Nancy LaForce: Performing on the job
Nancy LaForce ranks determination as her top strength.
“Once I set a goal, I work toward it no matter what. It took me 10 years to earn my bachelor’s degree in business while I was working full-time. That’s determination,” said LaForce, subcontract administrator with Procurement and Partnerships. Recently, she passed the National Contract Management Association’s Certified Professional Contract Manager exam.
“It was tough. I studied almost a year for the exam, but my varied experience in contracting was also critical to my success on the exam.” Previously, she worked in contracting for the Navy in the U.S. Department of Defense.
“While working at the Naval Research Lab, I procured a variety of supplies and services, including scientific equipment for Dr. Jerome Karle, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry,” she said.
She joined ORAU in 1994 and assisted Dr. Bob Ricks, then director of REAC/TS. “I traveled with him to Moscow, Russia, and helped negotiate a contract to receive data related to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant incident,” LaForce recalled. “Negotiating an international contract is challenging, and understanding cultural differences between parties is essential to success in balancing risk and finalizing a mutually beneficial contract. As a part of the trip, I was able to visit Hospital 6, multiple cultural sites and representatives’ offices in post-Cold War Russia. I kept a journal of my travels and treasure it to this day.”
Generating ideas and solutions
LaForce took a 20-year hiatus to raise a family, and she returned to ORAU in 2017. Her current job duties are negotiating, writing and administering subcontracts in support of ORAU. Her skill set includes critical thinking, creativity and problem solving.
“I enjoy looking at the ‘what-ifs’ in problem solving,” said LaForce. “It challenges me to think through a problem from start to finish and propose solutions after exploring all the angles.”
She likes to take the long view. “While writing contracts is always about the details, I also focus on the big picture of what I am buying. What does my customer need? What are the obstacles? How can I be compliant and get the job done smarter, faster and better?” said LaForce.
LaForce enjoys being part of a team, and she encourages coworkers to share ideas, receive feedback and freely exchange information about successes and failures. “I can learn from their experiences, and I can keep them from making the mistakes I’ve made. Failures often teach us more than successes. It is important that we are disciplined to reflect and learn from those opportunities,” she said.
“While my life dream was to move to Nashville and become a country singer, I knew I had to make it in the real world,” LaForce said.
“I worked for the Navy right out of high school to help fund my music habit. Every day I commuted to Washington, D.C., practiced music two to three evenings a week, and traveled and performed on weekends. It was a blast! I have been asked a time or two for my autograph!” she recalled.
Music flowed through her life. LaForce has been a singer, vocal coach, orchestra director, band leader and piano teacher. She recorded three Christian music albums in Nashville. “I do wish we had a piano somewhere in our building to play at lunchtime. It would be great stress relief during tough contract negotiations,” she said.
She spent several years homeschooling her two children, teaching them to be successful independent learners. Christopher is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Heather is a junior at Grace Christian Academy. They live in Knoxville.
LaForce and her husband, Troy, founded a First Lego League Robotics middle-school team, and over the years the team has won multiple local, state and national competitions. “My husband has his own IT business. He taught the robot programming, and I led the research project studies,” she said. Research project studies involved guiding students through topical research and developing an innovative solution to a problem presented by the First Lego League. “We took a lot of field trips, built prototypes and presented our proposed solutions publicly,” she said.
Performing on the job and cultivating influence
Her musical performance experiences help her manage tasks at ORAU. “I approach research projects and presentations as I would a music composition. All the world, including research, can be a stage. You just have to know how to write a good script!” she said.
She believes team collaboration is critical to success. “For example, most songs you hear on the radio are not the product of one individual’s native genius. The lyrics and music collectively represent the collaborative efforts of many. While there are outliers who are gifted songwriters, many pay their dues by sitting in rooms with other writers in a roundtable session writing together,” she explained.
“Two things are important: Never stop learning and understand influence—yours and others. I learned very early in my career that I needed to back up my ambitions with education and training, so I worked full-time and went to school part-time,” said LaForce.
“Learning helped raise my level of influence so that I could achieve my goals,” said LaForce, emphasizing that everyone possesses influence.
“We can think of influence as a talent. We should never flaunt, hide or bury our talent. We must actively cultivate and wisely invest in others, and be open to receive the same. We can all yield a positive return on others’ influence investment by paying it forward and becoming multipliers in that regard.”