There is no other government agency, that enjoys the same global fame and respect as NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. In this episode, we have the absolute privilege of speaking with Brady Pyle, who is the Director of HR at one of the NASA sites, namely the Johnson Space Centre - which is the home of astronauts and engineers, about 11.000 staff in total. 

Legacy and Mission

When speaking to HR professionals in different organisations, the issue of purpose and motivation usually comes up. In the case of NASA, I immediately assume, that motivation is probably not a challenge, and Brady confirms, that the mission is so strong, people feel so incredibly connected and engaged to it, that they have to be rather vigilant in making sure people don't burn themselves out by overwork and pushing too hard. This can be even felt by all the support services as well.

In 1970, during the Apollo 13 mission, when there was an oxygen tank failure, the lives of the astronauts were at great risk. The overall mood at the Mission Control Centre was of intense team-work, and the spirit: "Failure is not an Option", which became a very strong motto for the organisation for years to come. 

However, if failure is not an option, or not permitted - what about innovation and experimentation? The organisation had to come a long way in letting go of that very strong ethos, and adopting a more agile attitude and approach to experimentation and introduced the a new awards scheme that recognised "Lean forward - fail smart" projects - trying new things and sharing the lessons learnt became very important. 

International Space Station
NASA original photo via Unsplash

Hidden Figures

The 2016 film has left a very strong impression on me, so I couldn't help but ask Brady about the diversity and inclusion policy, and also what the movie meant for the organisation in terms of its history, but also looking forward. And I was so glad to hear (as will you if you listen to the episode) that the movie had a very positive effect on the organisation, and indeed there are a number of women, also women from migration background in key leadership positions within NASA, shaping the organisation and its future.

Ellen Ochoa is one of them. The first hispanic woman in space, currently the 11th Director of the Johnson Space Center has initiated the JSC 2.0 project: just like a software being re-relased, Dr. Ochoa asked staff members and stakeholders to imagine the future of the Center - what has worked so far, and what can be improved. In this concentrated team effort the organisation is being propelled to the new era of human space flight. 

You can follow Brady Pyle on Twitter, and also get in touch with him via LinkedIn

This podcast was created through our media partnership with the Work 2.0 Africa conference organised in Johannesburg on 3-4 October 2017. For more information please visit the conference website.