Bass produces seven million barrels of beer a year, making it the second largest brewer in the UK with a 20 per cent share of the market. It owns Carling, the country’s most popular beer brand, and has a history stretching all the way back to 1777.
When Coors bought the business from Belgian brewer Interbrew in February 2002, it consolidated its position as one of the world’s top 10 brewers.
Mergers are never easy, but when they involve two companies as different as a dynamic American brewer from Golden, Colorado, and a proud, traditional brewer from the north of England, the potential for problems was considerable.
Coors decided that to make the merger a success, it needed to engage its 3,000 new UK employees in its values and vision of the company’s future.
Mark Pearson, HR director at Coors in the UK, had worked with events production agency EventWorks on sales conferences before, and so he was keen to involve the agency at an early stage.
“We wanted to put on some events, because they are a highly visible form of communication and would clearly demonstrate that we were making an effort to tackle the key questions about how to drive the business forward,” explains Pearson.
In the early discussions, Jeremy Starling, managing director of EventWorks, laid out his philosophy.
“First, employees need to own the values. It’s more about involvement than engagement,” says Starling. “Second, it is the role of company leaders to define the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of an organisation, but it is the role of those who actually do the work to define the ‘how’. Third, events are the most powerful way of communicating, but most companies just waste time and money on them. Too many events are designed with the ego of the speakers in mind, and so are boring for the attendees.”
The first stage was a pilot designed by the 38 members of the company’s leadership group. Then, through a series of focus groups, the company gained feedback from 60 staff on the proposed process.
The team of 40 facilitators rolled out the eight-month long programme of 80 meetings of four hours each, at locations across the UK.
Each event followed the same format. A board member outlined what the company’s values and vision are, and why they are important. Then employees brainstormed in groups about how to exhibit those values, and presented their thoughts to each other. Employees told senior management what obstacles needed to be removed for them to live those values, and then each individual committed to change something about the way they behave at work.
The events were attended by 95 per cent of the employees. The initiative also won an Award of Excellence from Communicators in Business, and was a finalist in the Marketing Society Awards.
Perhaps the most important indicators of success, however, were those recorded by employee attitude surveys before and after the process. To take just one example, before the events, only 61 per cent of employees knew what the brand’s vision and values were. Afterwards, 92 per cent of them did.
Pearson admits, however, that this is a long-term process.
“People won’t be motivated by us just saying that these are our values – we need to live them over time,” he says. “So, we’ll be doing another cycle of events, and in 18 months we should really be able to see the impact this has had on the business.”
The company is so confident that it will be successful, that it intends to use a similar process with its latest acquisition, Canadian brewer Molson.
Learning points for HR
Pearson offers three pieces of advice. “It’s important to get a good mix of specialist support and in-house facilitation so that your learning comes in-house.
“Getting board-level involvement is also essential. We spent six months preparing properly for this, and I think that anyone who skips this will probably fall flat on their face.
“Finally, don’t make it too corporate and bland. Each of our sessions had a clear structure, but also allowed the participants to personalise them and so make them more enjoyable.”
Louise Fenwick joined Coors in 2003 as an account manager. Now a regional account manager, she looks after national accounts that have head offices in Scotland.
After five months with the company she attended a Vision & Values event with a few of her colleagues. There were 40 participants from all parts of the business and they spent the day working on how to live the Coors values.
“I loved it,” she says. “I enjoyed meeting all those new people, and it really made me think about what I could change to live those values. We were quiet in the car on the way back because we were all thinking about it so much.”
She attended a second event in June 2004. It was a two-day workshop in Blackpool on embracing change and overcoming obstacles.
And the events have clearly paid off. At a recent company awards ceremony, Fenwick picked up the award for the highest Carling distribution, and for being named by colleagues as the employee who most fully lives the Coors values.