How Moments of Truth shape your business

By Andrew Bass | Newsletter

Originally appeared February 2009

Andrew Bass’s Pragmatics Newsletter

Practical techniques and thought-provoking ideas

The main article takes under 4 minutes to read.

Let me take an extra minute or so for a quick word about leading in this economy. I’m talking to some very sensible business leaders who are proactively managing the way they get their news at the moment. They are certainly not sticking their heads in the sand, but are reading selectively and refusing to be drawn in by newspapers and 24 hour reporting that feeds on trying to create a downward mood spiral.

For depth beyond the headlines, consider weekly rather than daily business reporting – it’s much more measured. I also find the summaries in the better papers are less sensationalist (e.g. Times ‘Need to Know’ page).

People need confidence from their leaders especially when times are challenging. I looked for some lessons from history in an earlier newsletter: Business is not war.

Now, on to today’s article..

How Moments of Truth shape your business

Recently, while paying for shopping in Waitrose, I asked the checkout assistant for change for a tenner “while she had the till open”. She said it was no problem, but could I please do it at Customer Service on my way out, who would be happy to help me. Customer Service was being staffed by a supervisor, who cheerfully informed me that the check-out assistant had said something that was against their policy, but that she would give me change anyway because that was what I had been promised.

I was impressed by a supervisor making good on the promise of an entry-level part-time employee: even though that promise was against firm policy, it was in line with their strategy, as it was to the benefit of the customer. It seems clear to me that Waitrose has successfully communicated its strategy and empowered people to act in order to implement it.

Strategy succeeds or fails in implementation

It is a huge hassle to get straight on your business strategy – if they are honest, many leaders dislike the process. The core questions – What exactly are you selling? Who exactly to? Why should they spend money with you rather than someone else? – involve time and energy arguing with your management team and stakeholders rather than running the operation.

After all that effort, it is frustrating if your people then act in a way which undermines your hard-made decisions.


  • A sales director opens up new markets which it would be costly to learn to service. At the same time, they neglect to increase business in existing markets where you can profitably cash in your experience and reputation.
  • Overly helpful staff undermine a ‘no-frills’ service strategy by going the extra mile and wiping out margins (going the extra mile makes sense at Waitrose or Fedex, but not at Ryanair or in competitive supply chains).
  • Managers promote people who take undue risks with client assets because they earn good returns in the short term (we are seeing the results of this in the banking sector, but it goes on all over the place).

Moments of truth – where strategy becomes action.

The actions of the check-out girl, and particularly the supervisor, were moments of truth for Waitrose: times when someone had a decision to make that would lead the business to act in a way that was either aligned or non-aligned with Waitrose’s strategy.

Similarly, everyday decisions by staff about which accounts to pursue, who to promote, who to hire, whether to give a refund, all dictate whether or not your business is going to end up moving in the direction you want it to.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are your business’s moments of truth?
  • What proportion of the time are your people resolving them the way your strategy needs them to?
  • How can you tilt the proportion further in your favour?


Presentation on Career Strategy for challenging times

I’m leading a session about career strategy for the Birmingham Future Mentor Programme at HBJ Gateley Wareing, Edmund St, Birmingham, early evening of 19 March 2009. It will be advertised as a members-only event, but contact me if you are a non-member and would like to attend. Here is the session description:

Recession-proof your career

Smart commentators seem to agree that the world is not going to go back to where it was before the current downturn. If that’s true, we need to rethink our approach to career advice. Mentors can’t just say “Do what we did”, because the conditions in which they succeeded may no longer apply. More than ever, mentees need to be encouraged, even provoked, to find their own answers. Furthermore, those answers need to be truly strategic.

In this session, we will use a mixture of case studies, examples and discussion questions to enable you to develop personal recession-proofing career strategies.

Copyright 2008 Andrew Bass. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint as long as you include attribution.

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