It’s no secret amongst my friends and work colleagues that I have a seriously heightened passion for craft beer. I absolutely love the stuff. Any opportunity for me to blend both my personal and work interests, especially when craft beer is involved, cannot be missed. What drives and interests me most at work is employee engagement, the subject itself but also the opportunity for me to help inform our clients on how to be even better at it. I thought it might be interesting for me to explore how one of the most iconic craft breweries in the U.S., New Belgium Brewing Company, were able to brew up a culture that is highly supportive of employee engagement. This acts as a lesson to others on the techniques you can employ to drive your culture and engagement levels.
For all organisations, regardless of their size, industry specialism or location, getting a handle on talent attraction, employee turnover and productivity means first getting to grips with employee engagement. This is especially true for those in the food & beverage/hospitality industry where the challenges faced when retaining and motivating employees are amplified due to higher levels of staff turnover, the ability to introduce initiatives to engage the workforce couldn’t be more important.
"For example, a 2015 report from Deloitte showed that employee turnover in the hospitality industry can reach as high as 31%, representing a significant challenge for hiring and retaining skilled workers."
Having worked in this industry myself as a youngster for a company with a terrible culture, my applause goes out to those that are able to challenge the status quo and transform their working environment. For New Belgium Brewing Company, the option to simply accept the challenges in their industry around employee engagement and retention simply wasn’t an option. Here we’ll look at how a leading craft brewery in the U.S. was able to position themselves as an employer of choice by creating an environment and culture that is highly supportive of commitment, passion and engagement. I won’t judge you if you fancy drinking a beer whilst reading this, but you get extra points if it’s a New Belgium.
A Leading Company with Direction and Cause...
New Belgium Brewing Company, who started their Colorado-based brewing operations in 1991, are now the 4th largest producer of craft beers in the U.S. and the 8th largest overall beer producer in the U.S. (Brewers Association, 2016). After 25 years in business, they now employ in excess of 650 “coworkers”, as they refer to their employees, across a multitude of roles. They distribute their beers to 38 states in the U.S. and 2014 saw them brew 945,000 barrels of beer. With such a heavy reliance on efficiency, accuracy and quality, the emphasis placed on the value of their workforce is extremely high.
Distinct Core Values & Beliefs
Central to New Belgium’s success as a business and an employer of choice is their distinctive set of core values & beliefs. With an outsider's perspective, I have always felt that they set the bar very high when it comes to defining themselves and their culture. From the very beginning, the business chose to forge a “Purpose Statement” and set of values that they wanted to stand for, reinforce and permeate across the entire organisation.
"New Belgium's Purpose Statement: To manifest our love and talent by crafting our customers' favourite brands and proving business can be a force for good."
For New Belgium, their purpose statement and set of core values isn’t without function. Instead, it is a statement to the outside world about what New Belgium Brewing Company stand for and why they exist. For their “coworkers”, this helps to clearly define why they should bother getting out of bed every day, why their individual role contributes to a wider mission and sets clear guidelines for what it means to be a New Belgium “coworker”, not just an “employee”. For attracting future talent, in what is an extremely competitive candidate marketplace within Brewing & Distilling, it enables the business to give potential future employees a glimpse into the working conditions, culture and habits of the organisation.
High Involvement Culture
You could however easily argue that a purpose statement and set of core values could be nothing more than another set of buzzwords nailed to the wall that don’t in fact mean very much. We’ve all seen countless times the disparity between what an organisation says that they stand for and what employees think they actually stand for (Look your company up on Glassdoor, you might be surprised with what people have to say).
However, at New Belgium their values define everything that they do and is apparent in what they refer to as their “High Involvement Culture” (www.newbelgium.com). By this, they refer to the ways that they include and involve their “coworkers” in key business decisions and frequent updates on performance in a completely transparent way. Whether that’s their monthly and annual meetings where all 650+ employees get together to discuss important issues and decisions, or their open-book management policy where everyone has access to key financials and future plans, New Belgium try to create a culture of involvement and transparency. They even offer training to all “coworkers” around how to interpret financial information and reports as part of their initial orientation, which helps to make sure everyone is fully informed at all times. (Forbes, 2015). I’m lucky enough to work for a company that also practices full transparency and regular communication, which has a huge impact on the engagement I have with my work.
100% Employee Ownership
Other than a clear purpose statement and set of core values, how else do you motivate your workforce to be passionate, committed and accountable for their individual roles? You could try introducing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). As a more extreme initiative, an ESOP is essentially a program that enables part of or the entire workforce to have stock ownership interest in the organisation.
An extract from New Belgium’s website on the press release in 2012 read: “New Belgium Brewing is excited to announce that the company’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) has purchased the balance of company shares, making it 100% employee-owned. New Belgium, brewer of a wide variety of award-winning beers including Fat Tire Amber Ale, has been a partial ESOP since 2000 with a controlling interest held by co-founder Kim Jordan and her family. This transition will put the company on a path to control their destiny into the foreseeable future.”
By making New Belgium 100% employee-owned, they have been able to completely change the employer-employee relationship. Now every single individual has a vested interest in the success of the business and this will undoubtedly breed a culture of accountability, commitment and engagement. Employee Engagement can loosely be defined as the cultural and emotional attachment that employees have to the organisation they work for, so what better way to create a culture of engagement than by empowering employees by giving them a voice and a seat at the table.
"There is a great sense of pride in most successful craft breweries that starts with the founders and continues all the way through the organisation. If you add employee ownership, the engagement, pride and dedication increase exponentially." (The New Brewer, BrewersAssocation.org, 2014)
New Belgium are not alone in their ambitious Employee Stock Ownership Plan’s, as other craft breweries such as Odell Brewing, Left Hand, Harpoon and Deschutes are a few examples which are now at least partly owned by their employees through an ESOP (Forbes, 2015). Happy employees surely has to help create better beer, so I hope to see more breweries looking at ways to engage and empower their employees.
It might not be right for your organisation to start dividing up the ownership of the business amongst employees, but the message is that involving employees in key decisions and giving them a voice can have an incredible impact on the way they view their work and you as their employer.
Making sure that you get your reward and benefits package right can ensure that you continue to attract the best and most highly skilled candidates within your industry. Getting it wrong can result in you losing the best candidates to the competition. As you’d expect, with New Belgium having a clear attitude towards employee value and opportunity, they have introduced a benefits package that aligns with these beliefs.
Aside from the Employee Stock Ownership Plan previously mentioned, “coworkers” have access to a long list of attractive benefits beyond their salary such as:
- 12 free beers a week, and one after every shift
- Anniversary milestones bonuses from free bikes, paid trips to Belgium and 4-week paid sabbaticals
- Profit sharing scheme
- 100% coverage of health-care premiums
By offering benefits other than what is included in any standard corporate list, New Belgium send a strong message to current and future “coworkers” that they value their employees and want to create an environment that is both positive and motivating. Their benefits package is unique to their organisation which also reinforces the care and attention that has gone into putting it together.
What to take away from this.
It’s clear to see that by using a number of different ingredients, New Belgium has been able to brew up a positive working culture that focuses on improving the employer-employee relationship. By creating a distinct set of company values, involving employees in key decisions, enabling employees to have a stake in the business and having a robust reward and benefits structure, they have positioned themselves as an employer of choice in a very competitive industry.
There are infinite ways to improve employee engagement in any organisation, but the most important thing is to make engagement happen. Focus on one key area at a time, and once you’ve nailed it more onto the next. Soon you’ll find that people will want to work for your organisation and will stay longer whilst working harder.
If you happen to come across a New Belgium beer the next time you’re at the bar, it’s worth thinking about how employee engagement has helped to make it so damn tasty.
Check out www.newbelgium.com for further info.