Getting Really Focused

One of the most commonly recognized complaints in any organization is a lack of communication. It doesn’t matter if it is top down, bottom up or across; employees today believe that there is just not enough communication about goals, expectations strategy and the future.

Addressing communication is an opportunity to become a better organization.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong landed safely on the moon. The act was repeated five more times, the last being in December 1972. There would have been a sixth moon landing except that Apollo 13 had in-flight problems and the three astronauts were forced to return without completing their mission.

When President Kennedy was touring the NASA facility near Houston he met the janitor. When asked what his job was the man answered, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Yet when the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 established NASA there was no mention of going to the moon in the mission statement.

Why did this gap exist? How was it that NASA could put a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth, an act that has yet to be repeated by any other country?

There were four things other than money that made NASA successful.

The first was that people in the organization, from top to bottom, were committed to putting a man on the moon. This objective took place of the official mission statement of NASA. People could relate to it, they could visualize it and they were willing to work hard to make it happen. Putting a man on the moon quickly and energetically became NASA’s “main thing.”

In 1961, President Kennedy asked Congress to set as a goal the act “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” NASA adopted this as their main thing to gain external stakeholder commitment.

Second, internally, the main thing kept people in alignment as they worked together. This was critical because there were numerous setbacks, including the deaths of three astronauts in January 1967.

There were issues, conflicts, difficulties and distractions disguised as opportunities facing NASA in the years that they worked towards the goal. But the main thing kept people focused, and moving to the goal.

Third, the people in NASA saw progress as the various rockets and space craft were built, tested and used. In the eight years following Kennedy’s speech, nineteen missions took place, with more than 30 men going into space. With each mission, the main thing became more of a reality. It allowed stakeholders to see progress and become part of a winning team.

Fourth, NASA used KISS (keep it simple stupid) as the method of communicating the main thing. They even shortened the statement to “to the moon and back!”

The lessons from NASA apply today to those in the business world in these times of uncertainty. Developing a main thing is not a problem but an opportunity to find a single, simple focus that everyone in the company can rally around.  It will also help eliminate the lack of communication problem that exists.

The concept has been around for centuries. In a story that is credited to St. Benedict written in 530 A.D., a traveler came upon a group of three hard-at-work stonemasons, and asked each in turn what he was doing.

The first said, “I am sanding down this block of marble.”
The second said, “I am preparing a foundation.”
The third said, “I am building a cathedral.”

What can you do to turn the negatives into something positive? Develop a main thing for your company.