September 14, 2008 – MANILA, Philippines – The president of one of the country’s largest multinationals and this writer are multi-tasking. While conducting the interview, we are having a foot massage at the P&G floor of 6750 Ayala Avenue. The spa massage room is painted in soothing green, with blow-up photos of bamboos that bring the outside in. The fact that the senses are engaged?soothing background music, the aroma of scented candles, the feel of the warm water and the healing touch of the masseuse on the foot pressure points?distinguishes this office from others.
People say, I’ll be well after work, but during work I?m not. I’ll work out at night. They separate wellness from their lives. They make it a slot. What I’m trying to do is to bring wellness into their activities. It is not just a 5 to 6 p.m. exercise class. How do you integrate wellness in the office? This is the way to do it. You and I are doing an interview and I’m engaging in stress management, says James Lafferty, president of P&G Philippines, proponent of the Work-Life Balance, and one of Ayala Land’s most high-key tenants.
Walking his talk
He is certainly walking his talk. ?In a corporate environment you?re in a white room, with no window, no light, and you’re trying to concentrate. If I can have people sit in here and do the same meeting, it would be more productive, you?ll feel better about it, because of having a foot massage.
A physiologist by training, Lafferty was a fitness and stress management consultant until friends pointed out that he had the savvy for marketing. With over two decades working for P&G, he is also vice-president for New Business Development for the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Australia and India. But his heart lies in stress management and providing a holistic approach to organizations. P&G at 6750 Ayala Avenue must be one of the greatest offices in the world, because of its iconoclastic design that is dynamic and fun. The rooms put people in the right mood and keep them at their optimal energy level.
?The floor is designed for stimulation, so you feel better in what you?re doing. Second is to have a wellness section dedicated to Work-Life Balance, he says. Lafferty sums the concept as ?You feel that you?ve got your life under control and that you’re putting time in the areas important to you.
He cites various strategies to accomplish balance such as managing the different roles in life, knowing the core skills required by the company, and setting personal goals.
?If you ask people, ?What do you want to achieve in your life?? They give you a lot of corporate stuff. They think about getting promoted: I can have life if I have more recognition in a corporation. We encourage people to list down at least 100 things they?d like to do before they die. I came back from Bhutan with my wife. I?ve always wanted to visit that place. It gives life a zest. I remember the years because of the things I did, not because of some businesses. A lot of people I meet have no personal dreams. That?s why young people are workaholics. At 25, they can?t even write 50 of a hundred things they want to do before they die. My dream in life was to coach and to teach athletics and make no money. Lafferty is talking about becoming a human being, not a human doing. P&G?s decor reflects that philosophy.
The corporate vision and mantra, ?We will be the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T)? is interpreted through the interior architecture. ?We want to be the best team operation in the world. That?s the broad umbrella. Underneath that are statements of culture,? says Lafferty. He commissioned students from the Philippine School of Interior Design to execute the hallmarks of P&G?s corporate culture. Ceilings are dropped with organic cutouts to lend more intimacy. Eschewing obvious professional hierarchy, P&G has an open office plan to encourages communication, collaboration and an open door policy.
Aside from involving the five senses, another characteristic of a great design is sending motivating and appropriate symbolic messages. Each of the theme meeting rooms feature bold graphic, decorative elements that convey affirmations. At the Everest Room, a papier maché rendition of the tallest mountain in the world, fills a whole wall, while the opposite wall is painted in blue with white clouds. The decor is symbolic of taking risks. ?We dare to succeed and recognize that in doing so, we will sometimes fail.? The carpet designs also convey subliminal messages. Chains represent human interconnectivity while circles symbolize the wholeness of the human being.
Posters of G.O.A.T. icons from various fields are reminders of one?s ability to reach the maximum potential. ?In the theme G.O.A.T., we looked the best in their fields?Lea Salonga, Rafael Nepomuceno, Nadia Comanenci, Gandhi. Nepomuceno and Comanenci have been here to talk to organization about what it takes to become the best in the world. That?s what we want to do, says Lafferty.
Meeting rooms present different concepts based on P&G’s desired culture. Take the company standard: We are solid as a fist. We are one team. The young designers turned the EDSA People Power as a wall mural to denote unity while another wall features key words of virtues.
Each room has a round table with a circle in the middle that supports the idea of collaboration.
This writer?s favorite is the Dart Room with its stimulating orange walls, a dartboard mural and blue and white checkered dado. The decor represents challenge achieved through determination and single-mindedness, and not by hiding mistakes or sucking up. Hence the slogan, ?We don?t kiss ass, we don?t cover ass, we kick ass.
Representing simplicity, the White Room is lined with walls of white boards where people can write their ideas. For Mirror Room, insulated with mirrors and thought balloons remind employees that there are moments when they need self-examination. At the Game Room, the playful three-dimensional installation of dices and a mobile of cards creates a playful and familial atmosphere, making work seem like fun. During Inquirer’s visit, a staffer is serving chocolate cake and ice cream and offers her boss as he enters.
The pantry provides spontaneous interchange between employees. It is an active space furnished with islands for seating, decked with multi-colored chairs. No two chairs are alike in color to symbolize individuality. A Walk of Fame similar to the Hollywood version honors an employee who has made an indelible stamp on the company.
One of the craziest ideas is a fire pole that is supposed to serve as an easy entry to the next floor. Lafferty says the company still has to get a go-signal from the Fire Department. The fire pole indicates the need to embark on measured risks and move quickly in the market.
The Wellness Alley provides opportunities for the employees to restock their physical and mental energies. At the Oxygen Bar, employees bring their own cannulas and hook up to get their oxygen. ?A lot of headaches in Manila are pollution -based. They get healthier oxygen and the headache is gone,? says Lafferty.
An adjacent Sleep Pod is programmed to provide the user a 20-minute power nap. For people who seek silence, the Yoga Room with its wooden floors and mirrors is the place for exercise and meditation. Lafferty introduced the Bicycle Room where meetings can be held on stationary bikes. The concept: ?Speed your way and have your meetings.
The idea is to have low-impact aerobics where you get heart rate up to 100 beats a minute. This increases your energy level. This is not a workout. It?s like when you?re tired and you walk three flights of stairs, you wake up a bit because your heart rate goes up. While holding meetings, you can pedal lightly while you?re having a meeting,? says Lafferty.
Clearly, the interior design has been favorable to employee morale. It has given P&G an edge when it comes to recruiting, training and keeping employees. In a global survey conducted by P&G, employees were asked if the physical environment enhanced their personal productivity. ?Last year, before we refurbished, 54 percent of employees said they either agree or strongly agree that the environment helps them. Half said yes, half said no. That jumped this year to 90 percent with this renovation. Globally, they?ve never seen a 40 percent jump. It had people flying all over the world to see this place, says Lafferty.
Asked how the new environment influences creativity, the executive doesn’t quantify. ?In life, there are certain things you have to have faith in. If I ask you, Do you love your aunt? You’d say, ?Yes.? I?d say, ?Prove it!? You can?t. I take it on face value. I’ve got people that went from 50 to 90 percent saying I am a better person because I work in here. Am I sitting around marking company minutes? I walk out at 8 p.m. but there?s a good chunk of people of the company at work, and I hear them laughing, says Lafferty.
He acknowledges Ayala Land for supporting the project, including the funding for the restrooms in the common areas. Instead of antiseptic white-tiled walls at the men?s room, there is a guillotine hovering the urinals. At the ladies? room there are life-size photos of statues of classic male bodies, one of which has a green leaf covering his manhood. There is a mirror which makes one look 20 pounds thinner and a reality mirror.
The essence of a business success is innovation, which means creativity. Make it different, says Lafferty. As a result, employees brag about the headquarters to friends and relatives. When the children of Ayala Land president Jim Ayala looked at P&G, they immediately wanted to work there.
Our design is the selling point in trying to attract the best, he says.