About three years ago, Bonnie Curtis faced the challenge of merging Gillette with Procter & Gamble — no easy task considering that both companies had very different ways of doing things and both were very proud of how they did them.
“We usually integrate everything and say, ‘Do it the Procter way,’” says the vice president for Procter & Gamble Product Supply. “In this case, they had some stuff that was pretty good. The question was, how do we take the Gillette stuff that was really good and bring in to the Procter?”
To start, she created an integration team of 20 people — 10 from each side. This team was in charge of finding the middle ground. For example, in one situation, the team was tasked to cut millions from one area’s budget. She knew that neither side could do it alone, so it forced them to work together to create one way of doing things. It was heated at times, with one team member even petitioning Curtis to fire a woman on the other side. In the end, the team found common ground, the woman was actually promoted and the petitioner wrote a glowing note complimenting her on her work.
“That was telling for me,” she says. “We started in this extremely combative position and look at where we got by giving them a common goal that was stretching but deliverable.”
Even after the merger though, people were working 12- to 14-hour days, and Curtis knew that wasn’t right. They needed to become better information factories.
“We need to take information in, process it, and get it out,” Curtis says. “Just like you would in a factory with products, and getting that thing humming so we’re not reinventing the wheel, so we’re not fighting fires … so we can spend our time on improvements.”
She charged everyone to get back 60 minutes in his or her day so the employee could focus on the new work and also be home for dinner with his or her family.
“I don’t want to hear about HR or how someone’s screwing up your time,” Curtis says. “I want you to think about how are you screwing up your time?”
She had one-on-one meetings with her direct reports and asked them how they were doing on this. They sent out quarterly surveys asking people how many minutes they had gotten back. She also spearheaded the campaign by doing deliberate things to help them create more efficient meetings. She took the tables out of the conference rooms and banned computers, BlackBerrys and PowerPoint presentations in meetings.
“The meetings are shorter,” she says. “People are engaged.”
Because people didn’t need two weeks to create an elaborate presentation anymore, meetings could be set much earlier, and people weren’t sleep-deprived from making slides all night.
Now, if she walks by a meeting and sees glazed eyes, she knows someone isn’t doing something right.
“Either you have the wrong people in the meeting or you’re running a really boring meeting — fix it,” she says. “We don’t have time to sit in meetings zoned out.”
She also worked to create a safe environment so that people on the Gillette side or people lower in the organization felt they could speak up in meetings. To do that, you have to show that you’re willing to listen to people. For example, someone four levels below Curtis came to her and explained that when she moved a meeting, it didn’t just affect her and the people who had to be there. Instead it cascaded down, forcing others in the organization to change meetings and commitments, and it actually affected about 100 people. Curtis was floored.
“I said, ‘Holy cow!’” Curtis says. “I went over to my assistant and said, ‘We’re done.’ We’re going to fix things, and if something changes, I’m just not going to the other meeting. That guy had the guts to tell me that. It didn’t even occur to me how much disruption that was causing.”
The key is to do some introspection.
“If I’m classist, it’s going to show up in all of my behaviors,” Curtis says. “I need to think about who I am, what’s my positional power. What’s it look like? What does it mean to me? When I ask for feedback, do I really mean it or am I doing it because somebody told me to do it? The first part is introspection on my part about what culture do I want and what am I doing to help drive it.”
How to reach: Proctor & Gamble Product Supply, www.pg.com