People and Culture Make the Difference

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Adnams Chief Executive Andy Wood

The emergence of multiple new entrants, micro’s, within the UK brewing sector over the last decade has changed the market beyond all recognition. What was a relatively steady state environment dominated by a few companies has become considerably more exciting and indeed more challenging. With more producers chasing lower total volumes (contrary to popular belief per capita consumption of alcohol in the UK is falling) with customers switching from drinking in pubs to drinking at home, with pubs closing at an alarming rate and with many customers becoming mindful of the potential harm caused by alcohol misuse there is a veritable ‘perfect storm’ circling the industry. The market response has been very interesting to say the least. It has become more vibrant, more dynamic and more innovative. This is driven in no small part by low barriers to entry and a localism movement in beer that is consistent with the wider localism agenda in food. We have seen a growing number of customers become increasingly concerned about the quality and integrity of what they consume and ‘local’ is often seen as a proxy for good.

Adnams is an established business with a heritage reaching back to 1872. It is too big to be deemed a micro-brewer and too small to benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed by global giants. The market in which it operates is exhibiting twin-trends; firstly, one that sees consolidation and change amongst the giants in the upper echelons of the sector and second, the rapid local fragmentation discussed earlier. These phenomena leave Adnams, a mid-sized business, in a seemingly squeezed middle. The creation of an enduring competitive advantage from this position is the challenge that the business faces on a daily basis.

So – how does a business that finds itself in this place respond?

Clearly brand strength and the strength of the Adnams story are big advantages although my focus today is on our underlying organisational culture. A culture that over time; has made us more innovative, more confident, more able to spot opportunity and more able to respond quickly. It is based upon recognising human potential and on the premise that individuals when treated well deliver better results for themselves and better results for the business. As is the case with many organisations we regularly take the temperature as to how our people are feeling. In our last staff opinion survey we received an 88% response rate with some 93% of respondents saying they are either proud or very proud to work for Adnams. The leadership shown by the senior team in developing and maintaining this progressive culture should not be underestimated. Within the survey the most Senior Managers are mentioned by name and rated anonymously by all respondents on their adherence to our values, on their encouragement of new ideas, on their approachability and on their listening skills. The results are then published to all staff and made public on our website.

The leadership model is founded upon leaders always behaving in a manner consistent with the stated values. This is more than just treating people well it is being seen to uphold the values and to take action if people undermine those values with their behaviour. The whole values based structure is devalued if leaders are inconsistent in dealing with poor behaviour or choose to sweep issues under the carpet for fear of holding a difficult conversation about behaviour. More positively, another aspect of the leadership model surrounds understanding that people come into work to do a good job and can therefore be trusted. The leadership team are encouraged to trust and ‘catch people doing things right’ and reward them for it. After all, we all enjoy a pat on the back! This is easily said but requires the management of any business to overcome what seems to be a primordial organisational instinct to find fault, catch people doing things wrong and then ‘tick them off’. The results are often crushed self esteem, underperformance and reduced confidence in the individual. Surely, it’s far better to catch good behaviour and praise it? In our experience good behaviour that has been recognised is replicated time and time again and the individual and organisation benefit and both grow in confidence.

The richness of this approach is most pronounced in people development. Our Operations Director joined the company as an Office Cleaner in 1988. Through her own drive, tenacity and intelligence and the meritocratic approach that underpins the value set, she was able to progress through the organisation. Today, she is responsible for the day to day performance of the large parts of the company, is responsible for staff numbering into the hundreds and budgets running into millions. She was recognised in 2009 as the East of England businesswoman of the year and has in 2013 been shortlisted as a national finalist in the First Woman awards hosted by the CBI and Real Business.
Making Adnams a compelling place to work for our people leads to great ideas, great service for our customers and people who consistently demonstrate their willingness to go that extra mile. That’s got to be great news for the company long into the future.

Andy Wood
May 2013

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