“I tell people: if you are successful, you will be at the podium, if you fail I will be at the podium.”
-Dr. Charles Elachi, former Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
When you think about all of the accomplishments of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the Mars Curiosity Rover, the Saturn orbiter, just to name a few) and all the exciting things that are still under way (Osiris-REx asteroid sampling mission), and you have the former director of the JPL available for questions, as a group of us did on Wednesday night as part of ADP’s Analyst Day, it almost seems heretical to ask about HR. But that is who we are and what we do. And some of the insights Dr. Charles Elachi shared were interesting — not just because of the forward-thinking nature of the work at the JPL, but because that progressive thinking is also reflected in its people policies.
Take, for example, diversity and inclusion, which Elachi felt was a large part of the success of JPL. Specifically, he identified age/experience diversity as most important, both in terms of technological familiarity (types of technology people of different ages are exposed to), but also attitudes. Paraphrasing, Elachi said that younger/inexperienced workers come in with an attitude of “anything is possible,” whereas more experienced workers are able to temper that by teaching them mistakes of the past so those mistakes aren’t repeated.
Also important, Elachi said, are the diversity of gender and ethnicity, in order to create a culture where different experiences and points of view could be blended for optimum problem-solving. He even went into some specifics, such as setting a target of 60% of employees on projects had to be new hires (although he may possibly have been joking or giving a hypothetical) and the conflicts this caused with his top legal advisors.
The topic of D&I is admittedly top-of-mind for me, as Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 Diversity and Inclusion survey concluded only last week, and the data from that survey is beginning to shed some light into how organizations view D&I in 2016, and specific to this discussion, how they are tracking it and which of those metrics are giving organizations the most value. It was for this reason that I found these opening remarks so fascinating, although really anytime you are watching footage of a moon landing live from the control room in Houston it is hard not to feel moved.
Elachi’s opening remarks were not just coincidental to BHG’s newest research, but also served as a good working example of applied D&I the next day when ADP was previewing its new DataCloud™ software and showing the capabilities of tracking multiple diversity and inclusion metrics, something Dr. Elachi would have found useful in building a team that is capable of even greater achievements, although what those would be requires a greater imagination than mine.