The Corporate Memo – Lessons Learned from P&G

In the history of business, Procter and Gamble will be remembered for many things- its products, its branding acumen, and its memos.
Memos? Those boring treatises that no one reads, you ask.
An account executive who worked closely with P&G had this to say about the importance of the memo at the company:
“P&G seems to have figured out that if you structure information certain ways, people will readily understand it, good ideas will emerge, and bad ideas will be exposed. I really think that is what has made them so successful. They make fewer mistakes because they find mistakes before they happen.”
In a book which is still relevant today – Winning With the P&G 99Charles Decker tells us that if you can learn to write a P&G memo, you can learn how to think. The memo becomes a knowledge codification tool, a way to present ideas, arguments, and recommendations in a language and style everyone at P&G understands.
Think about how effective this is. In most companies, the quality of communications depends on the writer. Every department, every individual speaks and writes in their own language. At P&G, the language and style is the same everywhere. What is original is the idea in the memo.
Dr. Andrew Abela tells us (on his blog) that when he joined P&G twenty years ago, the one page memo discipline was in full force. He shows us the format:
1.The Idea. What are you proposing? This is typically one sentence.
2. Background. What conditions have arisen that led you to this recommendation? Only include information that everyone agrees upon in the Background – this is the basis for discussion, so it needs to be non-debatable.
3. How it Works. The details. In addition to How, also What, Who, When, Where.
4. Key Benefits. This is the “Why?” There are usually three benefits: the recommended action is on strategy, already proven (e.g. in test market or in another business unit), and will be profitable. You can think of these three in terms of the old Total Quality mantra of “doing right things right.” The first (on strategy) means you’re doing the right thing. The second and third mean you’re doing things the right way, because you’re being effective (proven to work) and efficient (profitable).
5. Next Steps. Who has to do what and by when for this to happen?
Simple enough. So why don’t you adopt this for your company? And better still, why not use this format for all your company meetings as well.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that P&G made memo writing a critical knowledge management process, or even more importantly, a decision-making process.
The process itself has created a framework for critical thinking, for decision-making and ultimately for strategic advantage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *