During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”
“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” source: What a NASA janitor can teach us about living a bigger life
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about organisational transformation — in response to changing ‘market’ needs — and how to build alignment within the organisation to respond to change.
I remembered the anecdote about Kennedy and the janitor and it struck me that if an organisation’s people act like that janitor then you stand a greater chance of achieving your moonshot.
Events that are Great rather than Big
In my events company — Software Acumen — we do think like this. Our vision is: Events that are Great rather than Big
We want to do meaningful work and ‘raise the bar’ in the event sector by focussing on providing great customer experiences rather than running large events that provide a poor experience. We’re in this for the long-term and it makes absolutely no sense to us to make a quick buck at the expense of our customers.
Over the years we’ve developed some principles that everyone in the organisation understands and applies in working towards this vision. We now use these principles when hiring people. For example we talk about ‘customer fit’.
This is an idea I’ve borrowed from “The Nordstrom Way” — which entails never selling a suit to a customer if it isn’t a perfect fit. In everything we do, we try and let the potential customer know what type of events we run and what type of company we are. If a new sponsor asks us whether it makes sense for them to sponsor our event we’ll try and understand what they are trying to get out of the event and who they are trying to meet. If we don’t think their needs will be met, we tell them and they thank us for that. It’s in no one’s interest for people to come to an event that isn’t a fit.
We don’t always get everything right of course but we retrospect, learn and improve for next time.
Kennedy knew that a dramatic and ambitious vision could bring people together. Look at your organisation’s vision — is it something that your people can be excited about, is it something that will draw new talent to your business, will your competitors look at your work with envy?
Align people towards that vision with your principles. What’s your equivalent of ‘customer fit’?
I learned at Redgate Software and it’s been reinforced in my government consulting work that having your people focus on the needs of the end-users of services is one of several great principles for aligning your organisation.
Encourage them to watch user research videos, share transcripts of user research, create a wall of user research quotes and insights that people can visit, offer to take people into the field to support user research and observe first-hand their users, show user research clips at all-hands meetings…
Don’t forget that people inside your organisation have needs too. Listen to how they experience working for your organisation. If there is friction between people or teams it could be that they are not aligned with the vision or principles.
Remember that your janitors — and other so-called ‘support staff ‘— are essential for delivering the vision.
Integrate everyone into one team. You’ll have a greater chance of achieving that moonshot.