What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

In 2017, 10.1% of the US workforce was engaged in some sort of alternative work arrangements, with practices like flexible work schedule, job-sharing, or telecommuting.  An even larger percentage of the U.S. working-age population identifies themselves as an independent worker, either as their primary or supplemental income. 60 million workers make up the gig economy, and this number is estimated to rise to the majority of the workforce by 2027. There is no doubt that the gig economy is here and having an enormous impact on the workforce.  It would be hard to write about the Future of Work and not consider the role and disruptive nature that the gig economy is having on NASA.

The gig economy is helping change the nature of work.  Independent contractors and freelancers have more flexibility and choice in the work that they do, but carry more of the economic risk as well.  For organizations that are dependent on a traditional system of full-time, lifelong hiring, the gig economy might feel like a sudden and unpredicted shift to how business has always been done.  However, there are plenty of examples of how companies are increasingly shifting non-core jobs, such as design, marketing, and human resources, to gig workers in order to focus on the things they do best, like manufacturing products or selling services (CNBC, 2018).   For some, the gig economy has a negative reputation that includes high job insecurity, lack of benefits and decreasing pay. However, the Harvard Business Review found gig economy workers “felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives.” For many, trading in the corporate 9-5 job with a predictable paycheck for more autonomy and flexible work arrangements is worth it.

The gig economy been fueled by a shift in thinking about what it means to have a career.  Is it okay for an employee to have a lot of different interests, projects and curiosities that lead to multiple jobs?  Or is it better to “climb the career ladder” and become a master of your discipline? An Ottawa-based, career coach named Jean-Philippe Michel, teaches students to think about skills instead of careers.  Instead of asking “What do you want to be when you grow up,”perhaps the better question is “How do you want to be when you grow up?” (BBC, 2017) In focusing on skills and values, he encourages  his students to build transferable skills for the area of expertise they enjoy. Hence, if this area’s demand declined, or if they became bored with the repetition of it, they could translate their skills into another job with the same desired environment. This relates back to the idea of having tasks and skills dictate the job, instead of the job dictating the tasks and developing the skills. In the current workforce, it is already becoming common to straddle multiple areas within the same company. For example, I am writing this article for the Human Capital Office, I shoot videos for the Office of Education, and I design parts as an engineer. Companies like Cisco and MasterCard are taking this one step further by letting employees proactively pick projects they prefer in order to fill company gaps. Employees are empowered to choose projects based on skills they have and/or want to learn and develop. So far, the benefits of this internal freelancing has proven to be greater retention: it reduces turnover because the employees are able to find meaningful projects within their current company.


Consider the website and online community. Founded by Emilie Wapnick, an award-winning author, artist, and community builder, Puttylike is a community of people who call themselves multipotentialites: people who enjoy and want to pursue a variety of interests that are not usually related to one another. These are people always working on multiple projects, with tabs on tabs on tabs open in their browser and piles of books on their nightstands.  The community at Puttylike is made up of people who get bored after short bursts of doing the same thing and who are rapidly shifting and changing their interests, obsessively delving into one spontaneously, and then shifting yet again. The website offers an assessment (pictured above) that scores you on a spectrum from simultaneous to sequential and offers advice for multipotentialities based on the results.  This type of thinking is a shift from the current workforce landscape that heavily caters to specialists. Although some employees do fall in with just one particular subject that they hope to work on for an extended period of time, this doesn’t present many opportunities for multipotentialites.

NASA has traditionally offered plenty of opportunities for the specialist.  In fact, building, launching, maintaining and unpacking the discoveries of space missions is often a 10 or 20 year effort requiring the focus only a team of specialists can bring.  Without the role of a specialist, it would be nearly impossible to land a rover on Mars or sustain the International Space Station for decades. Some positions, such as a Flight Director, require at least a decade of on-the-job experience.  Yet, there is an equally large amount of research that points to the valuable role generalists, and multipotentialites, serve in the workforce. Generalists disrupt siloed thinking, challenge the status quo, and encourage interdisciplinary interactions.  A healthy workplace makes room for both specialists and generalists by focusing on the effective matching of the talent and passion of individuals with the work that needs to be done. Specialists can focus and generalists can disrupt.

Agencies like NASA are beginning to explore how they can offer alternative work arrangements and encourage workforce mobility in order to attract and utilize their employees more effectively.  In the future, NASA’s workforce will likely include part-time and full-time workers, generalists and specialists, multipotentialities and sequentialists. A larger percentage of talent will come from outside the current workforce, enabling more highly knowledgeable and passionate people to contribute to NASA’s mission. Inside NASA, employees will have more of an ability to pursue projects that align with their talents, passions, interests and development objectives. In this way, NASA will create a multidimensional and agile workforce, where job transitions are easier, job descriptions are more flexible, and talent is more effectively channeled.  

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).

Sarosh Nandwani | Sarosh is a NASA intern with experience working in the EVA, Crew Systems, and Robotics division at the NBL and is focused on expanding their VR capabilities. Sarosh attends UT Austin and will graduate in December 2019 with degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Anthropology. Sarosh is passionate about poetry and art and works part-time in UT Austin’s Defabrication and Electronics Lab, the MakerStudio, during the school year. She says hello to every dog she sees.

 

Deploying Talent, Mobilizing Careers

Historically, organizations have defined their “talent” as an employee who works for one company, often in the same job or discipline, for their entire career.  The assumption is that the relationship between the employer and the employee will be a long one. However, the employee from a decade ago isn’t the same as the employee who we are starting to see today.  A number of recent studies report that although older employees may have stayed with their employer for careers lasting more than 20 years, it’s unlikely that their children or grandchildren will experience the same job tenure.  A longitudinal study by the American Bureau of Labour Statistics that tracks the frequency of job changes points out that even for the Baby Boomer generation, individuals change jobs frequently, and on average have held 11.9 jobs throughout their careers, from ages 18 to 50 (BLS, 2017).  

There are many reasons people change jobs, such as increased compensation or new opportunities.  One strong motivator for change, especially for younger employees in STEM fields, is an ongoing desire for new experiences and challenges that support their learning and development. Career mobility is an essential ingredient for their professional and personal development.

This inherent restlessness provides organizations and leaders looking for fresh ideas, new perspectives and a more engaged workforce with a unique opportunity,  Good leaders ensure that the workplace offers plenty of opportunity to help people develop new skills, experience new roles and responsibilities, and advance into new career paths. They understand that when employees grow, their productive capacity increases. When their productive capacity increases, the capacity of the organization increases.  However, engaging this new workforce requires rethinking the definition of “talent.” and strategies for mobilizing careers. Google’s approach permits extensive latitude for employees to select their projects; other companies, such as McKinsey, fully exploit the use of a “talent marketplace” to efficiently match talent with opportunities. 

NASA is adopting a new definition of talent that includes the traditional full-time employee, but also recognizes the value of part-time workers who serve on short-term, project based assignments, emeritus employees who desire to contribute after retirement, and gig economy workers that contribute through an increasing number of channels.  NASA even recognizes that talent may include “machine talent” such as robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence and robots. As we broaden our definition of talent, we are also developing new ways to inspire, develop and mobilize our workforce.

To address this, NASA is deploying an internal, Agency-wide talent marketplace accessible to the full workforce that will include a full range of permanent, part-time, detail, rotation and temporary positions.  Employees benefit through discovering new opportunities for development and advancement. Managers benefit through being able to more creatively and efficiently address work challenges as well as discover previously hidden talent, and the organization benefits by developing overall stronger capacity, including a more engaged workforce .

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).

Developing Cross-Generational Talent

Amidst a dynamic and ever changing workforce, NASA strives to support the growth and development of each employee during every stage of their career. Understanding the current state of this workforce is integral to improving and ensuring the success of NASA employees.

There are currently five generations that comprise the U.S. workforce, ranging in ages from 16 to 80+. The population of older workers – over age 55 – is growing as people choose to stay engaged professionally and/or not fully retire.  At NASA, 36 percent of employees are 55 or older, and 21 percent of NASA employees are eligible for retirement. NASA enforces no mandatory retirement age, and embraces and supports the rich diversity and experience of this critical cohort.

NASA Employee Ages Percentage of Workforce
Under 20 0%
20 to 24 2%
25 to 29 5%
30 to 34 8%
35 to 39 10%
40 to 44 9%
45 to 49 10%
50 to 54 18%
55 to 59 20%
60 to 64 11%
65 to 69 4%
70 or older 2%

While an older workforce can possess crucial institutional knowledge, it may be perceived as accepting, not challenging, the “status quo”, even though the opposite is true.  In a study by the SHRM Foundation, they found that most older workers are open to change, are interested in learning new things, and can play significant roles in contributing to or leading teams .  Likewise, a younger workforce may heavily leverage technology-based solutions, but may be perceived as “bucking the system” or not accepting workplace norms. Karen Higginbottom of Forbes writes, “In a multi-generational workforce, there is potential for negative stereotyping….Organizations need to take steps to ensure managers overcome their unconscious bias.”  

NASA is working to bridge the generational gap to prevent negative stereotypes from inhibiting the workforce. Mentorship programs and collaborative projects create opportunities to reduce this unconscious bias. NASA Headquarters Modern Mentoring Program brings these two generations together to build a new united working culture at NASA.

Creating an array of educational programs and initiatives, NASA has also begun to close the gap between students and older generations working at NASA. NASA offers internships, fellowships, workshops and many more opportunities. Summer programs such as NASA Ames Academy for Space Exploration provide students interested in science and engineering with the opportunity to become apart of the NASA community. The Pathways Program at NASA additionally provides internships to highly motivated students whom are then considered for Federal employment. Fostering relationships with students and potential employees, helps NASA to create an productive working community amongst all age groups.  NASA Emeritus Programs support retirement-eligible employees with continuing to work in their careers on a voluntary part-time basis, and to train and mentor their successors. For example, After working at Goddard Spaceflight Center for 49 years, and at the age of 84, Vince Gigliotti retired but immediately returned as an Emeritus because of his sense of duty to continue working.

The multigenerational workforce is a driving force of change for organizations. NASA will continue to encourage and incentivize mutually beneficial cross-generational learning to bridge the gap between a new generation of talent and established NASA employees, as well look for new innovative solutions to engage all employees as it embraces the future of work.

About the Authors

Suzanna (Neely) Yates | Neely is a Content Hacker Intern at NASA.  She studies International Political Economy and Computer Science at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. Neely is passionate about making STEM a more inclusive field. She has interned for Congressmen and local officials to advocate for her ideas. Neely also loves coding and learning languages. Whether she is talking to a human or computer, she likes to learn how to communicate in new, creative ways.

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).  

 

Changing Attitudes Toward Learning & Development

At the heart of the Future of Work is a changing attitude towards learning and development. In today’s modern work environment, workers have an increased responsibility for their own formal and experiential learning. Careers are no longer linear or “owned” by a corporation, and learning needs are increasingly diversified and personalized. By enabling and equipping employees to have a hand in their own learning and development, an organization can offer valuable trust to their workers that will be repaid in innovation, loyalty and productivity. Instead of prescribing an employee’s learning opportunities, the leading organizations are those that support relationships and environments that support and enable self-driven learning and development.

In fact, trends show that workers actively seek the jobs and communities which support their desire to learn. In the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan write that it is a company’s responsibility to support employees’ requests to learn. Employees want “the capacity to keep learning and developing new skills and expertise, even if they are not obviously linked to one’s current job” (Chamorro-Premuzic, Swan). NASA is committed to taking this fundamental need seriously and making it possible for employees – but at the same time allowing that development be self-directed.

Without a collaborative learning environment amongst employees, the profound discoveries and scientific advancements of NASA would not have been possible. In 2006, NASA took steps to improve this community even further. In a report released by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (2003), the Board concluded that NASA did “not demonstrate characteristics of a learning organization.” The two connected challenges, “integrating knowledge management and creating a learning organization,” were addressed at the Goddard Space Flight Center where a learning-loop was created to encourage continual learning. This Goddard system of learning included six major practices: Pause and Learn (PAL), Knowledge Sharing Workshops, Case Studies, Common Lessons Learned, GOLD Rules and The Road to Mission Success.

Some of these practices have been produced significant cultural changes in how learning happens within the Agency. Pause and Learn is a simple conversation among members of a team, typically conducted after a significant event or project milestone. Facilitated by a knowledgeable outsider who helps the team identify and capture knowledge gained at key project stages, the team then documents the essential elements of the conversation in the form of knowledge maps. The GOLD Rules (Goddard Open Learning Design) focus on applying proven, fundamental engineering design and practice to product and project management. They provide a sufficient common foundation without being hyper-specific about implementation, allowing for the needed flexibility for growth and innovation.

Upon implementing these practices, the Goddard Space Flight Center has progressed tremendously. This system has built a productive learning organization in the face of the Columbia report. However, NASA must continue to “reinforce learning behavior that enhances mission success across projects while investing in human capital strategies that assure sustainability in the future,” wrote Richard Day and Ed Rogers in a NASA publication. NASA is rooted in continual development, improvement and change, which has ultimately benefited the learning community. Culture is core to strategy, and these types of local practices have developed a learning culture at NASA that must precede more formal development.

NASA promotes growth-based careers through both formal and informal learning opportunities. Within these growth-based careers, talent exchanges such as team rotations and task forces can promote creativity and exchange of ideas. The ambition and capacity of employees to steadily learn and grow is not only beneficial to the individual, but to an individuals’ working teams and the organization as a whole.

For formal education such as classes, and workshops, NASA offers learning opportunities internally and provides limited financial support for educational experiences outside of the organization. Though the number of NASA employees receiving these educational stipends is one NASA hopes to grow, admittedly, budgetary constraints remain a challenge. Additionally federal law prohibits the organization, “from funding academic degrees for civil service personnel except through planned, systematic, and coordinated employee development programs that contribute significantly to meeting an individual training need.” NASA encourages employees to pursue formal educational ambitions as these are fundamental to the prosperity of both the employees and NASA.

Formal education isn’t the only (or even the best) avenue of development, though, especially as the nature and practice of work continues to change. NASA provides employees with the opportunity to learn informally or become a part of an experiential learning community.  Building a cohesive and diverse team is a great example of experiential learning in practice. NASA APPEL Knowledge Services has documented incredible stories across the Agency of lessons learned, project management case studies, and mission successes that were only possible because of intentional knowledge sharing. We learn by doing at NASA, and APPEL serves the vital role of making that learning available and effective for anyone who wants it. Mentoring programs build on that learning, giving employees relationships where they can ask questions and process ideas and thoughts outside of their normal teams.

The whole NASA team is constantly growing and adapting to the needs of the industry and the frontiers we are exploring through our the ever-changing, dynamic workforce. In order to create this collaborative learning environment, NASA continues to explore new solutions to further their formal education, improving team diversity and dynamics, and renovating physical spaces to promote further creativity. At the same time, employees are being encouraged to pursue development themselves, not waiting on NASA to prescribe or direct, but engaging their own interests and mentors, often cross-disciplinary and cross-silo. Learning and development cannot flourish from the top-down, and must be owned as the responsibility of every employee, not “for NASA” but “for their own curiosity and growth and interest.” It’s that kind of curiosity and daring that fuels the exploration that only NASA can do – and that creates the kind of people that NASA is so well-known for.

About the Authors

Neely Yates | Neely is a Content Hacker Intern at NASA. She studies International Political Economy and Computer Science at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. Neely is passionate about making STEM a more inclusive field. She has interned for Congressmen and local officials to advocate for her ideas. Neely also loves coding and learning languages. Whether she is talking to a human or computer, she likes to learn how to communicate in new, creative ways.

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).

The Future of The No-Collar Workforce

Since NASA’s inception, the Agency’s workforce might be characterized as full-time workers with fervent loyalty to the Agency. However, as the workforce transforms, NASA is redefining their talent pool to include freelancers, remote employees, and even robots.

NASA is at the forefront of embracing digital transformation to augment the modern-day workforce and redefine the expectations of the talent pool. Through automation, the NASA Shared Services Center has already begun to revolutionize what it means to be an employee by allowing four robots the ability to operate with mock Social Security numbers for credentialing purposes.

Unfortunately, neither of these robots are Robonaut or Valkyrie.

Source: https://usnewsghost.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/earths-shielding-effect-airborne-internet-nasa-space-robotics/

Each of these robots, although assigned different tasks, are designed with the highest degree of efficiency and potential reduced cost in mind. Through Intelligent Automation Services (IAS), the robots acquire consuming, mundane tasks such as spreadsheets, emails, and other organization tasks. This process is also known as Robotic Process Automation, or RPA.

“IAS is a software solution that mimics human interaction with computers, enabling organizations to automate existing user actions and have those actions performed by a digital employee. Intelligent automation introduces a new type of digital employee to the Agency’s workforce, one that shares many common characteristics with human employees. Digital employees, like human employees, will require user IT credentials, licenses, access roles, desktop computers or virtual machines, supervisors, and work instructions” (NSSC,2018).

NASA joined forces with UiPath to implement RPA capabilities. RPA allows new opportunities for their human counterpart to strengthen their skill set and focus on tasks that require more abstract thought.

“Both Deloitte Consulting and HFS Research have conducted separate studies to determine how many resources agencies would free up by using digital employees or robotic processes. Estimates range from $40 billion to $80 billion in terms of resources that could be reallocated to more value-added activities that improve citizen services. (Meritalk, 2018).

Rather than remove opportunity from those doing automatable skills, this new automation will open-up new opportunities as each wave of new technology has before it. Jobs are not being replaced but, rather, shifted to allow for more creativity, value, and collaboration among people as we continue to adapt to the lack of geographically defined work.

So what, or more accurately, who is the new talent at NASA? Through partnering with Deloitte, the first bot to perform RPA at NASA was born. This HR bot is better known as George Washington to its colleagues. According to a presentation by the National Contract Management Association, NASA and Deloitte created four of these robots.

  1. HR Bot: Automating the creation of new personal cases in Service Now for position transfers and new hires
  2. OCFO Bot: Automating the funds distribution process at the Agency level NSSC Business
  3. Accounting Bot: Automating the funds distribution process at the center level
  4. OCIO Bot: Automating the purchase requisition process for goods and services

This digital wave is opening the gates for a new realm of human-to-human collaboration, and human-to-bot. This begs the question that if we are now offering full positions to these bots, are they potentially allowed the same workplace rights as their human counterparts? How do we build our systems and processes to accommodate our new digital colleagues? As we adapt to this inevitable shift, companies must remain agile in their ability to conceptualize technology as “talent,” as it is now a crucial part of the makeup of their workforce.

Attracting top talent is imperative as NASA moves forward with eyes on a new generation of space dreamers and innovators. This needs to be broadened to encompass not only a human talent pool but may also mean conceptualizing and scouting out new technologies and ways to implement them within the workplace. Redefining talent comes to fruition where the desire to pursue the latest and greatest collides with mission and people. Resilience is being developed to account for shifting mission priorities as the industry accounts for new actors in the space economy.

For NASA, this means adapting to a new mindset around what constitutes a worker. Along the talent continuum, this may range from full-time to part-time workers. Moving forward, much like these newly implemented robots, technology will need to be considered in the hiring process. Other considerations include the gig economy and crowdsourcing efforts.

NASA is a leader in the revolution in redefining talent by paving a pathway for new technology, new questions, and a new world of opportunity. As we embrace the world of globalization, we welcome new talent and the new technology that comes along with it.

About the Authors

Jenna Kay Foertsch | Jenna is an intern at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center working in the Central Operations Directorate and is focused on data visualization and content strategy.  Jenna Kay attends the University of Minnesota and will graduate in 2019 with a degree in Business and Marketing Education with an emphasis in Political Science. Jenna Kay is passionate about enabling culture change through an intersection of equality in STEAM, business, and policy. She participates in various startups, FIRST robotics, and consuming mass amounts of cream cheese rangoons.

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).

Future of Work Theme 2: Redefining Talent

At the intersection of mission and people is NASA’s need to redefine talent, not just talent acquisition. The workforce of tomorrow joins organizations through ever changing methods and channels and, upon onboarding, remains for the duration of a task/project and departs with the potential to return based on work needs (nurtured by “revolving door” policies). This supply of talent is fluid to meet work demand. As such, the future accounts for and redefines talent on a continuum, ranging from the traditional full-time employee to crowdsourcing, inclusive of machines (Hagel & Schwartz, 2018). Application of the continuum is based on how companies access talent and how tasks are organized, with no one model best suited to acquire and match talent to task. Redefining talent requires organizations to both assess their ability to access such new talent pools and, in parallel, ensure work is restructured to harvest the most fruitful results from employing new talent models.

INSIGHTS
The role of organizations in the future will, in part, remain consistent: to organize talent around a particular purpose and collective goal—simple in theory, yet increasingly complex in practice. The availability of top talent is a genuine concern, not just for NASA but for all organizations. As technological exploitation increases, jobs are being deconstructed, redesigned, and retooled. The rise of robotics is intelligently augmenting the workforce. The gig economy of global freelancers are successfully able to inventory their skills, identify market needs, and map their skills with those needs to work across multiple organizations simultaneously.

From the rising use of contingent freelance workers to the growing role of participatory exploration and citizen science in accomplishing core NASA mission goals, non-traditional workers are becoming an increasingly important source of talent. Today, more than one in three U.S. workers are freelancers and this number is expected to grow to 40 percent by 2020 (Wald, 2017). Satisfaction will likely rise as paying gigs reflect the changes organizations are making to accommodate freelance workers. For companies, a viable “human cloud” that augments the reduced number of staff on payroll is an increasingly appealing proposition.

CHALLENGES
The talent management approach employed by NASA today limits the Agency’s ability to take advantage of the dynamic talent pool now afforded by the future of work. The current talent approach must maintain compliance with federal regulations, specifically Title V, that are rigid and restrict employment durations, reinstatement terms, and candidate qualification criteria. As the life of projects and tasks become more fluid, NASA must be afforded the flexibilities and hiring authorities to appropriately match the length of employment with new durations for work. Such flexibilities are only the starting point. The Agency requires unified approaches that take insights from in-house analytics and look beyond the fields and industries from which NASA has traditionally filled positions to find and “qualify” STEM talent, inclusive of custom recruitment and hiring strategies for talent niches, multi-discipline workers, and emerging disciplines. Research examples specific to NASA that would greatly benefit from these strategies include filling needs for mechatronic engineers or electronic parts engineers with radiation effects specialties (suggested as the intersection of aerospace and electrical engineering).

OPPORTUNITIES
As NASA contemplates how to capture the opportunities afforded by a redefined talent pool, an overarching action surfaced: craft a multifaceted talent strategy to identify and value talent based on the redefined talent pool (ranging from the traditional full-time employee to crowdsourcing, inclusive of machine talent). Examples include embracing and placing gig workers and freelancers for short durations by easily employing, un-employing, and re-employing employees across years (revolving door concepts); crowdsourcing complex problems and inviting the public to participate with NASA; expanding the use of virtual interns and virtual workers on ad-hoc bases; and expanding phased-retirement and Emeritus programs.

Strategic and programmatic workforce planning, talent acquisition and management practices must account for an enduring force resilient to shifting mission priorities, coinciding with the need to flexibly match talent to growing dynamic work. Such strategy development must begin with a greater understanding of NASA work, both today and tomorrow, in defining workforce needs for the future, and then merge this awareness with vastly different and readily available talent pools.

Taking these measures to redefine the workforce beyond the full-time, permanent civil service base and long-term contractors will require new talent codification, enhanced and new flexibilities, alternate architectures, refreshed practices, and radically different mindsets across the Agency.

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).

Redesigning for the Future: the Age of Impact

At the intersection of technology, mission, and people is NASA’s need to continuously redesign how we accomplish our work while, at the same time, preserving our core values and ethos of what makes NASA uniquely NASA. Today’s complex, interconnected work environment – and the speed of the information age – requires a different approach to sustain organizational success. Organizations face the growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt more quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

The intersection of these meta forces drives the necessity for organizations to restructure for flexibility and focus on identifying and growing impact. As organizations attempt to understand what is necessary to retain employees, they must restructure around the facilitation of rapid learning, embrace an increasingly diverse workforce, and anticipate ways to adapt to ever developing trends. With increasing complexity of work, individuals are beginning to strengthen multiple skills and collaboration is a necessity to accomplish an often-heavier workload. As NASA is constantly growing into an ever-more agile organization, flexibility allows teams to be assembled based on the nature of the work in an attempt to match “talent to task”.

NASA, like other organizations, must consider the repercussions of rigidity in their organization structure. As many departments in organizations are heavily segregated and siloed, this makes access to human capital and various resources a time-consuming and arduous task. Being able to create small teams across departments allows for increased collaboration and new ways of conceptualizing how organizations enable their workers to create teams based on selected strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. With flexibility across organization structure comes the ability to adjust or modify to create impact. Through this fluidity in structure, purpose and insights are more easily identifiable.

There is also an increase in expectations for more work–life balance and wellness opportunities. To retain the best and brightest of employees, a change towards increased agility must be made among organizational structures, and must be made quickly. Those who do not choose to shift will ultimately be left behind without eyes on transforming their organizations.


Check out the GIF here

NASA is crafting an agile workplace through a myriad of different tactics including creating employment opportunities around talent rather than seniority-based positions, providing resources for lifelong learning, cultivating an environment of decreased risk aversion, and avidly working towards the understanding and the adaption of generational differences.

Newly conceptualizing how work is accomplished at NASA requires an understanding of the work. With this understanding, NASA may construct a view of the current network and social architecture of the organization to explore the current structures, dynamics and overarching decision-making practices. This view is used to map teams to tasks, coinciding with the establishment of principles and practices for matrixing and collaborating to achieve designated goals. The success of team networks for NASA largely hinges on cataloging our peoples’ talent, crafting effective team engagement practices, leveraging top talent and rising leaders to guide team performance, and aligning performance outcomes to mission goals.

As such, organizations are shifting toward structures built for agility and a network of teams that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity. Agile organization designs foster autonomous teams able to engage in fluid work arrangements based on the nature of the work; organizations are afforded the ability to quickly mobilize “talent to task” to achieve mission success.

About the Author

Jenna Kay Foertsch is an intern at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center working in the Central Operations Directorate and is focused on data visualization and content strategy. Jenna Kay attends the University of Minnesota and will graduate in 2019 with a degree in Business and Marketing Education with an emphasis in Political Science. Jenna Kay is passionate about enabling culture change through an intersection of equality in STEAM, business, and policy. She participates in various startups, FIRST Robotics, and consuming mass amounts of cream cheese rangoons.

Future of Work Theme 1: Design for Agility, Focusing on Impact

At the intersection of technology, mission, and people is NASA’s need to continuously redesign how we accomplish our work while, at the same time, preserving our core values and ethos of what makes NASA uniquely NASA. Today’s complex and interconnected work environment requires a different approach to sustain organizational success. Organizations face the growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt more quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. As such, organizations are shifting toward structures built for agility and a network of teams that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity. Agile organization designs foster autonomous teams able to engage in fluid work arrangements based on the nature of the work; organizations are afforded the ability to quickly mobilize “talent to task” to achieve mission success (2017 Global Workplace Trends – Sodexo, 2017).

INSIGHTS
A trait that unquestionably arises in any conversation about the the Future of Work is agility. From the agile workforce to the agile organization, the future is marked by constant waves of change and new approaches to navigate the currents with an agile posture. This persistent fluctuation of everything is being largely driven by the rising rate of technological change. In contrast to the rapid pace of technology are organizations, individuals, and, particularly policy, which drastically lag in keeping up with unprecedented change (Hagel & Schwartz, 2018).

Organizations are responding with structural redesigns and process reengineering. The designs of tomorrow demonstrate greater awareness that boxes and lines no longer visually depict the way organizations operate. The attempts to draw out reporting lines do not authentically represent how real work gets done and decision-making transpires. Future designs gear toward networks—teams of teams—and attempt to understand the connections and relationships that matter most to organizational performance and productivity. Pushing less for structural approaches and building more toward shared platforms is becoming a best practice rather than the far-reaching goal (Deloitte, 2018). Regardless of the final construct, designing for agility creates a stable environment for structured flexibility.

Individuals are responding with demands for greater work–personal life balance and wellness while simultaneously building greater capacities to manage change and increase resilience; rising Generation Z highlights such capacity building with natural tendencies toward self-reliance and entrepreneurship (Merriman, 2015). The workforce of the future thrives in flexibility and, as noted, organizations are responding in kind with structural redesign while expecting agile reciprocation.

CHALLENGES
NASA was designed for efficiency and effectiveness in the 1960s and 70s around its Space and Research Centers. This decentralized model fed silos of Center-centric cultures, missions, processes, and infrastructure all built to optimize services and results for the Center construct. And the system, processes, policies, and regulation that serve as the foundation for the NASA of today is collectively based on the industrial work of the past. As work requires more cross-Agency collaboration and pressures increase for NASA Centers to share resources and information horizontally across the enterprise, Center-centric models inhibit these exchanges and result in costly duplication. As budgets have become tighter, data more available, and operations oversight more detailed, NASA, like many Agencies, is being asked and is expected to run like a business. Few incentives today promote cross-Agency engagement to improve efficiencies or encourage behaviors that support a shift towards the NASA enterprise operating model, or a “One NASA” culture sought by the Agency.

OPPORTUNITIES
NASA must seek to design a talent-based organization (as opposed to position-based) driven by teams empowered to accomplish mission goals. As NASA has embarked on a new operating model where mission work is shared and accomplished across Centers, where technology and automation are replacing manual and labor-intensive processes, and where requirements now rely on the private sector for mission accomplishment, the fundamental organizational design and flexibility of our workforce must be structured for speed, agility, and adaptability to enable NASA to compete in today’s global environment.

Newly conceptualizing how work is accomplished at NASA requires an understanding of the work. With this understanding, NASA may construct a view of the current network and social architecture of the organization to explore the current structures, dynamics and overarching decision-making practices. This view is used to map teams to tasks, coinciding with the establishment of principles and practices for matrixing and collaborating to achieve designated goals. The success of team networks for NASA largely hinges on cataloging our peoples’ talent, crafting effective team engagement practices, leveraging top talent and rising leaders to guide team performance, and aligning performance outcomes to mission goals.

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).

The Future of Work Framework

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) has undertaken research to understand the disruptors driving the future of work and implications for NASA so that it can evolve talent strategies aligned with the new work, workforce and workplace of tomorrow. The result is the Future of Work – a report and framework, which reveals eight major themes that highlight insights, challenges and tangible opportunities for NASA. The Future of Work acts as a foundational compass as NASA embarks on a new journey toward a future that enables its workforce to be adaptable, resilient, productive and bold.

The eight themes emerged from research findings categorized into four major, overlapping meta forces: mission, people, place and technology. Themes range from fundamentally rethinking the roles of organizations and individuals, to embracing the role technology increasingly serves to augment and enable the workforce. The eight themes are:

Theme 1: Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
For organizations to thrive in today’s world, it is imperative to move faster, adapt quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. Work today requires fluid talent to meet ever increasingly complex work, requiring multidisciplinary skills, delivered by teams of people, networked together that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity.

Theme 2: Redefining Talent
To attract top human talent, organizations must embrace the new dynamic human talent pool that enters the organization through all manner of new work arrangements, (e.g., traditional employment contracts to citizen scientists); and at the same time strategic workforce planning, acquisition and management practices must enable a workforce that is resilient to shifting mission priorities. Redefined talent runs along a continuum ranging from the traditional full-time employee to part time workers and supplemented by machine talent (e.g., artificial intelligence and robotics).

Theme 3: Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Rising life expectancies and an aging global workforce present organizations with unprecedented challenges and untapped opportunities. Organizations with a science and technology forward mission must highly value and provide learning and development for its workforce to ensure continued relevance and competitiveness.

Theme 4: Deploying Talent, Mobilizing Careers
Success depends on providing employees with experiences that inspire and challenge them throughout their career. Organizations need well trained, experienced leaders and professionals that can be matched with mission needs through the use of temporary assignments, internal rotations, reassignments and reinstatements, details in place and external engagement.

Theme 5: Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
Work can now be conducted anywhere and anytime through making information, data and tools available to an increasingly mobile workforce. Workplaces must also adapt as the work and workforce evolves. Modern workspaces are being redesigned for flexibility, autonomy and collaboration and to enable an increasingly remote, agile workforce.

Theme 6: Designing for Sharing and Security
The ability of organizations to leverage data to drive insights to action is critical. Yet data access is often prohibited due to the underlying tension between sharing and security. An enterprise data management strategy and modern, common data architecture is critical to securely share information and data.

Theme 7: Prioritizing Digital Transformation
Digital transformation that leads to more informed decisions and operational efficiencies is occurring in every industry and remains an ongoing process across the federal government.

Theme 8: Unleashing Automation, Analytics, Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Advances in technology will allow organizations to better organize and distribute work tasks to qualified individuals, replacing or outsourcing others and generally augmenting the existing workforce. As machines start to think and act humanly, organizations will be able to more efficiently assess real-time data, assign responses, allocate tasks based on assessment, streamline knowledge driven processes, and enable more objective decision-making.

Each theme includes insights gleaned from the research and analysis, and highlights corresponding challenges and opportunities based on NASA’s position today. Upcoming blog posts will focus on the eight themes in more detail.

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).

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.