Guest Post by Aimée Cowher
If you haven’t had the opportunity to meet an astronaut, or even hear one speak, I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list. It puts everything in perspective. I recently had the honor to meet Commander Chris Hadfield at the FCPC CEO Executive Conference in Minett, Ontario, Canada. The information and anecdotes that Commander Hadfield shared during his presentation makes you realize that the pressures, challenges and risks that we face in our businesses pale in comparison to being launched in a space shuttle, commanding the international space station and especially surviving the tumultuous return to Earth.
One of the most astounding insights for me was just how much knowledge an astronaut must have beyond the subject matter that comes to mind. They have to know how to pull a tooth and conduct certain surgical procedures. Astronauts must be skilled in scientific experimentation as the primary purpose of space exploration is to further our understanding of matter. Do you realize that we only know 5% of the matter that makes up the universe? That’s the percentage in the tail(s) of a 95% confidence interval!
Commander Hadfield described how they approach risk mitigation during their preparation for a mission as spending time “visualizing disaster.” One example he gave is how they would react if one of the team lost a loved one during their time (~7 months or more) on the space station. They each documented their desires and even acted out the scenario. What effort do we make in our businesses to mitigate risk? Yet, there are standard tools available to us (FMEA, for example) to facilitate the investment of mostly time from resources that know our products and processes.
Beyond the scientific and management brilliance that Commander Hadfield obviously possesses, it is incredible that he considered the social impact that he could have, by exploiting social networking with help from his son, to bring the whole “being in space “ experience to the masses.
He showed a graph of the visits to the NASA website that looked something like this…
I recall from last year’s conference hearing advice from the President of Google Canada that you shouldn’t trust your web / social media presence to a 20-something year old hot shot that simply understands the technology. This just reinforces that message for me! You can utilize technology to it’s greatest capability but if you aren’t sharing content that captivates the audience it is all for naught. You need to engage people in the organization who are passionate about your products/services, your contribution to the community and society and the value you are providing to all stakeholders. An astronaut and his son produced the breakthrough change above! No doubt both had the passion first and then understood or learned the technology.
None of this is meant to discount the significant contribution that other presenters – like Ben Jerry’s, McDonalds, and Sobeys – made at the conference. Following are my take-aways from a few of the speakers presentations…
What Ben & Jerry’s have accomplished, from a ‘scoop shop’ in Vermont to having stores in 35 countries, while preserving their commitment to being a values led business is commendable. They have 3 different mission statements – product, economic and social – that must always work in harmony, with strategic and tactical plans that support each mission.
Most intriguing is the social impact that is core to their existence and affect their business decisions throughout the supply chain. For example, their single source for brownies, a key component to several of their flavors, hires people who were previously incarcerated and most would consider unemployable. Other examples include their commitment to nonGMO ingredients, Fair Trade sourcing and paying a ‘Livable Wage’ vs. minimum wage ($16 vs. $8.50 per hour.)
We heard from John Betts, CEO McDonalds Canada, about their efforts and success rebranding an icon. Mr. Betts shared with us 3 pillars that guided their journey:
- Always listen to the customer
- Collaborate internally and be bold
- Commit to beating yesterday
The third pillar struck a chord with me. It was refreshing to hear the commitment to continuous improvement in such a practical way that everyone in the organization can act upon. At GPS, it’s embedded in our purpose statement – “…to engage people to (help) make your company better tomorrow than today.” So often, we have made continuous improvement an initiative, a program, or created a special organization around it and task them to deliver results. Our best, most successful engagements and clients are those who we have helped to make continuous improvement part of the culture. It starts with a commitment to “beating yesterday” that is embraced and persistently pursued by all.
There were other excellent presentations that made this conference the most content rich that I’ve attended in awhile. Kudos to the FCPC committee who put together the line-up of speakers and many thanks to those speakers for sharing their insight and experience. And if you ever have a chance to attend a conference where an astronaut is presenting, I highly recommend going. And in the words of Commander Hadfield, “if you ever get the chance to take a flight to space, I highly recommend it!”