How employee engagement helped to put a man on the moon


Wikipedia calls employee engagement ‘the nature of the relationship between an organisation and its employees’. The more engaged, the better the relationship. Makes sense, right? A friend once told me a great story that beautifully sums up the importance of employee engagement. And although it happened many moons ago, it is still relevant today.

NASA got it right

During the preparation for the moon landing in 1969, a journalist visited NASA to interview their employees. He spent most of his day speaking to various leaders, inquiring what the moon landing meant to them. They talked about the hard work and dedication required to get such a momentous project off the ground. How it took the entire team to realise the dream.

One of the employees he interviewed was an older man who was responsible for keeping the floors swept and polished. No doubt a pretty arduous task considering the size of the place. But when asked what he did at NASA, the man responded: “I’m not cleaning floors, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” It was clear that the entire organisation was not only committed to the mission, but they also understood the bigger picture. 

Why employee engagement goes wrong

Nowadays, many big and small companies struggle with employee engagement. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • We are more connected than ever before, but constant distractions keep us disengaged.
  • When your company’s mission and values are largely unknown or misunderstood by employees, they are only words on a page. They need to be lived by leadership and understood by staff. I have consulted many businesses over the years, and the most common reason for this disconnect is a communication gap between leadership and the rest of the company. 
  • In my experience, it’s not intentional, but senior leaders tend to speak a secret language only they understand, leaving the rest of the business to decipher it for themselves. Across most organisations, the levels of understanding vary. But depending on the company culture, staff might be fearful of asking questions because they don’t want to look foolish. And this is how the cycle of miscommunication continues, leading to employees that don’t engage.

Only 23% of employees say their leaders explain the company vision clearly.

The benefits of getting employee engagement right

For some years now, I have believed that there is a direct correlation between performance and understanding. Recently, I stumbled upon a diagram shared by Garner that confirmed my thinking. It says that if employees understand how their role in the business ties into its purpose or mission, performance goes up by 10%. That’s incredible!

Another study revealed that 80% of employees felt more engaged when they understood the link between their work and the company’s mission and values. Bottom line? You need to bridge the gap between leadership and staff.

There’s no better way to engage and align your team than with a picture or story of what you’re trying to communicate. Work hard to crystalise your message so it can fit on one page. This will help to create the context you need, making it easier to share it with your team.

Avoid lengthy presentations as much as possible. Instead, create a document that needs little explanation. It needs to speak for itself.

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We work with leaders and entrepreneurs to simplify key messaging, like business strategies, change processes and customer value propositions, so everyone gets it. Interested? Email us at

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About Garth Jemmett

Garth Jemmett is the founder of We Explain Stuff. He helps business leaders escape complexity by making strategies, processes, products and services easy to understand.

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