Leadership Lessons From P&G

 

Inevitably, when somebody learns I retired from Procter & Gamble, they ask me for insight into effective leadership. P&G has a reputation for nurturing and developing outstanding leaders. One of the key reasons is P&G Managers believe deeply in the Company’s promise of “Touching Lives, Improving Life”. To a P&Ger, this is a calling, not simply a statement. Over my 33-year career at P&G I had the opportunity to work with some outstanding leaders – John Smale, Ed Artzt, John Pepper, Durk Jager, A.G.Lafley, and Bob McDonald. Each nurtured a generation of amazing leaders that dedicated their energy to helping P&G fulfill the Company mission.

These leaders taught me a lot over the years. I thought it might be helpful to pass along some of the things I picked up in the process.

10 Lessons For Leaders

  1. Get to know people as individuals. Group activities are great for building teams, but one-on-one interactions build trust.
  2. Be predictable by being constant. It is okay to change your mind, but if you do, explain the rationale so people can trust you. Walk the talk.
  3. Never “take” credit. A leader gives credit to others. It is okay to accept credit, but you should never proactively take credit.
  4. Make certain expectations are clear. Most people want to succeed. It helps when they know what good looks like. Failure to deliver against fuzzy expectations is not the employee’s fault; it is the manager’s.
  5. Be open and honest even if it is uncomfortable. Hidden agendas never stay hidden and they breed mistrust. Take people into your confidence.
  6. Have your people’s back. Never let your employees take big risks alone. When something goes wrong, train in private; personally take the accountability in public.
  7. Listen for cries of help and respond quickly. When your employees raise a problem to your attention, it is usually viewed as a big issue in their mind. Take action so it doesn’t end up growing into a big problem in your mind.
  8. Take a personal interest in your people’s success and let them know you are doing so. When employees understand you genuinely care about their well-being and career advancement, they will give you their best performance.
  9. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves and make them feel important. Be sincere in your comments and give your full attention.
  10. If you are wrong, say so quickly and emphatically. On the other hand if you believe somebody else is wrong, don’t shut down conversation by telling them so. Instead, seek to understand why they believe the way the do.

The above are just a few of the things successful leaders at P&G do consistently. I want to amplify Tip #3 a bit by sharing a personal story.

In one particular training session, the facilitator commented that in a typical week in an average work place, an employee would hear 20 negative comments from their manager for every positive one given. That claim really seemed unrealistic to me, so when I went back to my office I decided to track the number of negative and positive comments I received and gave in a week. I purposefully did not change my behavior so the test could be as valid as possible. I discovered the claim was actually conservative. In the course of a week I found myself in a number of project reviews where we focused on what was going wrong and the negative messages flowed. I also found it was rare that the opportunity to give praise would occur naturally. My ratio was closer to 100 negative comments for every positive. On the flip side, I also found that I went the entire week without every receiving a single positive comment from my one up manager. I decided to make a change in my behavior and set a goal of giving at least one positive comment to each of my direct reports each day. To be clear, as simple as it sounds it was hard to execute. I had to track it and make time every day. The opportunities for giving positive feedback had to be created. Ultimately, I adopted a practice of starting every meeting with the question “What has gone right on this project this week that we should celebrate?” As this approach became a habit, it didn’t reverse the ratio of negative to positive comments, but did make a meaningful difference.

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13 Comments so far

  1. avantgaard

    March 21, 2011

    I have read and appreciate what you share on this blog. Thank you.
    In reference to the negative issue. I have found that sometimes when one person offers a negative it paves the way for others to chime in. I have also found that being the one to offer positive feedback can more often than not stop the negativity in its tracks and put the conversation back on the right track.

  2. Boschii

    March 21, 2011

    This is an absolutely awesome post. I find it interesting that you focused on the positive vs negative comments. I was in a leadership position and my leader paid consultants to tell us that we should make sure that we offer positive feedback at least once every 7 days. While I didn’t see many of my colleagues often enough to do this…I always made sure that in our leadership meetings before I said anything else, I would thank those colleagues for helping me with…whatever they had helped me with and share the results of their help…the unfortunate response from my leader always seemed to be disdain for this practice..but I have to tell you…it certainly made me feel good to do it and never changed.

  3. @roblinden

    March 21, 2011

    From my time at P&G, I recall the following excellent lessons and finer points of leadership that have been exceptionally valuable:

    1) A true leader does not treat supplier like suppliers – rather, a leader sees them as partners. A true leader recognizes the unique value these partners bring to the table, the efforts and impact they have on the business, and enables them to feel valued

    2) Always seek to understand. Always. Even if you “know” you are right, seek to understand the point of view of one another. Not only could you find an alternative way to your goal, but you also simultaneously build a collaborative, inclusive work environment

    3) A leader isn’t necessarily somebody who has ALL the answers. But it is somebody who knows who/how to ask to help get those answers.

    4) Leaders are not always in the lead – but they have a passion to be there. And it is that passion which is contagious, infectious, and a key ingredient for success.

    5) A leader knows when to listen. This is even more important than acting.

    6) A leader takes the bullets for the team. And the team must know this – not to take advantage, but to know that they have support. It is this support which enables the team to excel and innovate.

  4. Yengo

    March 21, 2011

    Your discussion of positive versus negative feedback is right on. You need to make it rule #1 or #11.

    Rule: Treat people like you want them to stay, not like you want them to fix their mistakes. Remind them of all the positive things they do and the successes they have had. Too many times, the only time people hear good things from their management is when they have threatened to leave.

  5. Jack Cartor

    March 22, 2011

    Courage: have the courage to stand for what yo believe is right, or if you see the popular current going in the wrong direction. Until the final decision is made, weigh in with data and/or experience-based debate. If everyone is too readily in agreement, there are too many people in the room.

  6. Deb

    March 22, 2011

    These are all very heartening words. As a former P&Ger who had a fabulous set of mentors, was ‘trained’ to use the skills for good works. To this day, appreciate more and more the things I was taught. A fabulous company to be a part of. Being in leadership roles since continue to pay foward those principles that resonate so true. And still working it.

  7. Penelope J.

    March 23, 2011

    For fourteen years, I was a P&G “partner.” In other words, I worked for the ad agency handling P&G accounts such as Camay, Zest, and Crest.. Located in Mexico City, Noble y Asociados (later DMB&B Noble) was probably the only non-international agency in the world at that time to handle major P&G accounts. From the 1950s to the late 1970s, we shared a building and even an inter-phone to be on call at all times. Noble’s unique relationship with P&G started in the 1950s with an over-the-top campaign for Ariel detergent, which went on to be the bestselling detergent worldwide after Tide.

    For me, P&G became not only a client, but also a vocation, an education, and a way of life. P&G uses the same systems, rules, and strategies in every country where they operate (the P&G bible) so I can relate to the Lessons for Leaders that you wrote about here. Specifically, from the start, I was warned to expect negative comments on everything from memos to presentations; however, this made the occasional (1 in a hundred) positive one all the more rewarding. The lessons I learned while working with P&G have served me well both in my work and in my life.

  8. Joe H

    March 27, 2011

    Ed, I think your points are spot on — especially your observation on positive versus negative feedback. This seems so simple, almost childishly basic, but it is very true.

    If I could add an 11th point, it would be that a good leader makes choices. There are always more good ideas out there, than there are resources to achieve them all. And leaders in particular will constantly find (or be offered) new and great opportunities for their organizations. (After all, no one is going to consciously try to sell the boss on a bad idea.)

    The best leaders make, communicate, and stick with a handful of strategic choices…recognizing that it is better to do three things with excellence than to spread a team too thin and then fail to complete 5-10 things.

  9. Steven Pallesen

    March 28, 2011

    Hidden agendas do go a long ways to promote a lack of trust within the organization. Perhaps hidden agendas are at the root of the levels of mistrust people have toward everything from government, religion, and for profit organizations. Organizations have increased efficiency through collaboration and full disclosure within the organization. To walk the talk this policy must extend outside the organization.

  10. kartik

    April 4, 2011

    A must read for every leader..

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