Driving individual, team and organizational performance can be a tough job. And when your company’s long-term goal is aligning the skills, abilities and competencies of 160,000 other employees to produce some of the world’s most sophisticated products, the task becomes daunting. Unless your name is Norma B. Clayton, that is.
In June of this year, Boeing gave Clayton the job of managing the vast workforce training (sometimes re-training) programs to prepare its employee pool to meet that realignment. And since she took over as vice president of Learning, Training and Development, her new organization has made tremendous progress towards improved learning management systems that promote employee development in a company whose products remain on the cutting edge of high technology.
Clayton’s team of 550 staff supports employee learning and workforce training in 42 global sites and more than 100 universities around the world. She also leads efforts to provide an integrated online training system to all Boeing employees, plus more than 250,000 workers of supplier firms and business partners.
Boeing, like many of its industrial peers, has grown by mergers and acquisitions as well as sales volume. But that growth comes with its own challenges. Among them are incorporation and alignment of legacy information systems and training programs with newer, state-of-the-art systems, which in turn involve user proficiency challenges, security access issues, system stabilization problems and corporate cultural change.
Rick Stevens, senior vice president, Boeing Human Resources and Administration, says he brought Clayton to his team to lend her talent, passion and commitment to the growth and development of employees.
“In a sense, I’m mentoring the entire company,” Clayton says. “Having people reach their full potential is the legacy I hope to the leave the company with when I finally retire.”
Banish the thought. Still far from retirement age, Clayton estimates that she has mentored more than 40 people. One of them, Barbara J. Wilson, had just been selected as the new chief of staff to the president and CEO of Boeing when she met Clayton.
“Navigating the corporate environment at Boeing can be challenging for any woman of color,” Wilson recalls. “Norma’s willingness to listen...challenge me to go further, take risks, set new goals, achieve at higher personal and professional standards and expose to me to an expanded network has been pivotal to my growth and success over the past five years.” Wilson is now the director and program manager to the T-45 training system.
After leadership roles in manufacturing, supply-chain/program management and plant operations at Lockheed Martin, General Electric, RCA and General Motors, Clayton joined McDonnell Douglas (later acquired by Boeing) in 1995 as the director of the machining center—one of the most important parts suppliers to the F/A-18 fighter-bomber program. Clayton’s assignment was to turn around the quality and manufacturing operations of defense manufacturing at the St. Louis site, and to develop and foster relationships at every level—from executives to shop foremen, and crucially, with the Union, which was on the verge of a strike.
“The job would have been difficult for anyone,” recalls Gerald E. Daniels, who served with a small group of executives on the hiring panel. “Norma proved the leadership she demonstrated in those interviews. She won respect by improving performance in every way.”
Clayton’s human resources magic is without peer, says Wesley Poriotis, founder and chairman of Wesley, Brown & Bartle Co. WB&B was the executive search firm that hired Clayton for the job. “Her business acuity and nurturing of all levels within the manufacturing ranks led to the success of a company that was foundering,” Poriotis says. WB&B was founded in 1996 and is dedicated to the recruitment, retention and professional development of women and people of color.
From making a success of a machining center in challenging circumstances, Clayton went on to hold key roles in Boeing’s integrated defense systems business unit, including vice president of supplier management and procurement, VP and general manager, maintenance and modification centers for aerospace support of military aircraft and missiles, and VP, lean manufacturing and quality.
Prior to her current position, she led the company’s Global Sourcing Initiative, one of four enterprise-wide initiatives launched in 2006 to increase growth and productivity and improve the value and quality Boeing provides to its customers. Then, in June 2009, Clayton stepped up to lead the organization responsible for designing, deploying and integrating learning programs and ensuring that they align with business priorities.
“Norma’s energy and experience will take the organization to the next level and help drive exceptional individual, team and organizational performance throughout Boeing,” Stevens said.
“By making sure we have the right people, the right skills, and the right jobs, we will be successful for years to come,” Clayton said in a recent interview. “I know there is going to be a shortage of engineers and I want to prepare the pipeline by working with schools at all levels to increase science literacy.”
The seventh of nine children born to an African-American father and a Hispanic mother, Clayton entered New Jersey Institute of Technology through the Educational Opportunity Program. EOP is one of the oldest initiatives nationwide designed to provide access, academic support, and financial aid to students who show promise for mastering college-level work, but who may otherwise not be admitted.
Clayton is active in numerous community and civic activities. She is a board member of the American Society of Training and Development, Tuskegee University, a member of the Board of Regents at Linn State Technical College and a member of the Board of Overseers at New Jersey Institute of Technology. She also sits on the board of the St. Louis Academy of Science.
Asked what advice she gives to young people, in particular women of color, Clayton had five tips for excelling in a highly technical business:
• Never stop learning.
• Share your knowledge
• Have a vision and perspective that’s bigger than you are.
• Have integrity in everything you do.
• Get a mentor.
Clayton told Boeing News in 2000 that she believes mentors are critical to helping people make positive decisions as they grow, choose a career, raise a family and work their way to success. The mentors in her life include an eighth-grade science teacher, a high-school drafting teacher, a college professor and her mother.
“My mom was the most influential person in my life,” Clayton said. “She used to tell me ‘It’s your little red wagon; you can either push or pull.“ Clayton is simply in awe of what her parents were able to accomplish. After all their children had graduated from college, her parents went back to school and got degrees of their own.