Companies have long provided job rotations for higher level executives to give them a sense of how different departments operate. Later it was also discovered that short- to medium-term moves for rank-and-file employees helped workers sharpen their skills, stay motivated and identify new roles they might aim for in the future. More recently and important, job-swapping programs also help address a challenge that many companies are facing: how to better foster collaboration across different specialties and regions.
But all these programs are usually designed for moving workers inside companies own walls. No so much known are similar programs in which two very different companies swap their employees in order to spur innovation. But this is what Google and P&G did some years ago. The partnership came about as P&G seek to do a better job marketing on-line and Google was looking for more advertising money for the kind of big consumer-goods company P&G represented (not investing in online marketing then).
About two-dozen staffers from the two companies spent weeks dipping into each other’s staff training programs and sitting in on meetings where business plans get hammered out. The learning was mutual. As the two companies started working together, the gulf between them quickly became apparent. For instance, when actress Salma Hayek unveiled an ambitious promotion for P&G’s Pampers brand, the Google team was stunned to learn that Pampers hadn’t invited any “motherhood” bloggers — women who run popular Web sites about child-rearing — to attend the press conference. “Where are the bloggers?” asked a Google staffer in disbelief. For their part, P&G employees gasped in surprise during a Tide brand meeting when a Google job-swapper apparently didn’t realize that Tide’s signature orange-colored packaging is a key part of the brand’s image.
According to executives, the initiative was no just a good way to share information between partners, but a good way of opening up the culture to new ideas in general.
The initiative draw little notice then, so it’s worth to recall it as it was published by the Wall Street Journal.