Article: Here’s how NASA is driving HR transformation


Here’s how NASA is driving HR transformation

On the Day 1 of People Matters TechHR India 2021, Kelly Elliott, Director, Business Operations Division, Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, NASA takes us through the digital transformation journey of NASA.
Here’s how NASA is driving HR transformation

Success requires both urgency and patience. Be urgent about making the effort, and patient about seeing the results.

-Ralph Marston

NASA’s mission is expanding! Further the current national environment is highly dynamic and rapidly changing, along with a growing commercial aerospace industry, new White House Administration, constant push for budget and cost pressures, aging IT, and physical infrastructure; all creating a need for major transformation and how we deliver human capital services and embrace a more competitive environment for talent. 

In response to all the changes, NASA is continuously transforming its workforce strategy and making work easier for all. But what are the major changes NASA is focusing on? And how is it leading its transformation journey? On the Day 1 of People Matters TechHR India 2021, Kelly Elliott, Director, Business Operations Division, Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, NASA takes us through the digital transformation journey of NASA.

“The number one change management strategy that I've learned over the years is to find a way to make work go away. Most change initiatives are driven based on some kind of pain in the organisation, and need to get better, or need to get more efficient, reducing work, eliminating steps in a process, eliminating low value work or automating or always to make work go away,” shared Kelly. 

In Kelly’s experience what takes to lead a successful work transformation journey is:

  • A compelling vision
  • Leveraging technology 
  • Incredible persistence 

The beginning of NASA’s HR transformation journey 

NASA accomplishes its missions for programs, projects, engineering safety and operations organisations at 10 centers located across the United States. Those 10 centers often have areas of focus from human spaceflight objectives to climate research to planetary exploration. In many ways the centers operate collaboratively, but independently.

To make these centers run each has has or had a robust mission support function including finance, human resources, procurement, and other infrastructural support organizations. 

“As cost and budget pressures continue to escalate, we decided to restructure how we deliver these Mission Support Services at NASA, so that we could become more efficient and drive costs down, like thinking we are moving towards centralization, in order to remove duplication and drive efficiencies,” shared Kelly. 

With that need to reduce redundancies and drive costs down, NASA focused specifically on transforming its human capital organization. 

NASA began by centralising leadership and delivery of its human capital organization between 2017 & 2018. Although it had a Shared Services Center within NASA that provides centralized delivery of services like benefits and Training Administration, it wasn't enough. 

“We needed to operate as a cohesive leadership team with a single budget to drive cost reductions and efficiencies through increased consistency and shared technology across all of our processes, not just ones that make sense to be in a Shared Services Center,” said Kelly. 

NASA realised the need for a cohesive leadership team and made urgent efforts to centralize the leadership. 

Making bold changes: Digitising work flows

After redesigning the HR organisation it was now time for NASA to look at the processes and workflows for redundancies. The focus was on redeploying, reducing the resources and saving time and effort for its customers: employee as well as HR teams.

In the first example, Kelly shared, “The classification of our positions went from 30 days to 30 minutes. We started out with over 24,000 position descriptions, and today we have just under 2000 and now at the time there were 24,000 position descriptions, while we only had 80,000 employees.”

With this change, NASA achieved labor savings within its HR offices of over $2 Mn. 

How did they do it?: In just six months they attacked the major process transformation by creating a NASA standard position description library, updating the technology and implementing process modifications. 

“The larger savings actually really come into play with our supervisors who no longer need to write, or outline functional duties, every time they hire a new employee. That was more work that went away beyond the $2 million in labor since labor savings that we count for human capital,” shared Kelly. 

The resume desk transformation: In progress 

The second big example Kelly shared is still an ongoing transformation mission NASA is working on. She described it as, “The resume desk transformation.”

The process is redesigning its hiring processes by focussing on the two steps:

A resume comes into NASA and it lands on a manager's desk. It's just as simple as that. “In the historical process, each new hire meant that we recruited and announced a new position to hire,” added Kelly. So in other words, it was an extensive recruitment and hiring process.  

The extensive process with multiple layers was a result of NASA’s need to largely recruit for unique expertise it requires for its mission. However, as the HR team relooked at the process, it realised that the need for each position to be uniquely recruited is not necessary, many positions are similar to others, and it can recruit for several engineers, accountants and project managers at a time.

Kelly said, “We do have a fair amount of jobs that must be uniquely announced and recruited for, but by bundling the ones that we can, we save countless hours and time and effort and allowing our hiring organization to really focus on the unique positions, giving managers direct action, access online to resumes for candidates that have already been recruited and trained at NASA.”

By simplifying the hiring process, NASA is saving time and effort to prepare hiring packages, and significantly reducing the time that it takes to hire employees.

“We're seeing our time to hire metric already reduced by almost 40%, and we're not even done transforming,” added Kelly. 

NASA’s IoT strategic roadmap: The broader vision for tech transformation 

In 2019 NASA initiated a project to develop a whole technology strategy and roadmap. It was required to combat the challenge of an aging infrastructure and a lack of IT investment over the last 10 and more years. Kelly calls it NASA’s leap ahead. 

“What's really important about this work is the opportunity it offers us to envision new ways of delivering services, and identifying ways to eliminate work, our roadmap includes expanding the use of platform technologies and taking advantage of robotics processing and other automations,” shared Kelly. 

On this transformation journey the challenge Kelly and her team continue to deal with as a transparently transformation leader is educating and engaging their functional teams, so that they can see the possibilities of the future. 

“This cannot be an IT vision. It has to be a shared vision, and my fellow executives have to understand the possibilities that technology offers so that they can then bring ideas,” said Kelly. 

What stands about NASA’s ongoing HR transformation journey is: taking a fresh look at the existing process and then making urgent efforts to make changes with a compelling vision. Even in these unprecedented times, NASA continues to challenge its ongoing processes and make consistent efforts to redesign workflows and systems to make work simpler and more impactful. 

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Topics: Technology, Strategic HR, #TechHRIN

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