Thriving in Chaos by Applying the Process Communication Model® at NASA

Posted on May 4, 2022 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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When it comes to thriving in chaos, Brenda Dingwell understands the stakes. Brenda Dingwall is the Branch Head, Guidance Navigation & Control and Mission Systems Engineering Branch at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She is also a Process Communication Model® trainer. She teaches PCM to her NASA colleagues, and uses this behavior communication model every day to connect, motivate, and resolve conflict with her peers, employees, partners and customers.

This is how NASA used to hire its astronauts 20 years ago – and it still works today.

Brenda was planning to share about her work as part of our Compassionate Accountability® leadership workshop series. But, due to disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine, she asked to postpone her presentation in order to focus on more immediate needs.

Brenda’s topic was, “Thriving in The Midst of Chaos: Applying The Process Communication Model at NASA.”

I commented to Brenda that it was ironic that her title was about thriving during chaos, and it was chaos that caused the need to postpone the presentation. Brenda’s response was priceless.

In fact, part of thriving in the midst of chaos involves just what I’m doing, which is assessing priorities, and reallocating the tasks that you can, and placing your employee’s psychological/motivational needs first.

How Leaders Build Resilience Amidst Chaos

PCM describes six motivational needs, unique to six different personality types that we each have in us. At a given time in our lives, the psychological needs of one of the six types is primary and particularly relevant for staying resilient, energized, and healthy.

How are you motivated? This list might help you identify your psychological needs.

Brenda shared the following list of actions she’s taking to help her employee’s meet their psychological needs.

  1. Providing compassionate care for my Harmonizer Base, Thinker Phase employee who just lost his spouse unexpectedly.
  2. Providing my Persister employee, who has cancer, creative ways to feel as though he is still making a difference while he is going to chemo.
  3. Providing a safe place for employees to vent/raise issues without diving into drama.
  4. For those who need it, rewarding our employees in every way we can.
  5. Rolling up our sleeves. My deputy and I are both jumping in and becoming active mission operators on a trip to Sweden. By rolling up our sleeves, we are able to give two of our employees and opportunity to only spend six weeks away from their families rather than 12.
  6. Maintaining support for the other employees and projects in our group. Our group has 23, soon to be 24 employees, and two PhD students that work part time, and is heavily involved in at least 10 missions that will launch before the end of 2023.  Each program has it’s own dynamic as well as an individual team.

What a great message to other leaders. Thriving in chaos starts with meeting our psychological needs so we can be energized and resilient. Leaders who are able to individualize communication and other behaviors to meet the unique and varied needs of their employees enjoy greater engagement, trust, loyalty, which is particularly important in the midst of chaos.

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