Culture, Values and BrewDog

Culture, Values and BrewDog

Pop quiz hot shot
Speed (1994) with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper. What’s it about? The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) says, “A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.” It’s actually much more frightening. It’s a cautionary tale of bad management. It’s what happens when disgruntled employees come back and get mad.

So, pop quiz hot shot, what do you do?
You’ve got a young company – a once cosy start-up that’s swiftly becoming the behemoth brewery with a strong brand and a demand beyond its capacity – and now you have to bring in more people – lots more people… 
OK hotshot, how do you NOT loose sight of the vision that built the company. What do you do to to keep the culture that characterises your brand. How do you NOT water down your core values?
What do you do, hot shot, what do YOU DO?

Unless you’ve been actively been avoiding licenced premises and booze aisles over the past seven years, you’ve probably heard of BrewDog. Punk IPA, Dead Pony Pale Ale and Cocoa Psycho are just a sample of the no nonsense titles and flavours from these uncompromising brewers of craft beer. They were the classic “up-start” start-up who rattled some cages (and still do). But seven years on, in many respects, they appear to be leading the way.
I would suggest that this is a company that crafts its culture as carefully as its beer.
BrewDog Light Ale

 ^ DogTap – I’m no expert but I’m guessing these are light ales

BrewDog not only craft a brew, they craft an ‘experience’. With 23 BrewDog bars between here and Tokyo (and a fake one in China), I’d heard that the bar staff go through a pretty rigorous training and are required to know the product inside out. In an industry that typically employs temporary and part time staff this level of investment was surprising to me. However, when I learned that bar staff are also one of BrewDog’s main talent pools for the core business it made perfect sense.
BrewDog MapThe purpose of my drive up to BrewDog HQ in Ellon, Aberdeen, was to witness a group interview process for the BrewDog graduate programme. When I saw the advert online it was the application requirements that initially got my attention. It was a well crafted filter with no place for a generic CVs or covering letters, instead applicants were required to answer a series of questions and tasks specific to the business.
The advert also mentioned a group interview. The candidates would spend the afternoon together with one of the directors and a member of HR – working as individuals and in teams to complete a series of tasks. I really, really wanted to see this first hand and got in touch immediately. BrewDog couldn’t have been more accommodating – big thanks to Zarah and Rona.
I don’t want to give away any specifics of the interview process – just to say that it gives a unique perspective on getting to know candidates from many angles. For BrewDog it didn’t take up any more time than sitting through a day or two of individual interviews – and clearly they are confident that it is a better use of their time.
Sky's the limit

^ The Sky’s the limit at BrewDog

Zarah, who came through the first BrewDog graduate scheme two years ago is now Gatekeeper at BrewDog (ie Human resources, internal comms and company culture manager). Graduate Programme to management in just over a year!? Evidence of ‘the sky’s the limit’ mentality at BrewDog – backed up by the other three Grad Prog alumni who are also now management level or key roles in the company.
Any other business might have filled such a crucial position through an agency. But BrewDog like to demonstrate that they are not any other company. Why head hunt when the passion for your company is right here?
BrewDog HQ
BrewDog is a priesthood. It inspires a passion for a product and it knows its followers have an enthusiasm that is valuable to the cause. So pick the best and get them on board – cultivating passion and enthusiasm is the hard bit – skills can be learned.
The graduates I met were already invested in the company (one of them was even financially invested – see Equity for Punks!) and already had in place what BrewDog value most in their newstarts – “a thirst to learn”. Pun intended I’m sure.
With a company that invests so much in bar staff you would expect the investment to continue back at base and so it does. No matter what part of the business, the employees are trained beer geeks.

“The Cicerone Certification Program certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.”

75% of BrewDog staff are “Cicerone Certified Beer Servers”. Zarah in HR is amongst several in the company who are second level, “Certified Cicerone”, and one other person (who will remain anonymous) is about to become one of a very small (single digits) world wide crew of ‘beer Jedi’ – “Master Cicerone”.
when in Rome
BrewDog understand their brand in a way that isn’t forced – the protection of their culture and values doesn’t feel like a box ticking exercise or like someone just read a Seth Godin book. It felt to me a natural and intuitive choice.
Obviously I speak from limited experience – I haven’t worked there and I only spent a day observing – but it appeared to me that the directors have consciously and genuinely created a company that they would want to work for themselves. Having done that they are now working hard to find other like minded people to share it with.
As it turns out, there are quite a few, but it’s nice to see that the courtesy shown to BrewDog customers is also extended to BrewDog staff.
Opening minds

^ Opening minds as well as bottles

After the interview, once everyone had left, I stayed back for a few minutes to compare notes and ask some questions. On my way back to the car I noticed all of the graduate programme candidates depressurising over a beer in DogTap – where we had started the day for lunch. So I went in and asked them what they thought of the interview process – here’s a taste of what they said:
Me – “Best interview ever?

  • Emphatically “Yes!”
  • “Bits of it were gruelling… but that was to be expected.”
  • “We’re all sat here having a pint, chatting like mates, because it was like that, it was great.”
  • The other candidates “were intimidatingly good.”
  • “If this was my freshers flat I would be over the moon.”
  • “You got a chance to show yourself – it wasn’t formal and straight – it’s the best way to get to know people.”

Me – “What about the application process and its effectiveness at filtering out people like me who might like to work at BrewDog but didn’t have the same passion for the product?

  • It was “a breath of fresh air.”
  • “Everyone here today is of a certain mindset.”
  • “I had think about it for a few weeks. But it was really fun to think about.”

The BrewDog tour

^ The BrewDog tour

Of course this process doesn’t work for every post in BrewDog – neither would it work for some other companies. But rather than accept that as a reality I would be inclined to wonder why – and challenge whether it should.

So, pop quiz hotshot – what do you do to successfully embed the brand and core company values into new staff – particularly at management level?

What do you do, hot shot, what do YOU DO?


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