its mission. NASA’s mission is to drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth. Our mission statement outlines our fundamental purpose as we partner with private companies and international entities to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.

People: An organization’s greatest asset is its people. Understanding the expectations, preferences, and behaviors of the diverse, multigenerational workforce will allow us to develop new talent strategies that go beyond today’s practices and leverage the many drivers reshaping the global talent landscape. Building NASA’s dynamic workforce of tomorrow requires that we value diversity, encourage new skill development, and understand changing expectations. NASA’s current workforce offers a snapshot of the evolving multi-generational makeup – just one critical factor we must consider as we rethink and reinvent human capital programs and services.

Technology: The most widely discussed driver of change for the future of work is technology. The evolution of technology is fast paced and alters the way we communicate information and coordinate in real time. Technology enables NASA to more effectively translate data into knowledge and improves the Agency’s ability to make real-time strategic decisions and increase operational efficiencies.

Place: Where we work, when we work and how we work is constantly changing. As we continue to migrate towards a global and connected workforce, we anticipate new opportunities to improve employee engagement and satisfaction through the use of our physical and virtual spaces. NASA is an early adopter of telework across the government and continues to explore new work arrangements.

These four forces have significant impact on NASA, it’s workforce and the future of work. Now that we have defined the four meta forces individually, our next will post will explore the intersection of these forces and the eight insights that come from them. Stay tuned for our next post!

About the Authors:

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

Jani Smith | Jani is an early career consultant from LMI who has been working with NASA’s OCHCO for a little over a year. Supporting the Future of Work initiative at NASA, she strives to bring policy, practicality, and creativity together in the working world.

The Future of Work: An Introduction

For the last 60 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully attracted the innately curious, the relentless adventurers to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Our workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers to lesser known inventions like a reimagined hearing aid enabling people deaf at birth to hear for the very first time. These accomplishments are the results of lasting inspiration and enduring commitment.

As NASA contemplates the next 60 years, we recognize that the environment we operate in today is significantly different from that of past decades. We live in a world dramatically affected by the rapid pace of radical change—organizational, demographic, structural, and technological. Technology is impacting how, when and where we work, as well as the work itself, and how we think about talent and careers. Critical talent is getting harder to attract and deploy. Industry and organizational borders are disappearing, challenges transcend boundaries and are more complex, and solutions no longer belong to one organization or nation. Our workforce is navigating a more complex, fast-paced and interconnected world where work is less geographically-based, organizational structures are flatter, responsibilities are matrixed, and work structures are more complex.

NASA has taken noteworthy strides to ensure the Agency remains well-positioned to hire, develop and motivate the very best and brightest talent. With the introduction of teleworking policies and flexible work schedules, a culture of keeping current and retaining stature in technical fields, and the maturation of world-class leadership development programs, these actions exhibit future-forward steps. However, the Agency recognizes the dynamic landscape of the future requires not only continuous evolution, but in many ways, the reinvention of NASA’s Human Capital program.

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer is rethinking the talent continuum and leading the way to understand the future of work, its challenges and opportunities.  This blog serves to share our insights and introduce new approaches for developing people, launching new platforms to match people with opportunities, and embracing technology and digital transformation to modernize human capital service delivery.

We hope you will follow us over the coming months as we discuss the disruptors driving the Future of Work and key insights that are informing our own human capital transformation.  Together, we will continue to explore how we might evolve our talent strategies and unlock a new frontier for the workforce of tomorrow.