Jan Carlzon was the President, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) between the years 1982-1994.
Prior to his appointment SAS was ranked 14 out of 17 in the European airline punctuality rankings and was losing $17m per year. In just one year under Carlzon’s leadership, SAS became the most punctual airline in Europe, and was turning a profit of $54m.
Carlzon didn’t just have this impact at SAS. In fact, he was able to make vast improvements in service, safety, cost and profit in every company that fell under his helm.
So how did he manage to achieve such success?
The nutshell answer is he understood what his customers valued and then designed his company to produce that value. The longer version is contained within the pages of Moments of Truth.
So what does a book about airlines have to do with sobriety?
There are two reasons why I believe this wonderful book can help people maintain sobriety. The first concept falls under the heading of customers and the second falls under the heading of goals.
I first heard about this book when I was taking a course on Lean Principles in the Service Industry. Part of the course content was structured around Carlzon’s principles, in particular the title of his book: Moments of Truth.
So what is a Moment of Truth?
“The first 15-second encounter between a passenger and the frontline people, from ticket agent to flight attendant, sets the tone of the entire company, in the mind of the customer. This is what Carlzon calls the ‘moment of truth.’ – Tom Peters.
In this description, Peters is talking about the customer in the business sense, but we all have customers: wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children, bosses, work colleagues, friends or acquaintances.
“Last year, each of our 10 million customers came in contact with approximately five SAS employees, and this contact lasted an average of 15 seconds each time. Thus, SAS is ‘created’ 50 millions times a year, 15 seconds at a time. 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.” – Jan Carlzon
15-seconds doesn’t seem like much time; but just think about how long it takes you to decide whether or not you like someone you have just met. We all make an instant judgment. We take a look into their eyes, feel the energy that they are emitting and then make a call.
15-seconds is about right.
People drink for one of two reasons. Either they can’t endure a social occasion without a drink, or they believe drinking alleviates the stresses and strains of life.
Both of these root cause issues, that are critical to a person trying to get sober, involve customers. Whether they are your friends, or your loved ones, those first 15-seconds of communication (verbal or otherwise) are absolutely critical. They are the difference between a wonderful meeting, and a disastrous one; with the latter usually ending up with a bottle of wine going down the hatch.
In my Lean Life Habit Change Program there is an exercise called ‘The Sphere of Influence’ and the inspiration for the exercise comes from Carlzon.
Life is no different than operating an airline. Carlzon wants his airline to run efficiently and we want our life to run efficiently; Carlzon wants his employees to be safe and we want to also be safe; Carlzon wants his business to stay debt free and to make a profit and we want to remain debt free and turn a profit; and Carlzon wants his customers to feel as if they have received value and so do we.
It is that last point that I emphasise in the Sphere of Influence exercise. Who are the people that are involved in your life (your customers), how influential are they, and how influential do you need them to be in order to become a success?
Why is this important?
A lot of people turn to drink when their relationships create stress and strain. This can be pressure from your boss at work, not being able to control the behaviour of your child, or having a disagreement with a spouse.
These introduce risk areas in your life – potential trigger situations that can lead to relapse.
The Sphere of Influence exercise allows you to see these potential pitfalls and then make plans to ensure you map out where the holes are so you don’t fall into them.
In short, find out what the most influential people in your life value and then start creating that value. By taking this approach you are more likely to have happy customers, and then will be happier yourself.
A happy you means a sober you.
Carlzon was able to make such an impact with this ideology because his competitors were doing everything backwards. Instead of understanding customer value and then creating a business model that provided it. They would create products they thought customers valued and then try to push them on them.
We do the same thing in life.
Here is a classic tale from my first marriage that made sure my mouth was full of cider for a very long time.
I used to spend far too much time in work. Then when I came home my mobile would ring incessantly. It wasn’t unusual for me to work non-stop from waking until I slept.
My wife and son would try to get my attention, but I didn’t have time for them. When they complained that I was working so hard I would get angry at their lack of understanding. I was working all of these hours – not because I enjoyed doing it – but because I needed the money to provide them with security and the trappings of a modern life.
I was acting like an SAS competitor. I was creating a product and was trying to sell it to my customers. Had I ran my ship like Carlzon; I would have first learned to understand what my customer valued (they valued my time) and then arranged my product (my lifestyle) to provide that value.
Had I spent less time in work, they would have been happy, I would have been happy, and less alcohol would have been consumed trying to beat away the daily stress of it all.
You must acquire a customer orientation.
The other great slice of value that you can cut from this book concerns your goals.
I created the Lean Life Habit Change Program to help people quit booze permanently. I was meeting too many people who had successfully quit, felt alive for a few weeks/months, before returning to the bottle after becoming bored.
When you stop drinking you become surrounded by time. I had no idea how much time was consumed by alcohol until I quit. Boredom is a big reason why a lot of people drink, and when you quit your risk of boredom heightens.
You need a plan.
The Lean Life Habit Change Program is a way of improving your life from a holistic sense. Quitting drinking is a powerful thing. How many other powerful things do you think you can achieve?
I’m here to tell you that you can do anything you want!
Perhaps, you decide to quit your job and create one of your own. Then if you do, how is your business going to look? Wouldn’t it be great if it looked as good as Carlzon’s SAS after he had turned it into a customer first business?
If you have just quit drinking and want to use some of that new found time to create your own business then this book is a gem when it comes to helping you form the right philosophy for your new business.
Carlzon talks about the importance of just being who you are. Do not change for anyone. Only change for you.
Carlzon was appointed to the role of President of Vingressor, a subsidiary of the Scandinavian Airline System, at the age 32. This is how he described his early moments in the hot seat:
“I began behaving differently because I was acting out the role I believed I’d been given. I assumed that everyone at Vingressor expected me to be able to do everything better than they could, and that I should make all the decisions.
“I was afraid-afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted and afraid that I would fail. So I began acting the way I thought a boss should act.”
Carlzon continued to act the way he though his company wanted him to act, until he developed a nasty reputation and the nickname ‘Ego Boy.’ Then one day one of his managers said to him:
“What are you doing? Why do you think you became the boss here? To be someone you aren’t? No-you were made president because of who you are.”
He changed his style, regained his confidence, acted like himself and turned the company around.
This may very well happen to you. Life after alcohol can be a scary place, particularly if you do take your life into a different direction. I quit my job immediately after stopping drinking and decided to create my own business. I was scared, but books like this, and role models like Jan Carlzon helped me through some rough patches, and continue to help me today.
Another way that Carlzon excelled was his methodology of devolving decision making to the lowest possible point in his organization. If his customer had a problem then he wanted the person who was faced with that problem to solve it there and then.
This was his classic Moment of Truth.
This meant he empowered his employees, allowed them to make mistakes (not to be confused with incompetence), and promoted the theory of delegation.
When you quit drinking and your minds starts thinking about your new life, you will be inundated with things to do – so many goals and so little time. Delegation therefore becomes the key to your success. Learn to become a leader just like Carlzon.
“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.” – Jan Carlzon.
Don’t be scared of delegation. Do no think that it’s lazy – it’s smart. Also don’t worry if you don’t know how to do everything. If you just have faith and believe in yourself then you will attract the people you need who have the requisite skills.
When I quit the railway and started to earn an income through writing I managed to set up my own business without investing a penny. I used Carlzon’s theories, became a leader, surrounded myself with influential and talented people and delegated everything I could to whomever I could find to take it.
Many people don’t believe that they can be good managers – or people – if they don’t have the answers to everything.
Jan Carlzon couldn’t fly a plane, or repair one, but that didn’t stop him from making SAS into Europe’s most efficient airline, and it shouldn’t stop you from quitting alcohol and creating a Lean Life.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a great book that you can recommend to help people maintain sobriety?
Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus cc @ flickr