Ready, Aim, Market: Combat Training At P&G College

Procter & Gamble Co. has long been known as one of the best training grounds in business. Its marketers, researchers, engineers, and salespeople have trampled competitors. Its alumni have staffed rivals' ranks by the hundreds, much to its chagrin. Given that record, you might not think P&G needs a whole new corporate training regimen. But that's what Chairman Edwin L. Artzt started in December.

The program's official name is P&G College, but Artzt calls it "combat training." A roll call of top management, including Artzt, conducts the classes. Like almost everything else he has implemented since becoming chairman two years ago, the program is designed to help slay the competition.

That makes P&G College sharply different from the training it replaces, a popular leadership program run by management guru Stephen R. Covey. The Covey plan stressed building trust and teamwork, as well as knitting together employees' private and business lives. But P&G concluded that its primary corporate training "ought to be more focused outwardly on the marketplace, on the consumer, on the customer, on the competition," says Senior Vice-President Benjamin L. Bethell.

The new training gives Artzt "a chance to imprint people as they enter the system," says University of Michigan business school Professor Noel M. Tichy, an adviser to P&G College. New hires will spend three or four days at P&G College in their first year. There are also courses for first-time managers and higher-level managers. Altogether, some 4,000 employees a year from every function and location will attend sessions on such subjects as The Art of Competitive Defense and Developing People Who Produce.

No matter what his or her job, each manager will get a quick apprenticeship in the discipline Artzt sees as crucial to P&G's business--advertising. Reflecting Artzt's view that too much price discounting erodes the value of P&G brands, P&G College will also teach managers to think about how such promotions can hurt a product's image.

Much of the training examines past successes and failures. In one course, President John E. Pepper recounts P&G's flop in the 1980s with a scallop-shaped soap called Monchel. Because of its unusual shape, fragrance, and package, it won blind tests P&G conducted. But the product worked no better than its intended rival, Lever Brothers Co.'s Dove. "We didn't really develop superior performance in the area that counted," says Pepper.

BLUNT MESSAGE. Crest brand manager Christopher T. Clark, who just attended a three-day P&G College session, calls the experience "tremendously positive." He got to interact with some of the company's top executives, and he came away from the meetings with the message Artzt wants: "There's a focus on needing to win in the marketplace and the components that really drive that," he says.

Pepper, long a fan of the Covey training, says P&G will find other ways to relay that program's softer-edged messages to employees. But that can wait. In the meantime, Artzt is readying the troops for war.

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