On Moments of Truth

I just finished reading Moments of Truth by Jan Carlzon – former president of Scandinavian Airline (SAS). Moments of Truth are defined by the author as the numerous 15 seconds interaction where customers interact with front-line employees. As Jan indicates: “These 50 million “moments of truth” are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will succeed or fail as a company. They are the moments when we must prove to our customers that SAS is their best alternative. This book is one on transforming and leading an organization that is customer and market driven. The author argues that to deal with this “market-led discontinuity”, the underlying organizations must be “revolutionized”.

The book covers Jan’s career and through that covers a variety of leadership and organizational topics such as strategy, risk, organization structure, communication, results, rewards etc. It also offers insight into the airline industry at the time – regulation, strategies, competition etc. What sets this book apart is the context in which the lessons are exposed – namely the numerous transformations that Jan lead at the various units he headed. The transformation was one centered around people first and foremost, then on processes and technology second.  He truly embraces the “people first and last” spirit.

A very quick educative and enjoyable read filled with gems of management and leadership wisdom – particularly around organizational transformation. Highly recommended!

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1) “In a customer-driven company, the distribution of roles is radically different. The organization is decentralized…flattened, more horizontal, structure. This is particularly true in service businesses that being not with the product but with the customer.”

2) “In order to become a customer-oriented company, extensive changes will be required on the part of frontline employees. Yet, the initiative for those changes must originate in the executive suite. It is up to the top executive to become a true leader, devoted to creating an environment in which employees can accept and execute their responsibilities with confidence and finesse. He must communicate with his employees, imparting the company’s vision a reality. To succeed he can no longer be an isolated and autocratic decision-maker. Instead, he must be a visionary, a strategist, an informer, a teacher, and an inspirer.”

3) “A leader is not appointed because he knows everything and can make every decision. He is appointed to bring together the knowledge that is available and then create the prerequisites for the work to be done. He creates the systems that enable him to delegate responsibility for day-to-day operations.”

4) “A leader today must have much more general qualities: good business sense and a broad understanding of how things fit together  the relationships among individuals and groups inside and outside the company and the interplay among the various elements of the company’s operations.”

5) “Eventually, we formed a much clearer idea of how the flattened  pyramid should operate and were able to communicate the new roles to middle managers as well. The work still begins with something handed down from above – overall objectives for achieving the company goals. Upon receiving these broad objectives, middle management first breaks them down into a set of smaller objectives that the frontline people will be able to accomplish. At that point the role of middle manager is transformed from administration to support.”

6) “Similarly, individuals employees – and corporations as a whole – must dare to take the leap. In the corporate works taking this kind of leap is called “execution.” Having a clearly stated strategy makes execution much easier. It is a matter of courage, sometimes bordering on foolhardiness, combined with a large portion of intuition. These characteristics may be impossible to acquire but, if possessed, can always be developed further.”

7) “Unfortunately, many corporate executives are noticeable lacking in intuition, courage, and conviction.”

8) “Indeed, I believe that the only way any group or individual can take responsibility is to understand the overall situation. I routinely share the knowledge that I have about where the company is and where it should be heading with the board unions, and employees. For the vision to become a reality, it must be their vision too.”

9) “A worker who can envision the whole cathedral and who has been given responsibility for constructing his own portion of it is far more satisfied and productive than the worker who sees only the granite before him. A true leader is one who designs the cathedral and then shares the vision that inspires others to build it.”


Omar Halabieh

Moments of Truth

Moments of Truth


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