WSJ Interview With A.G. Lafley on Strategy, Failure, Actions Over Words, and Knowing Yourself

Earlier this month there was a great and refreshingly candid interview from the Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) with former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley that captured his thoughts on what companies get wrong (Link Here).  The interview hit on so many of the topics that I have tried to capture over the last few months that I thought I would try to highlight a few:

  • Who is your customer and what do you want them to be?  Lafley first notes that too many companies do not understand the importance of being Customer Centric and determining which customers they are going to focus their attention on serving (my former employer Best Buy was a pioneer in this work).  This then follows into the need to build a real strategy that uses the organization’s core competencies in a unique way to create value for these customers.
  • Driving growth means reality of failure. One of my favorite comments was when Lafley noted that half of the new brands that he had worked on had failed to resonate with customers: Fit, Dryel, Tempo, Torengos, and more (Full list of P&G brands: current, divested, and vanished).  This is a revealing statement that every company should take to heart!  P&G is the preeminent consumer packaged goods companies in the US!  They do so many things “right” when it comes to new product development but they still cannot predict the future.  Many of these new product ideas fail and they accept that fact as part of the innovation process.  How many other companies would accept a 50% “failure” rate for new product launches?
  • Modeling the right behaviors. Lafley continues by commenting on how “your colleagues and your team watch what you do; they don’t just listen to what you say.”  Everyone learns from observational learning.  And every parent knows this when they see their child learn behaviors by watching other children or by watching the parent.  This is one lesson that I have seen many organizations miss when it comes to innovation and failure.  The frequent mantra is “innovate, innovate, innovate!”  But when one of those innovation project fails their actions aren’t nearly as supportive.  Employees will learn from these responses and adjust their decision making accordingly.
  • Temet nosce or know thyself.  Lafley finishes the interview with a question about what advice would he give to managers who are just starting our today?  He encourages new manager to “Know yourself and have the courage to be yourself.  Know what your strengths are, and try to find a job that play to some of those strengths.”  This is one area that I think most people give short shrift to.  Of course we “know” who we are, what we’re good at, and what activities give us energy.  Right?  The truth is that for many this understanding is at a surface level.  One book that I have found to be helpful in working with other on building this awareness is Bill George‘s Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide.  The book walks you through the process of reflecting on your own personal journey.

Food for thought:

  • Does your organization profess being customer centric?  Do you know which customers are your focus?  More importantly, do you know which you are not going to focus on?
  • Lafley claims the 50% of his new brands “failed” to make an impact on the customer yet he went on to become CEO of the company.  Could that happen in your company?  Does it have a tolerance for failure?
  • Do you leaders go beyond just talk and actually model the behaviors that they seek?
  • Have you really taken the time to know yourself so that you can be an authentic leader?
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