The Wisest Company in the World.

January 4, 2020

The Wisest Company in the World.

May 29, 2023

In most companies, institutional wisdom walks out the front door daily, through retirement, layoffs, or ⏤ most often ⏤ when experienced, older workers start to feel irrelevant. A balance sheet can’t measure the loss of these culture-bearers who have more than just the know-how, but also the know-who that often helped the company get to where it is today.

In a business world increasingly infatuated with the young, new, and digital, I was curious to discover the world’s leading company when it comes to cultivating and harvesting wisdom. And, I found that company in Cincinnati where I’ve spent a few days the last couple summers.

In Wisdom@Work, I suggested we can learn something from Google, with its “20% time” for engineers, where qualified innovators can use 20% of their time toward experimental projects they think might be good for Google product development. I’ve suggested that we apply that idea to “Modern Elders,” those more experienced employees with deep institutional wisdom who could cut back their scope of work and act as in-house coaches, company cultural curators for new hires, and internal catalysts for teams that need a spark or some collaborative emotional intelligence. Many who’ve heard my idea have liked it, but I had no idea Procter & Gamble had created something similar 50 years ago.

P&G has an internal group of Brand Strategy, Communication and Production expertise and knowledge. The team is full of experienced marketing employees and industry experts who serve as knowledge centers within the individual businesses. This group (about 50 people train for a year in this role before being unleashed into a team as a wise elder) assures that core company foundational principles aren’t lost, that training improves over time, and that the Modern Elders create new knowledge based upon the dynamic nature of the marketing discipline.

Those who succeed in these roles tend to know how to influence (since they rarely report to the General Manager) through high emotional intelligence, holistic thinking, curiosity and comfort with ambiguity and change, and an adaptive and flexible perspective. In addition to this expert group, P&G has a Brand Mastery Society, a Sales Mastery Society, a group of R&D Masters, an HR Mastery Society, and Product Supply Masters and there’s also a robust P&G Alumni Network, which assures that the company’s institutional wisdom isn’t forgotten.

I believe there are a few old-line Silicon Valley companies ⏤ Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco ⏤ that ought to invest in a few plane tickets to Cincinnati (yes, there are direct flights) to see how this 182-year-old company stands Head & Shoulders (excuse the product plug!) above their Fortune 500 brethren when it comes to cultivating and harvesting wisdom.

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