Samantha Woolven June 15 2021

Dear BrewDog and other leaders

Samantha Woolven writes some advice for the leadership team at BrewDog following an open letter from their employees detailing a 'culture of fear' at the brewer.

How many of us have seen job descriptions that include words like 'fast-paced' and 'challenging' as positive attributes to the job? 

As we've just seen in the recent open letter from previous BrewDog employees, fast-paced can often mean unmanageable, and challenging can simply mean damaging. What do these words mean for you, your business and your leadership? And what can the BrewDog leaders do now to make a real difference, and to ensure this doesn't happen again?

Some of their previous employees have been quoted as saying, “you've been a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet and real life.” How many of us have been dismissed in our ideas,  approaches or suggestions for the new with the reason being “things are just the way they are”? 

Just like many of the BrewDog employees starting their jobs, so many of us have bought into the mission and vision of the company we're joining, only to discover that's what's said on the tin is not what they can find inside. After such a damning and visible report, what can leaders do now to reset, reassess, and take charge of what's going on for them?

What we've seen in the days after is that the HR team at BrewDog have now asked current employees to sign a counter letter written by HR. It's clear to see that there is a difference between these two letters. The difference in tone, a difference in choice of language, a difference in absolutes, and how many sweeping statements are used. Unfortunately for the company, this business led request has not landed well, and may well compound the experiences shared in the original letter. This is not helped by the fact that this is written by the business for the business; rather than by the people for the people.

So, James and Martin. This is an opportunity for you to sit down and listen. With the average life cycle of a business being diminished from 61 years to 18 years since the 1960's, BrewDog are now well into business adulthood; you are a mature business and expected to operate as such. So what can you do now? Well, if we - as we like to do - believe they had the best of intentions, what can you do when your ambition outstrips the realities of what people really can do?

What can you do now to rebuild trust and create a place where people are proud, enthusiastic, and sustainably able to help drive your vision forwards?

One - pause. 

Yes, respond immediately and say you've heard. Make an apology for how people are feeling and ask if you can take some time to think about how you will respond properly in full with actual consideration and listening to listen.

Two - listen. 

Really listen. As Google found out in 2012 Project Aristotle, it is the listening, and the empathy, and the psychological safety that makes teams effective. So, really listen; talk to your employees, talk to your past employees if you wish - talk to them and listen and be open to all, and every one of the answers they have. Look at patterns. Look at what you see coming out ostentatiously. Listen and create a parity of airtime, so every voice matters.

Three - ask for help. 

As Brenè Brown's team found in recent studies with leadership, the one thing that encourages managers to trust their employees the most is when they ask for help. Trust is a two way street. If you can, ask your employees for help. Now, when you're at a low point, when you have been exposed and your vulnerabilities show, ask for help. 

Four - adapt and learn. 

This is not a one time fix - this is an ongoing cultural change, and you have the power to make a change and create the company you say you are. If you want to be one of the best employers in the world, be that, Continually and regularly refresh, reflect and review what you are doing, and commit to making change happen. One behaviour at a time. 

 Transforming Culture eBook

Subscribe to insights from our blog here:

Would you like to know more?

How would you like to start a conversation?