The Accountable Brewery (Ownership Bottleneck Series Part 3)

In Part 2 of this series, I made a brief allusion to Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL and all-around badass.

And he has a thing or two to say about accountability, the topic of this portion (Part 3) of the Ownership Bottleneck Series.

accountability jocko image
(Nothing shouts accountability quite like a few hundred daily black-and-white Instagram photos of a 4:30am wakeup on the wrist of a hairy arm.)

In fact, he wrote an entire book about the topic. From Extreme Ownership:

“Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

Sound familiar?

The question is then, who in the brewery is a leader (by Jocko’s definition)?

And who is simply occupying a leadership position, but actually doing something else?

Now, employees can run the gamut in this respect. All the way from the “I’ll really only do it if you explicitly tell me to and otherwise dick around” crowd… to the people pleasers and the permanent complainers… to the trusty go-getters and the rock solid do-ers.

But there is one type of behavior that’s the MOST damaging to accountability within the brewery. And thats…

The “Yes Man”

(And “Yes Man” in the common parlance. Ladies, you’re equally on the hook here.)

It’s a poor performance landmine waiting to explode in your face. Especially so if the “Yes Man” behavior occurs within the leadership team. And according to Jocko (and me), it needs to be rooted out:

“When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard.”

From this perspective, no matter what lip service is given to the task at hand, if it’s not done and there’s no good reason why… that’s on that team member for not delivering, despite their best intentions.

That’s also on you.

Because you need to set and stick to the standard. Like we just covered: there’s no one else to blame.

Some owners already operate on this level. Maybe that’s you.

But now there’s yet another problem.

Do you see it yet?

  • If you take direct ownership of every issue in the brewery – That’s unacceptable. Let me talk to them and we’ll get this resolved.
  • If you always promise a bit more than you can deliver, and are scrambling each week to tackle everything on your plate – Look, it’ll get done, but not this week, it’s been insane.
  • If you give 110% and accept every and all tasks thrown your way – Gotta make it happen right?

Then you yourself might be a “Yes Man.” An issues sponge. A pushover. An accountability killer.

Below we share how to turn the “Yes Man” into an accountability machine. (Or alternatively, put them face-to-face with their behavior and allow them to decide whether they’d like to continue on with the mission.)

Whether that’s someone on your leadership team, or whether that’s you.

We’ll also share how to get each key cornerstone of the brewery (taproom, production, sales) performing accountably, without your direct involvement.

But first, as you know, accountability starts at the top.

Lonely At The Top

Ask any entrepreneur and they will tell you the same thing…

It’s lonely at the top.

Insulated, in a sense, even from your closest employees, friends, and family…

See, us entrepreneurs cast a role. We want to show the world that we are highly-organized, put together, and running a well-oiled machine.

But are we?

Or are we instead human, with our strengths, weaknesses, imperfections, just like everyone else.

We’re afraid to shoot straight, show vulnerability, let on that things aren’t squared away because we feel we need to show strength.

And by extension, everyone around you mirrors this back.

“Why would I ask that? She’s got it handled.”
“Don’t worry about it. They’ve got it under control.”
“Nah, don’t even bring it up. He’s not gonna like that.”

This is where we our accountability becomes unhinged.

Personally, I thrive at “on the job” learning, training, and doing, as most of us do. And this is an okay and necessary strategy… at times. Where it gets slippery is when we believe that we don’t need to be accountable to anyone. We tell ourselves:

“It’s okay, at least we ____.”
“It’s okay, we’ll make it up next month.”
“It’s okay, I’ll figure it out later.”

This is how we turn into our own Yes Man, and wonder why the rest of the business can’t stay accountable.

Here are some thoughts on what to do about it:

  1. Share the load. We need to be more honest in our assessments of what we can handle. You may be able to do everything in short spurts, but quickly it becomes too much. Ask for help. Lean on others. Test their capabilities. If they fail initially, so be it. But both they and you have to learn that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the wheels turning, not just yours.
  2. Share the knowledge. As owners, we harbor so much knowledge, discipline, process, and acumen it’s scary. How do we share these gifts? Teach. Train. Hand over ownership. Yes, it requires some trust. But you have to let others in on what’s in your head from them to fully absorb those responsibilities.
  3. Share your hopes, fears, dreams. Scary, but critical. I maintain two accountability resources at all times. I need it for my sanity. Here’s the funniest part. It took me 2 years (24 meetings) to realize I didn’t have to walk away with the lotto ticket after each meeting, but that the real value was in the support, sounding board, and outside voice.

This is likely a different view on accountability than you might have thought. But it’s the one I believe creates the foundation for success.

It’s lonely at the top, yes. But building a business takes time and you cannot do it alone.

Next, how to shift the tenor in the taproom.

The Accountable Taproom

The taproom is your honey hole.

Your golden goose.

And it requires a high level of attention to make sure the revenue keeps rolling in.

But it’s not just about sales.

It’s also the “fresh stage” for your beers to shine, and a deep well of real-time customer insight that needs to be shared with the rest of the organization.

In other words: it’s worth protecting by making sure it’s in responsible hands.

This means that education and accountability are critical for not only the Taproom Manager, but production and sales as well.

Here are some initial steps:

  • Have your Taproom Manager attend both sales and production meetings. They can give their input, as well as absorb what’s happening across the brewery that may be impacted by their performance.
  • Have your production staff attend taproom meetings. They’ll absorb learning from the front lines. The taproom staff will also build rapport and accountability with the people who make the product.
  • Have your taproom staff attend your sensory panels and ride-alongs with your sales staff. This education process will make it easier for them to have sales-oriented conversations with taproom patrons.
  • Download this Taproom Meeting Sample Agenda and have your Taproom Manager use it. Make sure you’re setting a taproom “goal of the week” and publicize it internally. Create a cadence of accountability: “How did we do last week? What will we do this week? What issues do we need to address?”

It’s the taproom’s job to maintain the culture and the product.

Make sure they have the tools to do that, and that they understand it’s their responsibility to do so.

Then cut them loose with clearly defined check-in points to ensure they’re on target.

Next step: hands-off profit.

The Production Checks and Balances

In case you haven’t heard…

I’m a numbers guy.

numbers guy image

And that means that:

  1. The art of making beer remains a fascinating mystery to me that I can admire as a consumer and observer… but look like a lost puppy on a brewery production floor.
  2. Back in the young Chris days, history wasn’t exactly my thing. That said, it does seem that the founders were on to something with this whole checks and balances deal.

The cool thing about point #2 is that no one person with an insane agenda or a healthy dose of incompetence can blow up the system…

And so what I do know is that the same principles apply in production.

Last week we laid out three key roles: Director of Operations, Head Brewery, QA/QC.

And those roles each have ownership of their respective piece of the production process on a level playing field, each counter-balancing one another so that you can produce a consistent, high-quality, saleable product.

Further, that means any wins or losses are their responsibility.

Bad product shipped? That’s on QC.

Throughput down for the week on key capacity beers? The Brewmaster’s gotta have an answer.

An incorrect sales forecast resulting in late shipment? The Director of Ops is your guy/gal to get it fixed.

Here are some accountability-based suggestions for this “tripod of stability:”

  1. First, if you have a portfolio calendar, stick to it as close as possible. Any variation should be driven by profit… meaning if you develop a standout beer in May and the crowds can’t get enough of it, well… make more! This may mean deviating from the schedule.
  2. Standardize QA/QC. I’ve beaten this one to death. Set up a manual, SOP, something documented as to the procedures so if your main guy is out, someone can take over.
  3. Establish your yeast program. Set a goal to build it to pay for itself. I hear excuses all the time: “We don’t have propagation tanks.” Use one or multiple carboys to achieve this.
  4. Set Last Barrel goals. And then strive to hit those goals (simple enough, right?). Keep an eye on production throughout the year and begin projecting closer from September to year end.

So what’s your job in all of this?

Develop a scorecard for production that includes information you would like reported weekly. This should represent the key objectives of these functions. Items that could be included in this:

  • BBL produced last week
  • SKU Packaged last week
  • Production B v. A
  • Yeast program
  • Hop contracts

And finally, we’ll dive into the biggest accountability challenge of them all…

Herding Cats 101

A.k.a accountability with the outside sales team.

Herding cats. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s easy.

Anybody can herd cattle… Holding together 10,000 half wild short hairs? Now that’s another thing altogether.

Being a cat herder is probably about the toughest thing I think I’ve ever done.

It ain’t an easy job. But when you bring a herd into town and you ain’t lost a one of them? Ain’t a feeling like it in the world.

That right there is some direct testimony from the cat herding cowboys featured in this Super Bowl commercial from about two decades ago.

And it’s the perfect corollary for our final accountability leg:

The Accountable Sales Team.

Now, you might be thinking: “Chris, did you really spend the time to do some deep Google research on cat herding to strengthen this odd yet accurate analogy?”

Answer: Yes. Yes I did.

Because as it turns out, the similarities are pretty uncanny.

  • Outside sales is very much a rogue, independent position. They’re used to setting their own schedule, managing their own book of business, and answering to themselves.
  • Your reps “keep what they kill.” And depending on their commission structure, much like a cat, they may go through feast and famine cycles that leave them feeling either fat and happy, or down and out.
  • You typically have no idea what they’re up to during the day. They show up for meals and poke their head in the house when they feel like it. Other than that, left to their own devices, their daily activities remain a mystery.

So this means that accountability is especially important to pay attention to with this group. Just because you’ve set up a commission structure does not at all mean that you’ll get the results you intended.

It also means that support is a key part of the accountability equation, whether that’s through collaboration, mentorship, or joint goal-setting.

We recommend:

  • Your sales team should meet once per week on Mondays to share wins and losses, information about customers, and strategies to use on accounts. This is not negotiable.
  • Your reps should be selling Monday through Thursday and reserving Friday for admin. Check in and verify your team is following this cadence.
  • Have your Director of Sales work WITH your reps to break down their sales goals into a monthly roadmap. Give them the knowledge and support they need to succeed.

Even cats need a routine and some love.

Accept that your reps will need accountability, and then follow through.

Your distro sales numbers will thank you.

Augment Your Accountability

It’s one thing to preach accountability.

It’s another to embody accountability.

We strive to do both.

First, through the numbers. If you don’t know where you stand, how do you know whether you’re on track? That’s what the Numbers Huddle Process is for. Two months of financials paired with the context of your brewery’s trajectory gives an objective, truth-telling accountability tool we can use to drive improvement, close gaps, and reduce risk.

Second, through Goal Tracking. It’s easy to set goals. Following through? Not so much. In addition to the guidance we provide during our regular Numbers Huddle meetings, we offer the added option of working with you and your leadership team to hold the brewery accountable to the objectives we develop each month. This supplements our core process and ensures you’re hitting the targets we set.

Third, through Full Business System Facilitation. If you’ve made it this far, it’s rarely the product, the access, or the market conditions that drive continued growth. Instead, it’s the people. In particular, a team filled with competent, reliable, accountable, autonomous leaders all pushing towards a common objective. For the breweries highly committed to breakout growth, we can act as your leadership team architect, facilitator, and driving force, integrating success into your organization from the ground up.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can do that here.

And then we’ll wrap the series in Part 4 by bringing it back around to you, the owner.

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