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Global Insights Archive
Fix the Culture at NASA?
by Craig A. Anderson
Article from Global Insights
May 2004

It seems like a tale of two organizations. First, NASA is hammered in the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board's Final Report (August 2003) for having an
organizational culture that "had as much to do with this accident as the External Tank
foam. Organizational culture refers to the values, norms, beliefs, and practices that
govern how an institution functions." (CAIB Final Report, Vol. 1, Page 177). Then,
two weeks ago, NASA is identified as the best place to work in the Federal
Government according to a comprehensive survey of Federal employees, as the
Spirit and Opportunity continue their historic missions on Mars. Which makes an
interest backdrop for NASA's massive $3.6 million effort to "change" its
organizational culture. Should it be fix the culture, or fix the system.

As long-time friends of GPS, Inc., know, our consistent view is that organizations that
are committed to achieving sustainable improvements in performance and results
should focus on everything BUT the culture! An organizational culture is the RESULT
of doing a lot of things right (or wrong) in all parts of the complex system that is a
modern organization. As an example, the Baldrige process attaches a weight of less
than 5% of the organization's total assessment score to the area of organizational
culture. This is one institution's view (based on 1000s of corporate performance
assessments conducted since the program's inception), but it is close to how we see
"culture" at GPS. In any event, we salute NASA for its willingness to tackle head-on
the issue of "culture change" with the same energy and vision it uses to achieve its
core mission of "pioneering the future", but we hope that NASA will address all the
pieces of the complex system that ultimately determines its effectiveness.