Episode #96: I Recommend You Listen to This Podcast

One of the greatest gifts management can give to a team is the gift of consistency. The team needs to know what you want to see, and how you want to see it. Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer goods company, has mastered this principle through a recommendation culture.

At P&G, they make decisions using a formal recommendation. But it’s not a form — it’s a way of thinking. And we explore it today on the CXM Experience.

For more details, read my blog post, and see a recommendation template here:
Building a recommendation culture: How to write a P&G reco

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I recommend we start the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr. And today we’re talking about recommendations.

I worked at Procter & Gamble. In some ways what seems like a long time ago in other ways, it seems like yesterday. Had an amazing experience for Procter & Gamble. I loved it when I was there. And in retrospect, I should have probably loved it even more. I had amazing, amazing managers. I started working for Fernando Aguirre, who is… actually… Tim Penner. I should start with Tim. I started working for Tim Penner. Tim hired me. And Tim actually became president for P&G Canada. Did really well. Also did very well with stocks. Had an amazing wife, Pat Penner. The two of them worked together. Great model for couples. I had so much respect and admiration for Tim and Pat. They are almost not even human. They’re just amazing people.

My favorite Tim, quote, and there were a lot. We had some pretty insane experiences together. But there was this great moment where I made a big mistake. I don’t even remember exactly what it was. But I made some kind of mistake that cost the company millions of dollars. So many mistakes it’s hard to remember which one it was. But honestly, I don’t remember what I actually did. But I do remember feeling really bad about it. And the dust had settled. I fixed whatever I could fix. We got it back under control. And I turned to Tim in a meeting. And I said, hey, you know, I’m really sorry. Obviously, it wasn’t intentional. It was an accident. It was an unintentional error. I said, but I’m fully prepared to offer you my resignation and happy to clear out my desk and leave tomorrow.

And in that P&G culture, which was, in some ways, really cool. But it was super harsh in terms of the way it winnowed the team down. I started in a class of about 35 people. And nine years later, I was the only one left. People get fired and frog-marched out of the company, right, left, and center. It was pretty crazy. So you got used to people being fired, right, left and center all the time. So I offered my resignation. And Tim looked at me with this weird look on his face. And he said, what are you talking about? We just invested $10 million in you. You’re not leaving. You’re staying. We’re not wasting that money. Great lesson. And the company definitely got that value out of me.

The second person I worked for was Fernando Aguirre. And Fernando ended up becoming CEO for Chiquita. Very active in the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He’s done a lot of good for a lot of people. I sometimes wish I had spent more time with him personally, because he and I were connected very well that way. But we spent a lot of time together in a business context. And he was an amazing individual.

And the third person who was my manager was Bob McDonald, and if you know Bob, he went on to become CEO for the whole company. So he did okay. And then he ended up becoming secretary of the VA and has had an amazing non-commercial career since then. Is on the Biden transition committee and is very highly respected member of society and a great friend of mine as well. So I was blessed with amazing people that I got to work with. And I think back, it’s funny when you work for amazing managers. It really is striking. And you really learn to appreciate it as you move through your career and have different kinds of managerial experiences.

And one of the things that was great about P&G is that the culture of P&G is a promote from within culture. And what that means is that everybody who works at P&G started right out of school, and continues to get promoted through the company. The saying at the time when I started was that in 30 years, the next CEO of the company has been hired. So someone from this incoming class is going to one day be the CEO. That’s softened a tiny bit, but not completely. And it’s still very much a P&G cultural attribute.

There are negatives to that cultural approach. One of the negatives would be that you get a bit of groupthink. And may be difficult to bring in outside innovation. I’m not sure that’s completely true. But there’s an argument that new voices and new faces can create a more innovative environment. That’s not crazy. But it does have some very significant advantages. One of those advantages is that you have a common language. Everyone’s acronyms mean the same thing. Everyone can talk the same way. When you operate in the same way, you communicate the same way, clarity is really high. You can get things done very quickly. So it’s a very operationally effective way of working.

And one of the key moments or one of the key elements of the operation of Procter & Gamble, is the recommendation. The recommendation is a document that allows the company to make decisions about whether it’s going to do or not do something. From very early stages in your career, you’re taught how to write a recommendation. So a few years ago, I guess about seven years ago, I had this in my brain, and I taught it to many of my teams after I left Procter & Gamble. I’d been teaching it actually quite a bit at Microsoft, and I’d been creating a recommendation culture at Microsoft, which was quite effective. And a lot of people kept asking me to write it down for them, etc. And I finally thought, well, why don’t I just stick it on the blog? Right?

So, I’ve been doing Copernican Shift for about 15 years. And I threw up a post called Building a Recommendation Culture, How to Write a P&G Reco. And what’s super cool is if you actually go on to Bing, and… yeah I said Bing. I said Bing. If you go into Bing, and you do a search for building a recommendation culture how to write a P&G reco, you obviously get the article. Or if you just do a search on how to write a P&G recommendation, right? Just how to write a P&G recommendation. I am the box result. And I am the first result. This post I wrote seven years ago, believe it or not, my little post on Copernican Shift, has become the definitive description of how to write a P&G recommendation, which is kind of cool. And I reread it frequently. And you know, I’m feeling very proud of this post, I think it was a really well written and well-structured post.

Let me go through the core of what a P&G recommendation is. You can read that post by doing the search I just described. At the very bottom of the post, I have the actual template. And there’s basically a quick background: what’s going on? Recommendation: I recommend that we launch this product or make these changes. And then there’s a basis for recommendation. The core of all this is the basis. And the basis has always got three supporting nodes. One is it’s on strategy. So strategically aligned with where we’re going as a company. Two, it’s proven. Super tricky. I’ll come back to that in a second. And three, it’s cost effective. It’s going to pay out… usually it’s going to pay out in something between nine to 18 months, depending on your company framework.

Let’s talk about on strategy for a second. On strategy is: what are we trying to do? Where are we trying to go? What is the customer perspective? How does this product, or this initiative, or this idea, support where we’re going strategically as a company? And as obvious as that may sound, many things that we do in companies are not strategically aligned. So this is a very important paragraph. That’s why it comes first.

The second one is proven. Proven is super tricky, because if you’re only doing things that are proven already, then how do you do new things, right? I was very lucky. I actually worked on all what were called the minor brands, for detergent. And then I had one major, which was Cheer. Cheer was where I spent most of my time. But I also had Ivory Snow, Dreft, Oxydol, Bold, Gain… one more. I’m missing it, but you get the idea. And what I would do is I would try things on the minor brands, because no one really cared what I did there. As long as I didn’t overspend the budget. And Fernando actually said to me, dude, don’t overspend your budget, you don’t need to show me anything you’re doing on Dreft. Whatever you need to do, do it. I don’t care. All I want to hear about is Cheer.

I would prove it on these small brands. And I would then roll it into Cheer to drive success. And so I was able to always have a proven paragraph because I’d done some kind of POC, and I knew that I had a high chance of success, because I’d proven it already. And I wouldn’t do things that didn’t work.

And cost effective is important. Is this thing going to pay out? Do we have an understanding where this thing’s gonna net out? And so that’s the basis for recommendation. There’s always a next step, assuming some kind of approval. And then I always liked to end a recommendation with “your approval, please.” Which is a very nice and polite way to say, say yes, please. And that all fits on to one page.

That’s the key. If you can’t say those things on one page, you don’t have it thought through yet. And that’s okay. It’s okay. If you don’t have it to one page. It’s all right, you got some more work to do. But if you cannot fit… and I have done massive national launches of a multi- multi-million-dollar products, with one page recos. Now, there’s obviously finance work that goes on behind the scenes and stuff like that. But the actual recommendation should always be one page. Not one page, two-point type. A readable one page with a normal margins.

That’s what a recommendation looks like. Have a look at the post. And there’s some other writing tips in it. There’s a rule I have, which is you write your paragraph, and then take the last sentence of the paragraph you’ve written and make it the first sentence. The principle is that in business writing, especially with recommendations, you always give the end of the story first. So essentially, tell me the conclusion. And tell me how you got there. Whereas in academic writing you work to the conclusion. In business writing you start with the conclusion and provide background. So there’s some good tips like that in there as well. And I think you’ll enjoy it.

And I’ll talk about a few other P&G things as time goes on. It was a great influence in my career. Definitely the best decision I ever made. In terms of where I went, the place I learned the most. And I’ve learned a lot in a lot of different places, but I’ve never learned as much as I learned at P&G. And I still use every day, things that I learned at P&G. It was an incredible experience. And that is my cue to end this experience of the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And I’ll see you… next time.