In the fifth act, you’ll be served a BrewDog’s dinner
In English classes at school, pretending I was reading Shakespeare and wondering who decided the National Curriculum, there was one Shakespearean principle that resonated with me. I had already recognised it everywhere; appearance versus reality.
I grew up with tales of the pretty and good Cinderella and the bad and ugly sisters, to be told later that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ and now we live in a time where Instagram rules.
How things appear is usually not how they really are. At the very least, we have to acknowledge that viewing life via the one dimension of appearances, will give you a blind spot that's practically panoramic!
As a leader or manager you need eyes in the back of your head, you cannot afford not to see and to try to understand the realities of your workplace and the experiences of the people within them.
The recent BrewDog controversy has brought my attention back to the principles of appearance versus reality and to Shakespeare. In his plays, all is revealed in the fifth act. When truth prevails and good wins the day. In the fifth act - justice....apparently.....
Recently we have seen American star, Ellen Degeneres, facing the reality of having led a toxic working environment – but also, that championing good causes and creating an ethical brand means that you must be able to practice what you preach.
BrewDog staff have described a culture of ‘lies, hypocrisy and deceit’ and these are just some indicators of a toxic culture that will have staff desperate for the fifth act before you can say 'Othello'. I know how quickly this can happen.
I once worked at a company that had about 20 staff. I became the first of 12 people to leave within a twelve month period. We had all been horribly bullied, the company then horribly folded and that was the end of them. Excuse my schadenfreude.
Last year, before the recent controversy, James Watt, CEO & Co-Founder of BrewDog, gave us ‘My 10 Biggest Mistakes As BrewDog's CEO’ , point 4 of which said this; -
A few years back, I very mistakenly believed the only way to take BrewDog to the next level was to hire an experienced and expensive senior management team. I assembled an all-star cast with impressive resumes and hearty paychecks, but within 12 months we had parted company with of all 7 of them. Despite being fantastic people and leaders, they just did not integrate into our BrewDog culture. Furthermore, installing a whole new senior management team in one foul swoop was always destined to fail. It was an expensive lesson.
Fast forward to this year, an open letter from what was 60 employees (and is now more like 250 employees), said this: -
By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams. In the wake of your success, people are left burnt out, afraid and miserable.
The impact on purchase intent for BrewDog products seems currently unaffected by the controversy. However, the overall brand health of Brewdog has plummeted significantly.
The short term impact appears to be minimal, but the reality in the long term of this type of culture means significant negative impacts on: -
brand reputation/public relations
corporate contract levers
bid and tender outcomes
recruiting and retaining genuine talent
To name a mere few.
I note that from reading James’s fourth mistake, we cannot gain insights into how 100% of their recruitments for their executive team were made in error. Or what the culture actually was and why these ‘all-stars’ could not integrate into it. He doesn’t tell us why appointing an entire leadership team afresh is not a good idea (which it really isn’t) or how he got around this when they all needed to be replaced.
However, I get the answers I need from the staff's open letter; from a cohort of staff that are clearly brave, genuinely ethical, organised and intelligent. Are these the types of staff you want to be leaving your organisation en masse?
It be not the science of rockets!
So is this just about being nice to people? No, although kindness and consideration in the workplace are a critical part of creating a healthy culture, obviously.
For leaders and managers it’s about responsibility, accountability and an understanding of how to discern the appearances from the realities regarding your organisation, your staff, your team, your stakeholders and yourself. Then you must act upon those realities for improvement.
Every savvy company these days is talking about sustainability - of their product, their supplies, their environmental impact credentials, but there can never be enough discussion about creating and sustaining a healthy and high performing workplace culture. Particularly when we know it really is the most important element in sustaining your success.