Development Management

Managing the Moments of Truth

by Larry Johnston

The truth be told, the field of development isn’t overrun with philosophy majors. You see, by and large, development folks are activists. That means most of them won’t fit the definition of a conservative that I love: “Someone who sits and thinks, but mainly sits.”

I won’t bore the philosophically disinclined with detailed distinctions between correspondence and constructivist epistemologies. That would no doubt be a cause for great yawns. But in a nutshell, the correspondence gang generally believes that “truth” exists as a sort of monolithic “given,” independent of our conscious perception. Constructivists rightly recognize that all reality outlooks are constructed and thus they’re less inclined to confuse the map with the territory, the symbol with the reality.

What’s my point? Simply that from the perspective of your stakeholders, there is no such thing as the reality of your organization. Instead, there is only the highly subjective image your stakeholders have of your organization and its work, and this image is simply the cumulative sum of all the impressions they have been exposed to, along with the ways these have been mentally (and idiosyncratically) processed.

In other words, “moments of truth” matter. What are moments of truth? All the impressions stakeholders have of your organization along with the “service encounters” they experience as they interact with you. That’s why for many years we’ve advocated an understanding of the image “bank,” exhorting staff from nonprofit organizations to recognize that every contact with donors and other stakeholders either makes a deposit in their image bank (a good thing), or a withdrawal (something to be strenuously avoided).

Albrecht and Zemke, in their book, Instilling a Service Mentality:
Like Teaching an Elephant to Dance
, make a point that all of us should grasp:

“From many of our everyday experiences…we can draw a fairly mundane conclusion, one that we believe can be stated as an out-and-out principle of service management: When moments of truth go unmanaged, the quality of service regresses to mediocrity”

Assuming that the quality of service your organization provides to stakeholders will increasingly determine your future (your stakeholders have lots of choices in a fiercely competitive environment), here’s a critical question:

Are you mapping and proactively managing the moments of truth?

If you’re not, no need to panic. There’s a good chance you’re not on the endangered species list yet.

But I wouldn’t wait too long. The competition is coming up fast. And as one proverb puts it, “It’s not the large that eats the small. It’s the fast that eats the slow.”