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Stepping Back is the First Step to Mission Accomplished with Stephanie Hill, EVP at Lockheed Martin

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A rogue, dead, spy satellite is plummeting toward Earth. At impact, it will cause devastation — a toxic spill could cover an area the size of two football fields. This satellite has to be taken out. 

This is not a retread Hollywood movie, with a superhero soaring in to save the day. No, this actually happened. But there was no superhero or savior from another planet to fly in and redirect the satellite. 

Instead, a company and its team were tasked to ensure a missile would strike the satellite’s fuel tank while the satellite was moving at 17,000 miles an hour. The satellite was the size of a school bus, and the fuel tank was the size of one seat on a bus. So how did we avoid a catastrophe?  And what company did we trust with the mission? 

The answer is Lockheed Martin, a company with a legacy spanning more than one hundred years which includes serving America and its allies by providing the technology required to ensure security and freedom. Stephanie C. Hill is the Executive Vice-President of Rotary and Missions Systems at Lockheed Martin. She leads more than 35,000 people who work on more than a thousand programs ranging from helicopters to integrated air and missile defense to cyber solutions and beyond. So the question is how is it possible for Stephanie and her team to have a culture of stepping back, and staying calm, even at the most tense, perilous moments like when an incoming satellite poses a huge danger? Find out on this episode of Business X factors.

Main Takeaways:

  • Stepping Back to Move Forward: Pushing forward through difficulty and problems are often used as mantras for success. But as mountain climbers would attest to, it’s never a straight walk to the top. There are many twists and turns to get to the summit and sometimes the best thing to do is to step back, take stock and make changes in order to move two steps forward. Business leaders who are constantly moving and pushing forward sometimes need to step back or sideways to get a wider view of the business, listen to clients and consider changes or other paths they can follow that will lead them higher quicker or more efficiently. 
  • Diversity Unlocks Innovation: While managers generally accept that they do benefit from a diverse workforce, it can be hard to measure how a company’s ability to diversify helps the bottom line. Research by Harvard has proven that firms with two-dimensional diversity out-innovate and out-perform others and they also are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share and 70% likelier to report capturing a new market. Diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment of “outside-the-box’ thinking. As a leader, you should ensure that everyone is heard, allow for an open environment to propose novel ideas, share credit for success, give feedback that can be actioned, and implement feedback from teams without bias.  
  • Ask The Dumb Question: Many companies are not set up to encourage people to ask questions, but by asking a seemingly dumb question, businesses may learn about a problem they overlooked or did not think existed. Solutions and insight often come from someone who had the guts to ask the dumb question. Avoiding asking hard questions can lead to companywide groupthink and there could be a lack of clarity and cohesion in companies and organizations.
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Key Quotes:

Companies can get caught up in their own technology. They can get caught up in their own products. And if you do, that is a recipe for disaster.”

“I have always wanted to make a difference I know it was because of who my parents were. My mother was a kindergarten teacher whose students remember her today and she hasn’t worked since I was born. Think about the impact of that. And my father was before a judge, he was a civil rights attorney in the fifties and sixties… There were  also expectations and you better do something that makes a difference.”

“When I found Lockheed Martin, my first assignment was to work on the mark 41 vertical launching system, which revolutionized the way the U.S. Navy fights and is still relevant today. I found a place where there is a continual opportunity to make a difference…” 

When I’ve looked at some transformational leaders and how incredibly those organizations have done, what made them so transformational was because they were outsiders. They asked all kinds of questions that you might’ve thought were dumb questions, or somebody in the organization would have said, ‘Oh, I can’t ask that because that’s a dumb question’. But because they did this and they showed that kind of vulnerability, it allowed the whole organization to do that.”

“If you’ve got a bunch of folks who are together and everybody’s agreeing with each other and you’re just kind of walking along, you’re not going to get the most innovation. You’re also not going to get that innovation and you’re not going to get people tussling and being willing to put every idea on the table and disagree, I’ll say without being disagreeable, if you’re not working in an environment of inclusion and belonging.”

 “Imagine if you’ve got a group of brilliant people and the environment is one where there’s no trust; people are feeling like, well, I’ve got this great idea, but I know they’re not going to listen to it. Imagine the innovation in that team or that organization. And then imagine an organization where there is trust out the wazoo. You trust your team members implicitly and they’re going to be hungry for it. And they’re going to be willing to get into dialogue. Imagine the innovation that flows through that organization. Imagine what that group, that team can create. I mean, there’s just no comparison.”

“I do a lot of talking with customers. I do more listening than I do talking. I want to hear from them, the things we’re doing well, the things that we need to improve on. And then I have a responsibility, me and my leadership team, to take that information back into the workforce, into the business and to share that so we can make sure that we’re investing in the right things to be able to deliver the capability.”

 “We are partnering with our customers in experiments, connecting things in ways that they’d never been connecting, showing our customer what’s in the realm of the possible all around this idea of joint, all domain operations that encompasses and really sets the stage for full 21st century war fighting. So, we’re committed to making sure that, you know, for the next hundred years, we are a mission focused customer partner to bring capability to the war fighter that they just never had before.”

Bio:

Stephanie C. Hill is the Executive Vice President of Rotary and Mission Systems at Lockheed Martin Corporation. RMS is a $16 billion enterprise employing 35,000 people across the globe. She joined the company as a software engineer in 1987 and in more than 30 years at the company she has held positions of increasing responsibility. Hill has described herself as bleeding Lockheed Martin blue. She is an alumnus of the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Economics and have received many honors as an influential black executive. Deeply committed to the development of others, she mentors students and Lockheed Martin professionals and is a champion for STEM, science, technology, engineering and math education. Hill also sings as a soloist in a gospel choir. 

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Episode 25