Solving Problems, Cultivating Ideas Together

I worked for Procter & Gamble Philippines in the late 1980’s.  I was a production manager who oversaw the food packing lines of the company.  As production manager, I was invited at times to join the food brand team meetings led by marketing managers, who were responsible for their respective products’ success. 

P&G is famous for its brand management approach.  Introduced in 1920’s by Neil McElroy, who later became P&G’s president, brand management focused on individual products rather than the overall business.   Every product would have a brand manager who would be accountable for its market share and profitability. 

The brand managers of P&G formed teams represented by different functional members from all over the company.  These included people from product design & development (PDD), finance, sales, market research, and manufacturing. 

For the two (2) food product brands, my senior manager boss of food manufacturing was the member of both brand teams but the brand team at times would invite me to join meetings in cases where they needed some technical input. 

Brand managers delegated problems with their ideas to respective team members to solve.  PDD, for example, was charged with solving product design issues.  Finance was accountable in forecasting profits and presenting costs.  Sales made sure they got customer orders and that the product was distributed in all trade segments and geographic markets. Manufacturing was expected to provide time and resources for PDD’s test runs of product prototypes and to ensure volume targets were met when the product was launched. 

Brand managers would press brand team members to solve problems especially when there were tight deadlines to meet.  The careers of P&G brand managers depended on the successes of their ideas; failure was not an option.

This caused some friction between departments in which brand managers had to work harder to get supportive commitments from team members.  Some did and became successful.  Some didn’t and they left the corporation.   

One factor to why brand managers were unsuccessful was that they overly delegated problems to team members, to the point of blaming them for failures.  These brand managers misplaced delegation with teamwork. 

As much as there may be individual inventors who bring their ideas into realities single-handedly, successful idea-creators see the need to work with problem-solvers. 

Ideas and problems are not mutually exclusive.  Neither idea nor problem is worked on separately.  Problems are not obstacles to ideas and ideas should not be seen as unpleasant disruptions that lead to problems.

We should welcome both ideas and problems.  Ideas are the “a-ha’s”, the insights that are foundations of creative concepts.  Problems are the challenges that can provide us opportunities. 

When we encounter problems while inventing from an idea, we should try to seek opportunities from them, as much as we may try to overcome them as obstacles.  Problems can lead us to better ideas, as much as ideas can lead to problems. 

Team leaders therefore should not delegate as in pass problems with accountabilities to other team members.  Telling a team member to do a job and to do it correctly or else is not delegating; it definitely isn’t teamwork. 

Delegating is about entrusting and empowering a team member to do a job rightly and excellently.  It doesn’t exclude the compelling need to work with people. 

When an idea for a new product is created, a brand team should cultivate it together.  Team leaders and product design experts should tinker with new product ideas together.  Leaders should study profitability with finance experts together.  They should plan roll-outs to the trade together with the field sales people.  And they should test products and observe production runs together with manufacturing. 

The key word is together.  Teams are there together for a common purpose and when it comes to ideas and problems, they should tinker with them together to attain success. 

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