| My new job looked great
on paper, head of Logistics Services at Marshall Space
Flight Center, but I had to wonder when I arrived did
they expect me to manage an office or perform miracle
Fortunately, I had great support from upper management
for my reforms. My new boss was new also and had warned
me about the effort required to turn things around.
I needed her support because what I found on close examination
was not encouraging. Most disturbing to me was the way
people were being stretched beyond their limits. Many
people were doing things in areas where they hadn't
been trained. Not surprisingly, they were unhappy. Morale
was so low I felt like I needed a life support system
to keep it from expiring altogether.
That was only a routine examination. Cut inside and
I discovered an organization damaged by years of broken
processes and neglect. A number of procedures hadn't
been changed since 1989.
Just imagine a property pass system in today's world
that doesn't provide for the long-term loan of laptop
computers. Maybe that was okay in 1989, when few laptops
were going in and out of the Center, but in 1998 you're
a long way from working faster, better, cheaper when
people can't get their mobile equipment in and out of
their offices without obtaining a new property pass
The first step was going to be revitalizing my coworkers.
There was no way I could reform this office by myself.
I had to convince them that the status quo was unacceptable,
which shouldn't be hard, but the tough part would be getting
them to see WE could change it -- and not just because
it was good for the image of the Center. This would make
everyone's life better. Complaints would decrease, the
processes would run smoother, and, most important of all,
their jobs would be easier.
all along has been to involve everyone in the reforms,
and that includes the contractors as well as the
"Together, we're going to change the way people take
care of their property at Marshall," I declared, sounding
the battle cry. By saying this with conviction, I got
enough people to take me seriously and the others were
at least willing to follow along.
What I prescribed was a forward-looking approach.
I said it doesn't matter what happened before, nor does
it matter who was to blame. To emphasize that we were
starting out fresh, I did something they had never done
before at Marshall. I implemented a Departmental Employee-of-the-Quarter
program for people to see that doing good work had its
Although MSFC did not have a formal Employee of the
Quarter program, I was able to enact the program informally
with the approval of my management. We did it the McDonald's
way, putting a plaque up in the office and adding the
names to it quarterly. People also got their picture
on the wall, a certificate, and lunch on me. To guarantee
it would be taken seriously, we used an employee-nomination
process. It was the only way to reinforce that this
was "our" effort, and the result was it was embraced
Getting extraordinary things done in an organization
is hard work. Leaders have to believe they can make
a difference, but they also have to enlist others' support,
and they have to recognize the contributions of these
people or they will never motivate them to perform.
Our Employee-of-the-Quarter program was so successful
I expanded it to include contractors. Now we have a
Contractor-of-the-Quarter program too. My thinking all
along has been to involve everyone in the reforms, and
that includes the contractors as well as the civil servants.
In this same way, we introduced employee satisfaction
surveys. We started with the civil servants and are
now expanding this program to include contractors as
well. The best way to get anyone to care about a home
or an office or an agency is to create a sense of ownership.
I felt we could do that by allowing people the opportunity
to identify how to improve things at the Center. Again,
it was important to make clear that the vision of what
the Center could be was theirs as well as management's.
As the leader in this reform effort, I knew it was critical
that I set the tone in the office. Enthusiasm rubs off,
after all. First thing every day I stopped by people's
offices to say good morning. At first many were taken
aback. What's wrong? Had they done something they should
be reprimanded for? That was the sort of attitude that
existed before I got there. People started to loosen up
once it became clear that I was just coming around to
say 'hello,' that's all.
to imagine anyone feeling safe when the only time
the boss comes to visit them is to tell them what
they're doing wrong.
I believe a key factor in leading any reform effort
is getting people to trust that you care about them.
As people's comfort level increased, we were able to
use these visits to address office issues they otherwise
wouldn't have brought up. It was important first to
let them know it was safe to do this. It's hard to imagine
anyone feeling safe when the only time the boss comes
to visit them is to tell them what they're doing wrong.
One of the things I was concerned about when I stepped
into this job was that people in the office were being
asked to perform their duties without adequate resources.
Since coming to NASA I've watched as people are thrown
into the breach. They're usually successful at what
they do because they're intelligent, talented people.
But that doesn't make it right. You build a team by
helping each other out, and that means running to someone's
defense when they need help. It pays big dividends in
the long run because then you've got everyone helping
each other, and that is the glue that holds the team
together. Once that attitude takes hold, nobody sees
him or herself isolated any longer when problems arise.
I have many examples of what I mean by people required
to work with inadequate resources. For example, when
I came on board with Logistics Services, some folks
in the office were still working on 386s -- at NASA!
I heard about a woman on my floor assigned to work on
some of our databases with only a 486, while I had a
Pentium. Who needed the better computer, her or me?
I immediately requested that the computers be swapped.
It's far more important to me that the people I work
with have the tools they need to do their jobs than
that I have the biggest, baddest machine on the floor.
One thing we felt we had to do center-wide was train
people on what property management was all about. But
the last thing we wanted was to drag everyone into an
auditorium for a two-hour lecture. People were busy
-- they had projects, sometimes multiple projects, going
on. To make the training convenient for them, we built
a web-based program. I helped design it myself, an interactive
program that quizzed and evaluated them as they worked
their way through it.
People appreciated this. The comments we got back
said it was an excellent way to conduct a training,
and they suggested other programs use this approach.
This touches on one of our biggest reforms of all, getting
folks in the office to put customer service on their agenda.
When I first came on board, there was little to no customer
focus. One way I tried to put it on the agenda was by
telling "Sea Stories." These were just stories I brought
up to try and get others to see that exceeding customer
expectations was something in itself worth striving for.
The stories could be anything. Usually, they were just
things that happened to me during the day or over the
weekend. For example, I bought windshield wiper blades
from a guy at the Auto Store. He asked me where my car
was parked and I pointed to it in the parking lot. He
took the blades out to the car, popped out the old ones,
put the new ones in, and then while we were standing out
there talking, he asked if there was anything else I needed.
He didn't have to go out into the parking lot and put
on the new blades, but he was focused on exceeding my
expectations and making sure I was a satisfied customer.
Where do you think I'm going next time I need something
for my car?
people pay to the customer is probably the most
visible difference in how our office operates now
from when I started.
Stories like this I hoped would inspire people to
do something extra for people. These could be simple
things, like sounding extra friendly when they answered
the phone, building cordial relationships with the people
in other parts of the Center, treating our contractors
as team members too. The attention people pay to the
customer is probably the most visible difference in
how our office operates now from when I started. This
customer satisfaction emphasis was reinforced by sharing
comments from pleased customers at our monthly staff
meetings. One employee who adopted this new practice
was almost always recognized. During the meetings I
would say "and here is an email from a happy customer
who wrote, Mr. --," and I would pause and the entire
group would say his name. This encouraged others to
take pride in being recognized for taking care of their
We've made lots of changes and we've got lots of people
to agree the difference has been worth the effort. Many
of those old outdated procedures I referred to earlier
are in the process of being reformed. During one major
process improvement effort, we used facilitated process
improvement sessions with employees, contractors and
customers to identify over 500 process improvement opportunities
in a 16-week span. We have already implemented more
than 250 of them.
The overarching challenge in reforming an entire office
is changing the mindset. You get there slowly, but it
can happen. I think our office demonstrates this. To
challenge the status quo, you have to inspire a shared
vision. Once you do this, enable others to act, and
never cease to model the way yourself. Do this from
the heart and amazing things can happen.
- Successful change comes from employing a complementary
set of principles: Challenge the Process, Inspire
a Shared Vision, Enable Others to Act, Model the Way,
and Encourage the Heart. These principles derive from
The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary
Things Done in Organizations, by James M. Kouzes
and Barry Z. Posner.
- Actions speak louder than words. People will draw
inspiration from seeing you 'walk' what you 'talk'
and thereby follow the path you lead.
- Stories provide concrete examples of the values
you want to instill. Be sure to draw from other areas
of life besides just what's going on at the office.
- Let people know their work is appreciated by recognizing
and rewarding those who make a difference.
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Malone serves as the Director of the Logistics
Services Department at Marshall Space Flight Center
(MSFC). His responsibilities include planning and
directing a program of logistics, technical, and
institutional support to the research, development,
and program management activities of MSFC.