Building belonging at Bacardi: How to create a better, more connected workplace

by Amy Kirkham

Bacardi Limited is the largest, privately held premium spirits company in the world. You will have heard of some of its iconic brands: Bacardí, Bombay Sapphire, Martini, Grey Goos, Patrón.

But Bacardi is more than just another spirits company. As John McCusker, global vice president of talent management, says, Bacardi is about creating a more connected and joyful world for the people and places around us. To do that, Bacardi must create connection for its consumers and people.

This is Bacardi’s reason for being: to ‘make moments matter’ and unlock transformational growth and the power of its people to achieve long-term success.

“The business is a team sport, and we need to be able to tap into the collective creativity, innovation and contribution of all our primos [Bacardi’s way of describing their employees is “primo” – the Spanish translation of the word cousin – which reflects how the family owners view those who are working in the company] to both meet and anticipate current and future consumer needs,” says John.

“And if we want every Primo to be a part of that story, we want them to feel appreciated for who they are, what they do and who they can become. Only then can they generate the strong sense of belonging that is fundamental to engagement and success.”

Here’s how Bacardi has started building a better, more connected workplace – with belonging, authenticity and trust as its key ingredients.

 

Building belonging from the inside out

 

Authenticity

Building belonging at Bacardi is a complex recipe that relies on the right balance of different principles to work together.

“Authenticity has different definitions, but one of them revolves around being true to oneself,” says John.

“Our company will be much stronger if we can create an environment where all our primos can be their true selves at work. And our creativity and innovation will be stronger if each person can unleash their potential without putting a mask on.”

One of the key ways to drive this at Bacardi is to lead by example. It is vital for leaders to showcase their authentic self at work, to inject humanity into meetings, calls and conversations if they want their people to follow suit.

But while promoting it is good, actioning it can be a challenge in itself.

“When I look at my generation, we were brought up in a leadership model where we were expected to be heroes, to have all the answers, to be the go-to,” says John.

“What this [modern times] has taught us is that we’re better than that; we’re just imperfect  humans and we can and should learn from the next generation that are coming up fast behind us.”

“I think one of our challenges when it comes to authenticity and belonging is how do leaders of today feel comfortable letting their mask down without fear that others will take advantage of them.”

 

 

Purpose

 
The second principle to building belonging at Bacardi is a focus around purpose.

To ensure workplace culture supports purpose as a key ingredient, it must first strike the right balance between corporate and personal purpose.

“If you have an organisation with tremendous corporate purpose but you’ve got people with no idea where they’re going as individuals, then you’re going to miss a huge opportunity for creativity and connection. This is also applicable vice versa. The beauty is in the balance; where people can get a sense of gratitude in the work they do, the people they work with and the organisation they represent and the impact that they and the Company can have on those around them.”

“For us, it’s trying to get the magic between corporate and personal purpose, to really ensure our people are bringing their best selves to work while helping the company move forward in a positive way,” explains John. “The outcomes for the business and their Primos then will be enormous”.

But it can be a difficult task. Asking people to embark on a journey that may lead them to question if their life has been purposeful or not is naturally something many may want to avoid. Also switching up the way people measure or approach purpose can be a sensitive business.

As a result, Bacardi are organising workshops that are designed to draw out reflection and impact on an individual level.

“Our role is not to hold people back from their dreams, it’s to let them realise what they are. And hopefully they can see them here,” says John.

“We may lose some people because they will follow their dreams which for them may be outside Bacardi.  However, we would not want them lose the sense of connection with Bacardi as they grow in their careers.”

 

Consistent values

 

The last principle to make up belonging at Bacardi is consistent values.

Following a few years of leadership changes, we started some cultural work in 2017 – with the internal promotion of the new CEO, Mahesh Madhavan – to reignite the culture pillars that helped build this company,” explains John.

“It was very much a movement of all our people, our leadership, our Board and our key stakeholders talking about what we stand for as a company.”

As such, Bacardi rediscovered three culture pillars rooted in their Values called the 3 Fs: Fearless, Family and Founders. Together, they unlock elements such as showing courage and vulnerability, showing care and radical candour and acting with the responsibility of being an entrepreneur.

And there is also a more subtle ingredient that makes up Bacardi: fun.

“We are in a human and gregarious and social business, so there is that sense of fun in our industry.”

 

 

 Flipping the hierarchy: Consumers come first

 

“Consumer habits are changing in a rapid way, embracing the digital world in its many facets which puts the pressure on organisations to keep up”, starts John as we discuss the power of the consumer in the drinks industry.

It is incumbent on companies to get faster to match the needs of the consumer, and it is a requirement across all business verticals including the drinks industry.

“Consumers’ ability to access peer-to-peer insights on the quality of brands, the integrity of brands, the manufacturing capability and the company behind the brand is so much greater now than it has ever been.”

This includes the sustainability and performance of the company behind the label. And the competition only becomes more fierce as the options widen for the consumer. Any slight divergence with what a brand stands for, or is associated with, will be spotted immediately and consumers will vote with their conscience.

“Consumers are becoming a whole lot smarter on smelling out those who are greenwashing, trying to pretend that they are the greenest and most sustainable. And they will choose other brands that are coherent and consistent.”

That’s why businesses must shape their approach to consumer-in rather than brand-out, circling back to the idea of the traditional hierarchy being flipped on its head.
 

 
Bacardi is also seeing one specific trend in the market, powered by the consumer which might come as a surprise: the increase of people consuming less.

And while this may appear as a challenge to Bacardi as a drinks business, it’s also something the company is excited to face head on.

“How and where people meet and experience our drinks is changing.  People are looking for more convenience, home delivery and in many markets people are also incorporating more mindful dinking into their celebration moments,” says John.

“The shift to no and low alcohol is creating an opportunity to enter new drinking occasions. For us, that means creating new extensions of our iconic brands, such as lower alcohol Grey Goose Essences or non-alcoholic Martini vermouths so that we can be join different moments of consumption. What’s of most importance to us is to deliver the same quality and great taste that is expected of our brands.”

But change isn’t just on the consumer outside. The way Bacardi is reframing itself on the inside is also a huge focus for the business.

As a family-owned business after seven generations, Family is one of the core pillars the company, and is reflective of the company-wide belief that people at Bacardi are there to support and lift others in their journey. However, there will always be those who don’t fit the mold.

“We are coaching those who hold a more outdated way of management. Those who believe that teams are there to make them look good rather than the sense of servant leadership.  They need to become more inclusive, demonstrate more humility and generate greater trust.”

Bacardi is doubling down on their communication training and working with leaders to help them see the impact they cast on their teams. This work helps to support candour within the business, balancing out the hierarchical structure by driving belonging and support at all levels of the organisation.
 

 

Building a new better

 

Bacardi is continuing to build new ways of collaborating, connecting and celebrating for their people and consumers. But not without a glance back at the past which, over the last two years, has considerably rocked the hospitality industry Bacardi brands exist within.

With bars, restaurants and clubs closed for so much of 2020-21, Bacardi took the opportunity to reimagine the future workplace.

“We were very explicit about our focus on our people’s wellbeing first. We dedicated time and care to offer flexible working arrangements and provided training for our Primos, and their families, on dealing with this new reality.

This opportunity offered Bacardi a chance to rebuild a workplace grounded in trust and accountability. And it is something that continues to exist at the core of Bacardi’s culture.

“We will continue to focus on belonging and leverage our culture and leadership momentum to ignite greater innovation, creativity and performance,” says John.

With the consumer in the driving seat, Bacardi is fast-tracking their work to anticipate consumer trends while transforming the mindsets and behaviours of its people to live, lead and thrive in today’s new future of work.

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