Jim Stengel is a true innovator. As Global CMO of Procter & Gamble (P&G) from 2001 to 2008, Jim not only oversaw the company's annual $8 billion (that’s right—billion!) advertising budget but also doubled the company’s revenue in that time. How did he do it? Through partnerships.
One of the most important lessons Jim learned while heading up marketing for the world’s largest advertiser was the power of partnerships. In his own words: “Companies that work with startups and have successful partnerships are about three times more likely to change the culture." Multiple partners that work together are better able to solve complex problems for their customers, sell faster, reduce friction, and minimize costs. There are many great examples of businesses getting it right – and it all comes down to teaming up with the right partners.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim to discuss the value of partnerships as well as what mature companies and startups can equally learn from each other.
“It all starts with what you’re trying to do together.” As a starting point, companies must focus on how a partnership can enhance what they already offer to customers. “If we can say very clearly why we are together and why it makes sense – as well as how we can have a desired impact on people through a partnership – then it will work. If you don’t have trust in the relationships, the shared purpose, and the teams that drive it, you can forget about all the other stuff.”
For the 180-year-old P&G, changing its culture was no easy task. However, as digital technologies gave rise to new competitors disrupting the marketing as well as new ways of engaging with consumers, Jim saw an opportunity to drive innovation by partnering with startups – and learning from them. Jim and his team decided to implement an employee exchange program with Google. For a month, Jim sent the P&G Brand team to Google to work with their Product team. Google sent engineers to P&G to work with the Brand team. “Both sides came back with tremendous energy around both P&G and Google. They gained exposure to senior leadership and, as a result of those interactions, things began to change.”
After the month-long employee exchange was over, Google was so inspired by P&G’s "portfolio approach" to innovation that they began to rethink their own Sales organization to focus more on key clients than on regions. “On our side, we were impressed with the speed at which they iterated and how comfortable they were with failing, trying again, and problem-solving. We came back to P&G and re-evaluated a lot of our processes – and changed them.”
"Everyone loves to celebrate victories, but we should also discuss what I like to call 'beautiful defeat.' We have to tell stories of our failures. We all fail, and we fail a million times. We learn from our failures. We should all be talking about them. People get nervous. They start focusing on the wrong things because they are afraid to make mistakes. We, as leaders, have to bust that up. It's a leader’s job to create a culture where people can stretch and fail – and be OK doing that.”
After leaving P&G, Jim interviewed over 100 executives at companies of all sizes to find out how they were driving innovation. This led to the publication of his latest book, Unleashing the Innovators.
“Every brand, every product, and every company is capable of exuding humanity and purpose. Show your personality, be real, and don’t hide behind slick advertising or PR campaigns. Be genuine.”
In other words, you can only take your own idea, passion, or product so far without help. Organizations that band together with a shared purpose ultimately become stronger.