Insight article

The limits of a company

I was in a meeting with a client’s communications team last week when one of the more skeptical members of the team gave the familiar refrain: “the Executive don’t really expect us to explain the strategy to every single one of our employees do they? They should start living in the real world. Most people aren’t bothered and most people won’t get it”.

In these circumstances we usually fall back on the good old NASA cleaner story: JFK is visiting NASA when he stops a guy sweeping the corridors to ask him what his job is. The cleaner replies: “I’m putting a man on the moon”. Imagine the energy you could release if you could connect your employees to your higher purpose, we tell clients. As we’ve seen countless times, give employees a reason ‘why’ and they’ll strive to make their own contribution to the group’s success.
But on the flight home, the cynic’s comment got me thinking: not all companies need their cleaners to understand the company’s vision and strategy. Indeed it can’t be coincidental that most companies now see more value in outsourcing their cleaning requirements to third party providers.

So my challenge to the cynic is this: if you don’t think your employees need to understand and feel part of your company’s story, do you think they should actually be your employees? Would they ultimately contribute more if they did the same job, but worked for a third party provider? In short, might your company’s story provide a good guide as to what ought to be the proper limits of your company?

This isn’t to say that cleaners shouldn’t belong to a company’s story. Everyone deserves a reason ‘why’, a explanation of what the group is trying to achieve and a guide for how they can contribute – a story that helps them find meaning in their work. But this doesn’t mean everyone has to find meaning in the same story.

Nailia Tasseel