Personnel Today’s monthly series reveals how managers tackle business problems and enhance performance. In this issue, Lesley Allman, internal communications manager at Bass Brewers, offers a refreshing, new view of employee communications
Bass Brewers, part of Bass plc, is the second largest brewing organisation in the UK. It produces over 9m barrels of beer a year and enjoys a 25 per cent share of the UK beer market.
Much of this success stems from a brand portfolio that includes Carling, the leading beer in England and Wales, Caffrey's, Hooch, Grolsch, Tennent's and Worthington. The company is also the country's biggest beer exporter and is well known in the USA for its Bass Ale.
Up until the late 1980s, Bass, like the rest of the brewing trade, operated in much the same way as it had since it began brewing in Burton-upon-Trent in 1777. Its breweries supplied 11,000 tied public houses, providing a ready-made outlet for production.
All that changed in 1989 when the Monopolies and Merger Commission restricted the number of tied houses that the major brewers could own. Almost overnight, the market switched from supply- to demand-led as formerly tied pubs were acquired by new chains such as JD Wetherspoons, and the brewers found themselves competing against one another to supply these independent outlets.
Bass turned to new product development and marketing to protect its share and gain more sales from what remains a static UK beer market. This meant better pricing, higher levels of service and stronger brand identities. It also brought radical cost restructuring and outsourcing of activities like distribution.
Staff numbers, meanwhile, were reduced from 12,000 towards the current 4,000; the old, multi-layered Bass organisation slimmed itself down to five layers from CEO to shopfloor. National support services replaced regional duplication and home-based working became commonplace.
At this time, internal communications still relied on monthly team meetings comprising a core brief plus regional information. These were essentially one-way, irrelevant and often way behind the company grapevine. In short, this medium was neither efficient nor effective.
With so much change going on, there was a crying need for fast and accurate internal communications.
Technology vs tradition
Despite the shortcomings of team briefing, the overwhelming majority of our people reaffirmed to us that face-to-fac