I was very fortunate to begin my career at one of best on-the-job training agencies in the advertising business, Benton & Bowles. At the time B&B was the sixth largest ad agency in America, which in 1961 meant in the world. But what made it an especially good place to learn was it was Procter & Gamble’s leading agency, and its second biggest account was General Foods. Effectively, this made B&B a better place to learn the business of marketing and advertising than any business school in the U.S. at that time. The learning curve was steep, and you weren’t allowed many stumbles, but the U.S. economy was well into its post WWII boom. If you had B&B on your resumé you were assured of a job almost anywhere.
At the time I didn’t think much about all the rules and protocols that came with working on P&G business. Getting ahead meant conforming to the routine. Being that this was my first job out of the army, standing at attention and saluting seniors in rank was no break in routine. Like my drill sergeant, P&G required being punctual, within minutes! If there was a 9:30am meeting or a scheduled telephone call, the meeting room door would be locked at 9:31 or the person at the other end of the call would go on to another. You might be late once, but you weren’t a second time.
At meetings, whoever was the organizer would begin by taping up on the wall (there weren’t whiteboards then) the objective of the meeting, which would have been circulated beforehand to ensure everyone was informed and in agreement. At the end of the meeting, someone, usually the junior most in the room, had to summarize every point of agreement reached in relation to the meeting’s objectives, and establish the “indicated action”, i.e. who was responsible. That person would have to commit to a due date. All of this would then be written up in a “Meeting Report” (or “Call Report”), and circulated to all involved. These reports usually went up to the next level of management, so you can bet everyone read them carefully. There was no place for someone less than diligent to hide. The evidence was there in black and white for all to see. Worked progressed or there had to be legitimate explanations for delays. Oh, and I should add one more thing…every memo and report had to fit on no more than one sheet of paper. You could use both sides, but only when absolutely necessary; and, you were supposed to extend the margins of type to the very maximum width allowed by the ubiquitous IBM Selectric typewriters.
Did all this toilet training pay off? You bet it did! Being late for a meeting or call wasted the time of everyone involved. Time cannot be recaptured. Wasting it, even a few minutes at a time, degrades exponentially the ability of a company to efficiently focus on the essentials. P&G’s protocols have been fundamental to their success over these many years. Apple, arguably the world’s most successful company in the past decade, is also renown for its singular focus and structured culture.
The market is fickle. It constantly teaches us lessons, almost assuredly when we take it for granted. We can only bring to work well-trained, disciplined minds along with our bag of tools to ensure performance and accountability. In my bag are tools derived from the early training of my Benton & Bowles Procter & Gamble years.
In a future post, we’ll talk about “injecting magic” into the equation. Discipline keeps you on track, minimizes risk and waste, all vitally important, but in itself may not be enough, especially in highly competitive markets. Alexander the Nobody did not become Alexander the Great merely by being especially well-trained and disciplined, which he was. He was especially creative as well.