How’s Morale These Days?

I vividly remember meeting new colleagues after taking a divisional transfer midway through my time at a Fortune 50 company.  It was early in my career, and perhaps I was a little naive.  Kent, a manager peer, had the “Floggings will continue…” sign posted prominently outside his office.  I was a bit surprised at his bold display of defiance.  This was a pretty buttoned up company, and Kent seemed like a pretty reserved guy.  I blew it off as a joke, that is until I came to understand it was truer than false.  In many respects, it was the prevailing culture.

So, what does this have to do with craft beer marketing?  A lot.  There are many insights applicable across all kinds of organizations.  But for craft beer in particular, the culture behind this sign can be even more cancerous.

Craft Beer is About Community

Yes, it’s also about great beer.  But at its roots the reason craft beer is such a phenomenon is the community that has grown around it.  Key values in the craft community are such things as welcoming of those who are not experts, and an aversion for hierarchy and bureaucracy.  We cheer each other’s victories.  Trust is key, as is congenial collaboration, genuineness and transparency.  Optimism abounds, as does passion for the craft, charity, decency and respect.  And when it comes down to brass tacks, most craft beer people are just fun and interesting to be around. Even the most outwardly cantankerous craft beer characters are really great people, although they may be a bit off kilter and share a healthy disregard for corporate beer “suits.” As a result, people are attracted to this community from outside and want to belong.

So, when you look at your brewery, what’s your prevailing culture?  Do you have employees working for you, or extended family working with you?  Do you have suppliers and vendors, or trusted business partners?  And do you have just customers, or more deeply friends who stop by to drink?  Attitude counts when building community, both inward and outward.  And it counts a lot.

Across many disparate organizations and categories, I’ve found a frequent incorrect belief that management can create a great customer experience while flogging employees and suppliers.  It never happens, and never will.  Perhaps you know a few of these places, and maybe you (like me) have worked in a few over the years.

The core of your outward culture with those who buy your products and services will look no better than your internal culture.  When I consult with restaurants and brewpubs that recognize they have customer issues, I always suggest focusing first on employee morale.  That seems counter-intuitive to them.  “What happened to putting the customer first?” they say.

Focus Inwardly First

When having customer issues, the best first question is, “How do the people put in front of customers feel?”  How do those who serve you connect with your culture and mission?  Are they relieved to clock out, or excited to come to work?  Do your “suppliers” or “vendors” feel empowered and motivated to provide you with more than the goods and services they invoice you for and drop at your doorstep?  Do they feel like they’re on the outside looking in, or do they genuinely feel a part of your business?

Marketing is about telling (and then living) a great story, and engaging people such that their story and your story are joined. Are employees and those supporting your business just acting out a bit part in your story?  If so, no amount of “flogging” will cause these good people to want to build a great outward community.  To build a great outward community, you must first build your inward community.

So, forgo the floggings, real or imagined.  Instead, focus on developing a great internal community.  Your people will take it from there if you support them as family.


John Mann (@beermktguy)

#craftbeer #marketing #independentbeer #beer

John (13)

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