What Would Your Janitor Say

In the midst of the space race in the 1960’s, president Kennedy was given a tour of the NASA facilities. Along the way he encountered a janitor and asked the man, “what do you do here?” The man replied without hesitation: “I’m putting a man on the moon.”

The beauty of this story is not merely in the unity-of-purpose that NASA exhibited, but also in the clarity and simplicity of that purpose. The objective “put a man on the moon” was so beautifully unambiguous that even the janitor could connect with it and articulate it, despite the fact that the objective its self was thought to be absurdly lofty at the time.

When the objective of an organization is conveyed with that kind of concreteness and certitude, the members of that organization are instantly empowered. Each individual suddenly knows exactly how to do his/her part in accomplishing the end goal, and the mission becomes a rallying cry rather than a verbose corporate header.

Social movements are powered by the same principle. The more concrete the objective, the more passionate the following. “Bring our boys home.” “Overthrow the Ch’ing and restore the Ming.” “Legalize gay marriage.” “Bring back Family Guy.” All of these goals are cut-and-dry. Success is yes or no, not shades of gray. As a result, these movements have all amassed large, highly engaged followings. Oh and most importantly…they all accomplished their goals (or are on the brink).

Companies have started to use this kind of thinking to align their employees around their brand. They’ve found that the best way to create a cult following of customers is to create a cult following of employees.

Movements don’t have customers…effectively everyone is an employee. So if you want to turn your cause into a movement, start with the people who are already in your organization. Presumably, they’ve chosen their job because they inherently care about the cause, but are they doing a job or are they putting a man on the moon? Once you build that culture of change, the movement will start growing organically as employees become recruiters and advocates.

Being concrete and vivid when expressing your raison d’etre is only part of the equation, the rest of which I will address in subsequent posts. For a head start in galvanizing your organization from within, check out BRANDEMiX.

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