Moments of Belief

Updated: May 27

Alice Meehan, August 2016


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As Britain started living a healthier and more active lifestyle, Tim Mason a young manager proposed a “Healthy Eating” initiative which involved putting ingredient labelling on food (how much fat, salt, sugar etc.). Senior managers although understanding well the point, were fearful of the immediate and longer-term financial consequences. One horrified and angry senior executive exclaimed “We’ll never sell another sausage, pork pie or highfat ice cream." It wasn’t until Managing Director Iain MacLaurin intervened saying that irrespective of the immediate, short term impact, Tesco would adopt Mason’s proposal because it was the right thing to do and entirely in line with customers’ interests. Dawson & Meehan point to this incident in which the Managing Director imposed his view against the status quo and prevailing assumptions as Tesco’s first clear statement that it would be customer-led. They refer to it as Tesco’s (first) “Moment of Belief”. It showed to all what being customer-led meant in practice and attribute much of Tesco’s subsequent success to this reorientation. Moments of Belief therefore are pivotal. Such moments of belief in being customer led, repeated in different contexts, were used to explain Tesco’s strategy, its decisions and its complete change. In summary, the consistent pattern of moves, represented well by Mason’s early stand on “Healthy Eating”, changed the company. Its power came from it being such a strong and unusual move against the status quo, and the fact that “Healthy Eating” wasn’t a oneoff; other compatible moments of belief enabled the value-system to take root throughout the organisation. This concept of a “Moment of Belief” seems to be present in many other businesses, for example, Haier’s CEO public smashing of sub-standard products, Jack Welch’s denial of access to secure facilities by a security officer, Target’s CEO cancelling the classic stage-managed store visit preferring instead to go visit unannounced, incognito, leveraging local contacts rather than his own staff and Swiss Re Life & Health’s business unit head responsible for “AdminRe” randomly reviewing the detailed purchase ledger to help his organisation adopt an extreme cost control mind-set (rather the opposite to colleagues in other business units).


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