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JFK and the Janitor: Understanding the WHY that is behind what we do

At beqom we provide a solution to make your people happy, by streamlining performance and compensation management, creating transparency in total rewards, and aligning pay to performance.

We firmly believe that three of the key tenets in employee happiness are:

  1. Clear Direction: Understanding the corporate vision
  2. Alignment: Knowing how your work will contribute to company goals
  3. Motivation: Understanding how you will be compensated so you can work to meet performance metrics

These tenets are not commonly seen, but they aren't new to successful leaders. At a beqom company meeting I overheard someone describing the "JFK and the Janitor" story to a colleague. I had never heard the story of JFK and the janitor before, but the idea of understanding the vision of the company linked in my head with Motivation 3.0 theory of purpose the desire of people to be part of something that is bigger than they are. Total compensation, motivation, and productivity are all tightly linked.

JFK and the Janitor

The story goes like this. President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA.

“I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

— The janitor

The janitor got it. He understood the vision, his part in it, and he had purpose.

The story of Christopher Wren

But these principles go back further than 60 years. Perhaps you have heard the story of Christopher Wren, a seventeenth-century English architect who walked one day unrecognized among the men who were at work upon the building of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, which he had designed.

"What are you doing?” he inquired of one of the workmen. The man replied, “I am cutting a piece of stone.” As Wren went on he put the same question to another man, and the man replied, “I am earning five shillings twopence a day.” To a third man he addressed the same inquiry, and the man answered, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a beautiful cathedral.”

That man had vision. He could see beyond the cutting of the stone, beyond the earning of his daily wage, to the creation of a work of art: the building of a great cathedral. 

Both the JFK and the Janitor story and the story of Sir Christopher Wren are illustrative of our ideas around employee happiness, touching on all of beqom tenets of employee happiness: what’s your part, how will you be compensated, and what is the corporate vision?

If you're looking to bring these tenets to life in your own organization, we can help. We've been working for more than 10 years with a single mission: to make the people of the world's leading enterprises happy. Talk to us about your total rewards and sales performance challenges, and we'll connect you with a compensation specialist.

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