EngagementEmployee EngagementBrewDog on how social awareness creates employee engagement

BrewDog on how social awareness creates employee engagement

In a world where morals and values are at the forefront of people's minds more than ever before, a socially conscious approach can be crucial to truly engaging your teams. Brewery and pub chain BrewDog are the model organization when it comes to this. We caught up with the company's Director of People, Karen Bates, to find out more.

In business, there is one core principle that always remains a constant: as the world’s social climate evolves, the corporate world must evolve with it. The consensus appears to be that if an organization adheres to this, it will benefit greatly on a number of crucial metrics.

This applies both internally and externally. On an external level, research shows that the average consumer is now more ‘mindful’ than ever, with one study finding that 89% of those surveyed ‘care personally’ about protecting the planet. If organizations leverage this, they can reasonably expect more custom, and a bolstered top line as a result.

It’s only logical that this also applies internally. The consumer and employee demographic must overlap to a certain extent, and therefore, modern employees are far more likely to have a vested interest in working for a morally virtuous organization.

So, in turn, this has the potential to impact the organization’s bottom line, whether that be through increased productivity, lower turnover, or any number of other things.

Many would agree, however, that employee engagement is the key factor here; a metric that has the potential to influence an organization’s success on every possible level.

BrewDog is arguably the perfect case-in-point here. The Aberdeenshire-based brewer and distiller is a glimmering example of an organization with a strong, consistent moral stance coursing through its veins. And what’s more, this social awareness has had a glaringly positive impact on the company’s engagement – particularly in recent times.

The BrewDog approach to social awareness

Since its inception in 2007, BrewDog has always appeared to have its finger on the pulse of contemporary values. In fact, in 2016, Founder and CEO James Watt examined this very principle during a Tedx Talk in Glasgow.

Watt primarily addressed the  ‘Internal = External’ tagline, referring to this as “our radically disruptive manifesto for a 21st century business”.

“Internal culture has got to sync seamlessly with external perception,” he said. “This has been the key thing that has underpinned this journey for us.”

He wasn’t kidding. For years now, BrewDog has been consistently devising new initiatives and gestures that align with this principle. In fact, the most recent example is arguably the most grand of them all.

During the company’s EGM in August earlier this year, BrewDog officially declared itself ‘carbon negative’.

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How? The company has acquired 2,000 acres of land in the Scottish Highlands. It plans to fill the space with newly planted trees, creating what’s being called ‘the BrewDog forest’, and ultimately drawing twice as much carbon out of the atmosphere than it emits.

BrewDog’s Director of People. Karen Bates, offered her thoughts on the announcement.

“We’ve been working on this behind the scenes for a while,” she said. “It started off with a wind power brewery but then we thought ‘we have got to do so much more here as a business’. We didn’t want to say we’re going to be carbon neutral like a lot of other companies; we actually wanted to go carbon negative.”

Though a major statement for an organization to make, this is just one of a catalog of similar gestures, with many occurring during the Coronavirus pandemic this year.

For instance, in response to the UK’s hand sanitizer shortage in March, BrewDog began producing mass quantities of the product at its Aberdeenshire distillery, and distributed it to hospitals free of charge.

Other examples include the launch of an ‘online bar’ in March, and the BrewDog Kickstarter Collective in June (an initiative to support independent bars and pubs through the pandemic).

Bates went on to comment on the motivation behind such initiatives.

She said: “We’ve not done this for PR, we’ve done this because it’s the right thing to do.

“Yes, we often get some great PR as a result, but we do these things because we believe that what we’re doing is the right thing for the environment, the economy and people’s livelihoods.”

But social responsibility and environmental awareness aside, BrewDog has also garnered a reputation for having a playful side to its persona.

A limited edition release of a beer named ‘Barnard Castle Eye-Test’ springs to mind as the obvious example: a snide, tongue-in-cheek response to a UK Government minister’s flouting of lockdown regulations earlier this year.

This witty and high-spirited approach forms a fundamental part of the BrewDog brand in 2020.

“We’re always a bit tongue in cheek with the stuff that we do – we’re known for doing that,” said Bates.

“We try not to get involved in in real heavy political statements at all, but if it’s something we can have a bit of fun with, then why not? That’s just what BrewDog is about: we’re fun, we’re quirky, and we’re a little bit edgy.”

How does this impact employee engagement?

Bates went on to outline how BrewDog’s conscious approach has impacted the organization internally. She began by referring to the most recent example – the carbon neutral announcement – and the response this has generated

She said: “We found that the immediate spike in engagement across our teams has been incredible.

“It’s the sheer amount of people who are now saying, ‘when you get that forest open, we want to be out there planting the trees and volunteering’. And this is from our teams but also from our investors – so it’s been great.”

But according to Bates, this is not a new phenomenon, and represents somewhat of a recent trend. She explained that the pandemic has created a make-or-break climate for many organizations when it comes to employee engagement, and went on to detail how BrewDog has handled the scenario.

She said: “We’ve found so many feedback forums where people are saying they’re really conscious of how well brands have performed through the pandemic, and that they’re actually making buy-in choices based on how the company performed from a social perspective.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback saying that, because of how we’ve responded and how well we treated people in the process, people would now come and drink at BrewDog. We were very careful of what we did.

“If we don’t do the right thing by our teams, our teams are not going to be in a good place and they’re not going to want to work for us – and that will show with the customers.”

But why is this the case? On face-value, it seems obvious, but the reality is that something has changed over the years. There is a greater emphasis placed on these values now that simply didn’t exist before.

One common belief is that the notion of ‘careerism’ has now all but died completely. In a sense, the concept of work has been turned on its head.

“People no longer think ‘I’m just going to go and work for a company to get cash and to get a job’. People now really think about company’s persona,” said Bates.

“They are much more likely to think, ‘I’m not going to go work at that company because I don’t like their ethics and their values’.”

The conscious organization – where to begin?

When posed this question, Bates responded firmly and assertively. “It has to come from the leaders of the business,” she said. “It cannot be HR-lead at all.”

It’s crucial, however, to add some extra context to this. HR leaders can of course have a great influence on culture, and can play an instrumental role in keeping it alive and thriving.

Bates, however, points out that culture is such a major, core aspect of an organization, and therefore HR cannot prop it up single-handedly.

She said: “HR don’t own the culture in the business. We’re there to facilitate and identify where issues are, and help to fix them. And and that’s where I think some businesses go wrong. Everything should happen organically.

“I very rarely send any comms out saying ‘this is what we’re doing next.’ It has to be a business initiative rather than a HR initiative. And we find we get a lot more buy-in from that perspective.”

For many organizations, this mentality has been crucial in navigating through the disruption of 2020, and BrewDog are perhaps the best example of this. “We’ve seen the levels of production increase dramatically as our teams become more engaged lately,” said Bates.

“We’re literally breaking every record at the moment on the production line.”

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