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).

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.

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.

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).