How to Recruit for the Most Difficult Job (Not) On Earth With Brady Pyle, Deputy CHCO at NASA

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About The Guest

Brady A. Pyle is the Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer for NASA, responsible for supporting the Chief Human Capital Officer and leading Human Resources Services for NASA. For this Headquarters role, he works from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Brady joined the Senior Executive Service in March 2016 as the HR Director for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where his team of 100 civil servants and contractors attracted, retained, and developed more than 3,000 civil servants — including Astronauts — who support the International Space Station and other human space flight programs.

Brady is a recognized leader in NASA, receiving NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal in both 2012 and 2018.

Talking Points

  • 9:57 — The current state of NASA.
  • 14:40 — How the culture of NASA has evolved.
  • 21:33 — NASA’s perspective on leadership.
  • 23:10 — How to get hired by NASA.
  • 31:14 — How do you hire astronauts?
  • 44:20 — NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic.

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What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their story to help pass those lessons onto others through both experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between.

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Machine Generated Transcript

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

nasa, HubSpot, people, organization, astronaut, leadership, employees, culture, innovation, hire, industry, companies, customers, work, hr, leaders, career, space, folks, moon

SPEAKERS

Brady Pyle, Scott D Clary

 

Scott D Clary  00:00

Welcome to success story the most useful podcast in the world. I’m your host Scott D. Clary. The success story podcast is part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. The HubSpot Podcast Network is the audio destination for business professionals who seek the best education and inspiration on how to grow a business. HubSpot Podcast Network hosts act as on demand mentors to entrepreneurs, startups and scale ups through practical tips and inspirational stories listen, learn and grow with the HubSpot Podcast Network at hubspot.com/podcast network. My guest today is Brady Pyle. Brady is the Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer for NASA. He is responsible for supporting the Chief Human Capital Officer and leading human resources for all of NASA for this role. He works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas since March 2018. He is lead executive HR directors for NASA’s 10 field centers across the country and development, execution and integration of HR services, programs, processes and policies. He has an incredible amount of experience recruiting hiring for some of the most difficult roles in the world, including astronauts. So he is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas. He studied HR management at Texas a&m joined NASA in 1995. He has progressively held more leadership roles he spent his entire career almost almost entire career with NASA. He leads a team of 100 civil servants and contractors he has developed more than 3000 civil servants, including astronauts who support the International Space Station and other human spaceflight programs. He has received numerous awards for his work leadership recommendations and recognition for his work. What do we speak about? Well, we speak about NASA, we speak about how NASA has grown throughout the years, the culture of NASA leadership style within NASA is coming from a more military focused organization to a more innovative focused organization. We speak about just some general HR best practices that he’s learned through his career, how he hires for the one of the most difficult jobs in the world. And then of course, we speak about the future of space, the competition between SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic NASA and some of the things that he’s dealing with day to day as space moves forward and is more privatized. So without further ado, this is Brady pile Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer for NASA.

 

Brady Pyle  02:31

Alright, thank you, Scott. I’m glad to be here with you today. My career started, actually started thinking about career when I was in high school, and I wanted to go work in the in the government. And so I had my dad and grandfather were both civil servants and really wanted to follow their careers. Although they were they were more on the blue collar side, I always wanted to be working in a suit and in the air condition. And so when I went to college, I went in the public administration route at Texas a&m, and they had the Co Op program. So I was able to work a couple of jobs with the Department of Health and Human Services. And that was my first exposure to the HR field. And then I knew I wanted to pursue that field, I got a graduate degree in HR management from Texas a&m, became a graduate Co Op reached out to different government organizations, including NASA, and landed a co op opportunity with this. And I’ve been there the last 25 plus years, and then a great experience of growth and opportunity. I was able to actually spend some time outside the HR field, I spent nine months as a frontline leader in engineering, back in 2013, also spent a year in DC working at our headquarters office and also at the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation as well. So had a variety experiences over my career, the last several years I’ve been in the HR executive ranks at NASA and working on shifting our model, we’ve gone from a model where for 60 years, NASA was very decentralized. So HR worked autonomously in each of our field locations and field centers. And now we’re we’re really pulling that function together. So that’s been an exciting time to be in the middle of that and that transition here at NASA.

 

Scott D Clary  04:37

That’s incredible. Um, so I guess just, you know, walk me through some of the nuances of how NASA operates of how NASA manages and leads and I cuz I don’t think people really understand they know NASA from what they see in perhaps movies or if maybe you’re a little bit more educated, you understand some of the programs are working on, but I think that some of the leadership needs is even the preamble we’re talking about coming, the background that it came from, and how it’s evolved. So walk me through that.

 

Brady Pyle  05:06

Yeah, that’s been an interesting evolution, even even over my career at NASA to watch how leadership style has evolved. So if you, if you think of NASA, when it started in the 1960s, a lot of the talent and leadership came from the military. So it was a leadership style that was very hierarchical, kind of came from the Department of Defense. And the leadership style kind of evolved, and the culture kind of evolved around that. And then if you’ve seen the Apollo 13 movie, you know, the famous line failure is not an option, you know, we needed to bring the crew home. And that was a great success story for NASA. They built Tom Hanks built a great movie around that, if any of your listeners haven’t seen that, I would definitely encourage that. But the failure is not an option was was critical to getting the crew home. But then that culture really started permeating parts of NASA that it didn’t need to. And what we were seeing is that was impeding a culture of innovation, we weren’t really being innovative, like we needed to, and a lot of areas. And so several years ago, we initiated a recognition for teams that that we said lean forward and fail smart. And we use specific criteria around that award. So we wanted to recognize those that were were daring to try new things. They were they were exhibiting risk taking behavior to to achieve new innovations. We wanted to recognize perseverance, you know, determination to succeed, kind of that never give up attitude. We wanted to recognize learning, how are they applying lessons learned, after failing to achieve desired results? And then really wanted to emphasize collaboration, you know, how are you sharing knowledge with others? Are you openly collaborating and networking to to gain perspectives that were different from yours, different experiences. And so that has really helped us and in areas where we need to be innovative to really start shifting that culture and become more innovative and risk taking where it makes sense. I would say NASA has also kind of evolved. Its overall strategy. If you if you look at how we’re engaging with the emerging space industry. For a long time, NASA would develop requirements, detailed requirements, and then contractors and industry partners would come in and work to those requirements. What we did more recently, with our uncrewed missions to the space station, these are missions that take supplies and food up and down to the space station is we just said a detailed here are the outcomes we need, here’s what we need to have happen. And then the emerging space industry could figure out how to make those things happen. We weren’t, we were detailing what we needed, not how to make it work. And so bringing to bear innovation from industry into the mix. And so we really need that kind of innovation and that kind of effort. Put the first woman back on the on the moon and the first person of color on the moon as well and go on to Mars. That’s the exciting things that we’re about now the NASA has branded its its moon program, Artemis. Artemis was the Greek sister of Apollo. The Apollo program was our Moon Program in the 60s. And we’re being very intentional about we want to put a woman on the moon and the first person of color on the moon as well. So

 

Scott D Clary  09:04

So NASA has obviously evolved, it’s gone from military more regimented to innovation to bringing in bringing in other agencies other industry to help fulfill. And right now, is it a mix of, of both? Is it a mix of other industry plus NASA as well, which seems to also be championing some of their own initiatives? So because that was something that I had screwed up when we were first talking, I was confused because I thought that okay, so NASA was doing all these initiatives, but realistically, even before Virgin Galactic even before SpaceX or Blue Origin, you were already working with industry. So where who did you work with in the past 30 years and and what does NASA do now? Versus what do they quote unquote, outsource which is probably not the right way to say it, but

 

Brady Pyle  09:57

yeah, that’s that’s a great point, Scott. Yeah, even If you go back to the the the Moon Program, industry partnerships have always been part of the fabric of NASA. So the big aerospace companies like like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, you know, before them, Rockwell, we had the United Space Alliance, when the Space Shuttle was was flying, which was kind of a merger of Lockheed and Boeing. We have always had partnerships with industry. What we’re seeing here more recently is kind of a new way of engaging with industry and allowing for for more of their innovation and more of their ideas and trying to trying to invest in and stimulate that industry where we can. So we still have traditional partnerships. So the International Space Station, we’ve got a strong contract with Boeing, they get the biggest contract there, we get a strong contract with Lockheed Martin to build the Orion spacecraft, which is the spacecraft that’s supposed to help get us to the, to the moon and on to Mars. And then we’ve got partnerships with with teams building our rocket as well. And then we have these other unique partnerships on getting, like I mentioned, supplies up and down to Space Station. And then now crewed missions you saw not too long ago, SpaceX has flown crews, up and down to Space Station, successfully. And then Boeing is supposed to test similar technology soon and get crews flying up and down the space station as well. So that was the first time in since the shuttle stopped flying, we were able to fly crew from American soil. And so yeah, having those partnerships is critical to NASA’s current success and future success. Amazing.

 

Scott D Clary  12:02

Okay, so I want to I want to look at some of the the lessons that are probably more in your purview. I actually have one more question on some of the one point that you mentioned. So the future of NASA’s put the first woman in first person of color on the moon, and go on to Mars, and that’s incredible. What, what would be the the actual game plan for that? Would that be something that would involve industry partners? Or would that be in a NASA initiative internal? And how would that actually manifest? Would that go to RFP and just think, from the business minded folks, how this process would most likely come about? And I know, it’s probably not 100% set in stone, but I’m just curious how something like that would happen.

 

Brady Pyle  12:41

Yeah, again, that’s a mix. So, you know, building the rocket that is needed to go to the moon, and the rocket and the technology to go to the moon is different than the technology and rocket that’s needed to get the space station. So Space Station flies and low earth orbit, you know, to get to the moon, you gotta have a lot more propulsion capability, and, and a bigger rocket more more powerful. So you’ve got that, and then you’ve got the spacecraft being built. And as I mentioned, both of those cases, we’ve got industry partners involved. And so, you know, that’s, that’s huge for us. And then you also have in the emerging space industry, you have, you know, Elon Musk talking about SpaceX has plans to try to do similar thing, things to try to get to Mars and, and explore, and they’re laying the groundwork for some of that as well. And we need, you know, we need them to succeed. Because if, if we have, you know, good ideas and good partnerships, and then also good competition among industry, we can drive costs down. Everyone wins. Yeah, and everyone wins. And ultimately, we explore deeper than we can go if it’s just NASA funded activity.

 

Scott D Clary  14:06

Amazing. Okay, so you were speaking about how the culture of NASA has evolved. And now very much focused on a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship, I feel like every organization would love to have that. But it’s hard to quantify, it’s hard to measure. So what are some of the strategies that you’ve worked on to build this culture and also NASA as a whole over the years, so that you can guarantee you have a culture of innovation entrepreneurship, and you can measure how that what’s like the metric to actually see that succeed?

 

Brady Pyle  14:40

Yeah, and I know from a from a workforce perspective, we have some strategies and I’ll talk a little bit about that. We also have strategies for for innovation on on the technical side where we are. We are working solutions with and seeking ideas from from our outside the walls of NASA. So we put out there different different challenges to our technical problems, and trying to bring innovation into NASA where it may not succeed organizationally. And then if we pivot and talk about within the organization, we’d like to say that building a culture of innovation is not rocket science. We actually leverage our annual employee engagement survey, it’s called the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. And we work closely with the Partnership for Public Service. They’re a independent nonprofit organization that actually puts out the best places to work in government. I’m proud to say NASA has been named the best large agency in the federal government the last nine years. But they have different indices that they look at that are based on this this engagement survey. And one of them is the innovation index. And it’s it’s basically three questions, it asks employees, are you consistently looking for ways to better perform your job? Do you feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, and our creativity and innovation rewarded? So if you think about those three elements, it kind of simplifies and helps focus leaders on what they need to be doing? You know, are we are we encouraging, you know, new ideas and, and better ways of doing things? Are we giving employees the space to better perform their job, look for new ideas, and then are we rewarding and recognizing that creativity and innovation when it happens, so it comes down to those leadership behaviors, so we’re consistently monitoring how we’re doing against that, with our engagement survey, and we we probe down into different elements of the organization, see where pockets are doing really well in that regard, and see where pockets of the organization that might need help, and we go in and consult with those leaders, that may not be showing up the way we want them to, to drive that culture of innovation.

 

Scott D Clary  17:06

So that’s, that’s how you’re actually getting that constant feedback loop from the employees as as you as you try and foster this culture of innovation, entrepreneurship. Now, getting the feedback loop is great. But how do you actually because a lot of these, a lot of these models, for them to be successful are are something that has to come from leadership and leaders within NASA. So how do you actually ensure that this is a model that leaders can help support and help drive because if obviously, your leaders are failing, then I’m sure that the the team and the end the results from this innovation index would also not be so great. So is there is there leadership lessons or that you try and you try and look for or instill in the actual leadership team leads, managers, directors? VPS?

 

Brady Pyle  17:59

Yeah, that’s a that’s a great point, Scott. And I briefly mentioned earlier that in 2013, I spent nine months as a frontline leader in our engineering organization. And part of that is we recognize the key role that frontline leaders played to to engagement into our culture. And so walking in those shoes, I was able to kind of see some of the challenges that are faced by our frontline leaders and the role that they play. If I go back to kind of the the innovation index that the Partnership for Public Services built, they’ve done a bunch of studies that show what are the different engagement questions that really influence that innovation index. And then you’re getting into even more specific leadership behavior that we can, we can look at, we can measure, we can frame some of our leadership development activities around and there are there are six, six of those things. So, you know, one is that that employees are rewarded for providing high quality products and services. So do our recognition programs, you know, really get it that. One is I’m given an opportunity to improve my skills in the organization. So we want leaders to continually give opportunities, both in the sphere of influence they have but also we want a model that allows for growth and skill development beyond your current role or current team. How satisfied are you with involvement in decisions that affect your work as a third element, so really having a leadership style that’s inclusive and that seeks that input from employees is really important to us. And similarly, fourth element is employees have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes, we want employees to, to figure out new and better ways of doing things and be able to implement those You know, not have organizational barriers that prevent that. And then fifth element is supervisory provides an opportunity to, for employees to demonstrate their leadership skills, it’s really important for, for us to build this culture of innovation, also expect people to be able to have influence in that. And when I think of this particular element, I think of leadership as influence, you know, not everyone wants a supervisory or management position that everyone wants to say and decisions, say and where the organization is going. So supervisors, fostering that and giving employees that ability. And then ultimately, another key element to this is the employees have a high level of respect for senior leaders, so senior leaders being visible, walking, the talk of what they expect from other leaders and from the organization, living out the core values is all very important. So from a, from an HR standpoint, you know, we’re kind of watching for that we’re giving feedback where we see that senior leaders may not be aligned with either what’s what’s being expected in the organization or, you know, modeling of core values. And so having those conversations and that accountability is important as well.

 

Scott D Clary  21:33

So this is how you built your culture. This is this this feedback loop between the leadership basically these points for leadership and these points for employees, this is how you’ve actually built the actual culture that has, like some of the some of the items you mentioned before, where you were one of the highest ranked places to work in federal government, but also in in the United States. If I’m not mistaken. This is the culture that sort of fostered that. These this is their Go ahead. Sorry.

 

Brady Pyle  22:00

Yeah, no, you’re right on Scott. And if you look at the things that we’ve talked about here, these are not things that are unique to NASA, unique to our workforce. I mean, these are very translatable, actionable things that really any organization can do to build, build that culture of engagement, build that culture of innovation. You know, no matter what industry you’re in, or what organization you’re in, the kinds of things that that we’ve done, again, are not not unique to us, or, or the fact that we’d get rocket sciences.

 

Scott D Clary  22:38

So, so Okay, so next, next, we figured out culture, I want to understand unpack how you hire so how you hire employees, how you What are, what are some of the high level learnings for hiring into? Because let’s just assume so let’s let’s assume that this is the model organization. So if we have a model organization, we have a model culture. How do you hire people into this organization so that you can obviously maintain this culture? Is it looking for the right people? Or is it? Is it something that you do that where you source people from? What are some lessons for people that are looking to hire the right people that you’d recommend? I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode, HubSpot. HubSpot is a CRM platform that is easy to implement, and is even easier to get your team to adopt and ask anybody that’s implemented new technology in a company, the biggest issue is not finding it or buying it, it’s getting your team and your company to actually use it and adopt it. And when it’s a piece, like a CRM, one of the most critical pieces of your business infrastructure and your tech stack, if people don’t adopt it and use it, that means you’re getting incomplete data, you’re getting missing data, you’re getting garbage data, it could impact quite literally everybody in your company, as well as it could negatively impact your customers and your revenue. So how does HubSpot solve for this with their CRM platform, there’s two components that they focus on that allow for organizational wide adoption. This is the contact timeline as well as the mobile app. So the contact timeline gives a historical context for all of the data that is associated with a certain contact in the CRM. That means that anybody across the organization can see all the actions and all the interactions that have taken place against that particular contact. You can also use that timeline to make calls to these contacts, enroll them in sequences, put them into marketing or sales campaigns, schedule a meeting open tickets, the historical timeline makes it easy to take action as well as to track the action that’s been taken against all of your contacts. And it’s not a pain to enter the information which means that it doesn’t take somebody a long time to put in great data, which can again positively impact your whole company. The second piece is the access from anywhere meaning if I have a phone and I’m on the road, the world’s opening up a little bit more now people are traveling again I can use The HubSpot app to access my CRM anywhere on the go on the fly doesn’t matter. So I have complete access to the CRM, I have access to my spreadsheets, my calendars, my notebooks, all of my contacts, I can send messages across my team with the HubSpot keyboard. I can access my contacts, call them through the HubSpot app, I can take quick notes, I can take contact information, I can all log it into my HubSpot app so that I can pull it up later on my desktop when I’m back at home. It’s simple. It’s intuitive, it’s meant to make it easy, frictionless, so that your team sees the value in properly using the CRM to the fullest of its capabilities and gives them the tools and the tack to allow them to do it without spending too much time and causing them more headache. 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Brady Pyle  28:45

Yes, so for us, you know, technical education and experience kind of kind of get you to the door. But but really, we’re we’re looking for kind of people who fit the culture and align to the core values that NASA has. So core values of teamwork, excellence, integrity inclusion. So the kinds of things we look for is what is the track record for excellent results? How do they work in teams? What has been their experience being part of a team? And certainly what we like to hear too is are they passionate about the mission? Usually people come to NASA because they want to explore they want to they’re excited about the the kinds of things that we’re up to. And so we’re we’re looking for people who align with and care about and are excited about the mission. Now the other thing from a from a workforce standpoint, like at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, for example, we have about 3000 NASA positions, government positions, there are another about 12,000 people who are on on contract so that’s it People who work for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, other companies, there’s there’s probably about 50 companies represented on site here in Houston. So a lot of times when we’re looking for experienced hires, that is our talent pool source in a lot of cases. So we’ve seen their track record of results, we, we’ve watched them in their roles as, as contractors and saw how they lead how they work. And from, from an HR perspective, you can’t really get much better than that, because past performance is always the best predictor for future performance. So if you’ve seen them operate, that’s way more than than a traditional interview can do for you. So we tend to blend, about half of our hires come through that pool, and then about half come directly from colleges and universities. And we have a real strong kind of student program as well. That kind of facilitates us seeing people in action before we before we bring them on board, even as students.

 

Scott D Clary  31:14

I was going to so I’m also curious. And, and, and I have to go into this. How do you hire astronauts? Because I think that so all these lessons are incredible. But I think that the fact that somebody is going to be potentially going to space adds a an extra level of complexity into the hiring process. So I’m very curious how you how you do that.

 

Brady Pyle  31:37

Yeah, absolutely. And I as as you might expect, I mean, we’ve got a very detailed, lengthy selection process. So we’ve got, you know, traditional interviews that you do for most jobs. We involve other current crew members, current astronauts, because they’re looking from the perspective of Can I fly with this person, you know, if I’m, if I’m going to a deep space mission, either to moon or to Mars, you’re talking months, potentially years at a time in small confined spaces. So, you know, am I able to apply with those persons a big thing they’re looking at? There’s a lot of psychological assessments, there’s a lot of medical screening. It’s a very, very rigorous process that folks go through to ultimately get into the astronaut program. And, excuse me,

 

Scott D Clary  32:34

excuse me, how many people actually end up applying for this? Like, what’s the selection process? Like, if anybody wanted to be an astronaut? As a kid? I’m sure they were. I’m sure. Sure. They were wondering what their chances were like, and I’m sure they’re not so great, because I, you know, how many people are actually selected? It doesn’t seem to be a lot. So

 

Brady Pyle  32:55

yeah, your your odds, the last couple of cycles are probably less than 100,000 of people who apply. So in 2017, we actually had a record number of applicants, we had 18,000 people who applied to be an astronaut. And a lot of that was we had a strong recruitment Blitz, we had a great social media campaign and marketing campaign, and really drove those numbers up. Ultimately, out of the 18,000 people applied 13 were selected. And so yeah, you’re less than one and 1000. In that we are going through a process right now, we actually had an application window. Earlier this year, we had 12,000 applicants this year, and we’re anticipating hiring 10 to 12 people now, the difference between 2017 and 2021 is in 2017, we only required bachelor level degree 2021, we came back and said, you know, if we look at the past few astronaut classes, it’s hard. It’s hard to even get past the initial screening without at least a master’s degree. So that was the the entry level requirement was changed in 2021 to a master’s degree. So that impacted a little bit of our applicant numbers, but really didn’t impact at that front level assessment. Generally speaking, you’re more competitive even with a PhD level. Really, either science or engineering degree. There are folks with master’s depending on the the kind of astronaut you are as well. We have we hire pilots from the military. And those were, were even more critical back in the shuttle days when you actually were flying the shuttle. The capsule like program is a little bit less You know, like flying the jets that they fly in the military. So a little bit different

 

Scott D Clary  35:06

than the PhDs would be to provide. So if these would be, so to just help me understand why a PhD would be required,

 

Brady Pyle  35:14

yeah, so So today, we’re flying crew members up and down to Space Station, most of what they’re doing is scientific research and experiments. So they’re conducting experiments aboard the space station. They’ve got detailed requirements about those of looking at various things, looking at medical technology, looking at agricultural technology, because, you know, you got to be able to grow your own food and space, especially if you’re going to go to Mars and deeper space missions. So you know, a lot of the folks when when you get into this, this kind of competition, what, what tends to set people apart is they get a little bit more either that’s a little bit more education or a little bit more experience? And

 

Scott D Clary  36:07

what would disqualify somebody from being an astronaut, besides the fact that there’s already a ton of competition? And there’s interviews, psychological screening? There’s probably, I’m assuming some sort of physical requirements as well. Yeah. So are there other things that may disqualify an astronaut from from actually being hired?

 

Brady Pyle  36:28

Yeah, we, you know, we, we tend to ask the kind of questions that assess their experience on exploration. So if you think of people who are big mountain climbers, or scuba divers, or they’ve spent, you know, time and get a deep sea exploration, there’s a lot of corollary there. Some, some folks get eliminated, because they don’t have that kind of that kind of experience in their background. But probably the most surprising thing, I think that that knocks some people out as men are culture and core value is around teamwork. And every team member is important. So you know, you’ve got your traditional interview process, you’ve got, like I said, the medical screenings and other things. So as part of the process, we asked the receptionist, we asked the nurses, you know, how, how were the candidates? How did they interact with you, and we have eliminated some folks in the process who treated receptionists and nurses differently than they did other folks not realizing I think that they pay these folks are part of the process, too. They’re part of the NASA team. And so that’s, that’s really important to us that we get astronauts who appreciate all team members and all contributions. And so that’s another element that we look for as well.

 

Scott D Clary  37:56

And for somebody who is still holding on to the dream that they can be an astronaut, or perhaps there’s a there’s a kid listening to this podcast somewhere, what does make the perfect astronaut?

 

Brady Pyle  38:10

Yeah, I think, you know, I think I think a lot of folks want to be an astronaut for different reasons. I mean, some some folks dream of being one, since they were a kid, you know, whether they love space, or they saw one on TV or looked up to astronauts. I think others kind of, kind of bump into that along the way and their career path. They see whether they’re kind of a test pilot and the military there. scientists or engineers that have this, this inner desire to explore, or to be part of a team or really want to be a leader in some way. There’s just, there have been a lot of different reasons that have led people to this path. And there are a lot of people who dream of being an astronaut, you talk to a lot, and here a lot of the current astronauts, many of them had to apply three and four times. So they had to kind of be persistence, they would get feedback through the interview process of other skills, they need to develop experiences, they need to have to make themselves more competitive. And, you know, hung in there and eventually, you know, made it through the process, but it’s a it is a grind tremely competitive and as a grind. That’s a good way to put it.

 

Scott D Clary  39:33

It’s a great and amazing, okay, I want to I want to pick your brain about some of the, I guess relevant topical space companies or stories that are in the news and how they interact with NASA. But I also want to give you a chance to show off a little bit because you had dropped some really impressive numbers on NASA employee tenure and workforce numbers. that I think we spoke case we spoken about culture, we spoken about how you hire and onboard some leadership lessons, we spoke about astronauts, that was fun. But I think that all of this, I want to just tie it up with and put a bow on it. Some of the some of the numbers that you experienced in terms of your employee attrition rate you how many employees stay with the company, the length of tenure, these are all very, in my opinion, impressive stats, because I feel like, I’ll let you talk about these numbers. But I feel like that’s not the norm in many companies. I feel like that people lost a lot. People do not last as long in many companies, and the attrition or the churn of employees is much higher, or attrition rather. So walk me through some of these numbers. And I want to, I want to congratulate you because they’re very impressive.

 

Brady Pyle  40:55

Yeah, it’s got I would, I would say they’re, you know, people come to NASA for the mission, and then stay for for both the mission and the people they work with, you know, again, this teamwork culture, you develop these, these relationships. And and I think there’s a, there’s a shadow side, our numbers to that I’ll talk about. Okay, so yeah, the, the average NASA employee is about 48 years old, they’ve got about 18 years of experience. At NASA, we run about 4% attrition per year, which is extremely low. So our workforce changes very slowly over time. One of the disadvantages of the NASA workforce is that less than 5% is under under the age of 30. So what what you’re seeing right now, kind of in the space industry, is that a lot of college grads, younger talent is going to the emerging space industry. You know, the SpaceX, Blue Origin, you know, those those companies. And then, you know, we’re hopeful that over time, we’re gonna see a revolving door. And kind of what, what we like to call porous borders between NASA and the space industry, but our workforce is very stable. But the challenge that provides for us is that I’ve heard it said that, that really to change culture, true organization, culture change, you can rule of thumb, you can take about half of your average employee tenure. And that’s how long it will take to change the culture. Well, if that’s true, for NASA, that’s a nine year you know, nine years to turn the ship, which in our case, is then influenced by different administrations as well. So a lot of times NASA pivots with changes in presidential administration. One of the the nice things about our current approach is that the previous administration had come up with the the Artemis idea and putting a first woman on the moon. And the new administration came in and and embraced that, and then added to that and said, Hey, we should also put a person of color on the moon as well. So they’ve kind of enhanced that program. But what we’ve seen in past administrations is that we’ve done complete pivots or right turns, which then makes it makes it hard for the culture in the organization given the you know, the 10 year and the stability of the workforce. So there’s some positives in that, and that, yeah, people come, they want to stay, they feel passionate. Other numbers that we have show our scientists and engineers typically stay five to seven years past their retirement eligibility. So you know, people

 

Scott D Clary  44:03

they’re passionate about the Word. Word Spatola.

 

Brady Pyle  44:05

Yeah, passionate about the word passionate about the team and the relationships that you know, if you think of, in your average, 10 years, 18 years, you got a lot of long standing relationships built, you know, in this team. Amazing. Okay.

 

Scott D Clary  44:19

So I want to unpack the relationship between NASA and some of the emerging space companies. So you touched on this before, you did say that you work in tandem with a lot of these organizations, but walk me through some of that relationship, how NASA initiatives interweave with some of the initiatives of some of these SpaceX, Blue Origin, so on and so forth.

 

Brady Pyle  44:44

Yeah, and I think if I go back to some of the starting point, I alluded to the earlier about how we changed our approach to contracts but you know, a lot of this started when we were looking to get uncrewed missions for for food. supply up and down to the space station. So we awarded contracts to SpaceX, to Boeing to Blue Origin for that, so they were all developing spacecraft and methods to get those supplies up and down to Space Station. Now we’re going through a contract process for the next lunar lander, which is, which is key to this Artemis mission. You know, if we’re going to the moon, you got to have a lander that will get to, to the surface of the moon. And so we selected SpaceX for that contract. Blue Origin actually protested that out that award. And it was interesting, because there was a big headline here a few weeks back that the Jeff Bezos said, hey, I’ll pay the the $2 billion in fees on the contract. Which, which is really challenging for NASA, because we have to abide by federal government acquisition regulations. And so we’re trying to work through that I mean, how to, you know, how do we handle this, this is kind of unprecedented in government contracting, to have that level of investment offer being paid by your, by your offer. So, you know, as I mentioned, Scott, we’re, you know, we’re seeing a lot of young talent, you know, move into these organizations are getting really good hands on experience. And, and so we want from a workforce and talent strategy, we really want folks to be flowing in and out from these organizations come in and influence the the NASA culture, keep us innovative, you know, keep pushing us and then we want folks as they get a little more experience at NASA to be able to go to the SpaceX is in blue origins and kind of lend experience in that direction, as well. So we’re actually working with Congress now on some legislative proposals that will, that would better enable that kind of strategy, you know, the exchange of talent? Because there are, there are rules around you know, particularly when you get into a certain level at NASA, and you can influence contract decisions, you know, you have to be real careful kind of how people move and for future contract competitions and that sort of thing.

 

Scott D Clary  47:30

And do you find that there is like, a rocket scientist talent war, where you may lose access to talent because of emerging space organizations, private space organizations?

 

Brady Pyle  47:40

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, you know, we’re, we’re not seeing it that way. And we’re not really thinking of it that way. Right now, we have not, we haven’t seen those kinds of impacts to this point. But part of NASA’s mandate is to help help with STEM education and provide STEM talent for America. So from our perspective, we’re excited that the the billionaires are joining us and in providing kind of inspiration to America’s youth. You know, we have with 4% attrition, relatively stable budgets, that leaves you with very little hiring capability. So we need these to these companies to attract the students from colleges and universities, if they’re going to get started in the aerospace industry. You know, we just based on NASA’s capability, we couldn’t attract enough talent that’s coming out of the colleges University. So it’s awesome to see they have unique, exciting opportunities, can can lend their energy and innovation to these companies and, and again, hopefully take us further and space, then the NASA could go on its own.

 

Scott D Clary  48:57

Amazing. I wanted to just ask, I always tee these up with a few rapid like, career questions, rapid fire career questions, the bullets, some insight from you, before the pivot. Was there any other closing points that you want to touch on for NASA, HR, culture, leadership? Anything there? And then also, how do people get in contact with you as their social website? What’s the best spot?

 

Brady Pyle  49:22

Yeah. So you know, I think for for NASA, part of part of what I’ve seen is our success comes from continually trying to learn. And so we are we are out there a lot, you know, benchmarking with other companies, involved in conferences and other things to try to try to stay in touch with, with what’s going on from a leadership perspective. Certainly a hot topic right now for us and a lot of a lot of organizations is The future of work. You know, we have had NASA’s had for the last 60 years a very facilities in person based organization. And we’ve had to pivot like a lot of companies have the last year and a half to some more of this kind of teamwork. You know, how do you do the screen to screen relationships? And so we’re really, really working on that. So yeah, IF listeners have ideas, want to engage, want to have conversations, I am out there on LinkedIn. Also on on Twitter as well, I’ve got a blog on the side that’s called Out of This World Leadership. That’s clever. One of the things that keeps me going as far as continuing to read and learn about leadership and different aspects of it. So glad to engage with with folks and have conversations that will help us all improve.

 

Scott D Clary  51:05

Amazing, okay, perfect. Okay, so let’s go into some rapid fire, and you don’t feel don’t feel rushed. But I just say it because they’re just a few. They’re very, very short question. So the biggest challenge you’ve had in your career? What was it? And how did you overcome it?

 

Brady Pyle  51:22

Biggest challenge was we we had an issue at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. That involved kind of how we hired students, the government had changed its rules on the Co Op program. And we had some big challenges and differences and in philosophy and approach between the local approach we were taking in Houston and what our folks at headquarters thought that we should be doing. As a leader, I had to personally engage in those relationships, build trust with the, with the team, from headquarters to show, we were taking some risks with the with the approach we were taking, and why we were doing that, how it was going to help the agency mission. But then really showing that showing that trust and building the trust with with the team from headquarters was big. So that’s what I found mostly my career is relationships and and working with people is key to success and keeping those relationships strong. I love the advice of you, you never know who you’re going to work for. I’ve certainly observed that in my career and, and experienced it as well. So long as you keep those relationships strong and with with a variety of people, you’ll be in a good spot. Good advice.

 

Scott D Clary  52:54

If you had to choose one person, and others probably been many, but one person who’s been very impactful in your life, it could have been a mentor could have been a family member peer, whatever. Who was that person? And what did they teach you?

 

Brady Pyle  53:06

Yeah, so I actually, kind of early in my my leadership career. Let’s see, that would have been probably about 17 years ago, I was making the transition into kind of a leadership role. This was the 2004 timeframe. We were we were going into that was right after the Columbia accident shuttle Columbia accident in 2003. And we were doing a big hiring surge in engineering to bring more engineers back in to get the shuttle to return to flight. At the time, I had kids that were foreign to at home. And so my pattern was I would go to work, I would come home, have dinner with the kids help put the kids to sleep. And then I would go back in and do more work. And I had a mentor at the time. His name was Joe Tanner. He’s actually in the astronaut program. And then I knew him from church as well. And Joe told me, he said, you know, he goes in your life stage and where you are. He goes it’s easy to focus on, you know, your role at work and then your role as a father he is but you really need to focus on your role as a husband as well. And so that led me to have conversations with my wife and make make adjustments and I think I mean, I just observed what I what I often tell leaders is NASA will take as much as you’re willing to give it so you got to set those boundaries and and figure out you know, your own work life fit. And I think without Joe’s advice Joe Tanner’s advice there I don’t know I could have been making some some bad choices that could have could have hindered my marriage and coming up on 25th anniversary year this January and

 

Scott D Clary  55:00

gratulations Yeah, worked out very, very excited

 

Brady Pyle  55:03

about that. But that was pivotal advice from someone who had been there, you know, and that’s, that’s where I encourage leaders, get a mentor, you know, get someone you know, who can help you navigate some of the life’s challenges.

 

Scott D Clary  55:19

Erica, if you had a book or podcast that’s impacted you, you’d recommend somebody go check out what would it be.

 

Brady Pyle  55:29

So I’m a big fan of John Maxwell. And I know early in my leadership career, his book, The 360 degree lead leader was really pivotal for me. So making the transition to leadership, I focused a lot on my relationship with my boss, my relationship with my team. And what what he pointed out in the book is the criticality of your relationship with your peers. After reading that I began to be more intentional about going to lunch with peers, even though we didn’t necessarily have to work together on different things. But building those relationships were were critical, because then I moved into different leadership roles. Where I had to work work with them from a little different position. And I think that was that was a pivotal book. He’s got other books out there that are leadership gold, and which summarize a lot of his his lessons, but I like his stuff, because it’s simple, easy, easy to follow, and easy to implement. Amazing.

 

Scott D Clary  56:38

If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would it be?

 

Brady Pyle  56:46

Keep at it, I think as a 20 year old, I was very focused. One of the things that, that I think I did well as a 20 year old is, is participate in the Co Op program, you know, got out there and saw some things from a work perspective and began to see what I liked and what I didn’t like about career opportunities, kinds of organization kinds of leaders to work for. And I think I would say, definitely stay at it. I would say be patient. So I didn’t actually didn’t get married till I was close to 25. And that was always a desire of mine that you know, being patient and staying the course, would have been important advice as well.

 

Scott D Clary  57:44

And if you could, by the way, 2025 is still young, it’s like, I’m not married yet. And I’m older than that. Yes. Yeah, it’s been fair, fair, I get it, I get that I get the lesson. And then, lastly, last question, what does success mean to you?

 

Brady Pyle  58:06

Yeah, I think I think success is for me, my, my personal core values are integrity, excellence and improvement. And so success is about living a life of integrity. You know, do doing my best and whatever I’m involved in, and then getting better over time. So success is, you know, living a life that’s aligned with those values. It’s also I think, for me with, you know, with with kids with three kids, it’s you know, those those who are closest to me, you know, know me best and, and respect me most. So I don’t want you know, a lot of times work work commitments, can stack up and don’t want to lose sight of the value that I have on family who will who will be there long after career?

 

Scott D Clary  59:12

Yeah, no, very good. Very good. Okay. That was that zit, man. That’s the last question. That was That was perfect. All right, you killed it that I appreciate you helping out when setting up some of those some of those points because we just got through a lot of a lot of stuff. Normally there’s more is more frivolous? It’s all good, but frivolous conversation, right? Like just like stuff that’s not as meaningful, but you it was really good. I’m really happy with that. Thank you very much.

 

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