Posted on May 17, 2016 by Kendra

With a current spotlight being shone on ownership within the craft brewing industry, we wanted to share some of our brewery’s unique Human Resource practices – employee share ownership & profit sharing among them – and the winning corporate culture which have been the hallmark of Steam Whistle Brewing.

Greg and Cam have made it their life’s mission to create a workplace that employees look forward to coming to each day. At the centre of their business philosophy is the belief that “without happiness you cannot have passion, and without passion, you can’t make great beer”. And so, through deliberate leadership, our founders have created a company culture where the staff are known as The Good Beer Folks, a term as much about the quality-obsessed brewery’s Good Beer as it is about the ethos of the Good Folks who work here.

They say a company’s culture is the only enduring competitive advantage, and as a independent craft brewer we’ve been in business for 16 years but still enjoy the same family atmosphere from our early days thanks to very deliberate decisions by our co-founders, Cam Heaps and Greg Taylor. Over our history, the brewery has celebrated these milestones: Cam and Greg were named Entrepreneurs of the Year by Ernst & Young; Deloitte & CIBC selected the brewery for the eighth year as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies; the brewery expanded to all provinces in the country, and we were recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers and one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures. Our unique human resource policies, which include among other things – employee share ownership, profit sharing, staff reward trips, staff beer, and theatre-sport auditions – have been largely responsible for this success.

Our brand is known for its fun-loving youthfulness and inclusive nature, as well as being community-minded and environmentally conscious, so our management has been careful to recruit employees who possess these same characteristics.“We’ve worked diligently to create an atmosphere that attracts people who are Good Beer Folks – people who want to work hard, are concerned about quality, and are also good people,” explains Greg. ”When people visit our brewery, they are expecting to see people enjoying their work and to feel welcomed, because after all we are a social product. Our tour guides and event staff are put through a theatre-style audition first thing to help us choose friendly, outgoing and entertaining staff, and then we follow up with more conventional interviews for final selection.”

Hiring Practices
We’ve relied heavily on employee referrals and promoting-from-within as our company has grown from 16 staff when it opened in 2000, to one-hundred and seventy-four employees on last week’s payroll. In 2004, Cam participated in the entrepreneurial program with Quantum Shift.“One thing I took away from this course – it’s always better to hire based on attitude rather than skills, since you can teach skills but it might be challenging to change someone’s basic mind-set towards work, cooperation, morality, etc. By promoting from within, we know people conduct themselves as Good Beer Folks and have been indoctrinated in our culture. And by seeking referrals from existing staff, we’ll attract like-minded individuals who will fit into our workplace culture.”

Leadership Style
Once great employees have been recruited, we do our best to keep them happy. “The biggest success factor we have is an atmosphere that rewards creativity and initiative, so we have to always be open-minded to staff ideas, to include them in decisions and to readily communicate with them on all aspects of our business,” shares Greg, whose management style is what Harvard Business School coins management by walking around. And this strategy seems to be working, as we see our  brewery rewarded with hardworking and very loyal staff members. “We have quite a number of people who have been working for us for 5 years now, and many employees how have reached 10 years of service, so we’ve introduced two great programs: an all-expense educational staff trip for 5-year staff through beer festivals and breweries in Europe, and an individual 6-week paid sabbatical after 10 years. The staff are really excited!” beams Cam, who is himself a great traveller.

Remuneration & Benefits
While we don’t necessarily pay the top salaries within the industry, we have aligned HR benefits to support the culture and retain great staff. In 2005, we introduced Employee Profit Sharing, which sees all employees, whether part-time production workers or senior managers, who have worked for one year or more, share in 5% of Pre-Tax Profits. Profit Sharing helps get all employees working towards the same goals, with financial results and marketing strategies unveiled at bi-annual staff meetings. Employees are also given the chance to become shareholders with 75+ staff having bought in, now outnumbering than the original private investors who bought in at the brewery’s launch. As well as conventional health benefits and paid education courses, we  also offers weekly staff beer, a party at year-end, a summer BBQ, staff ski weekend, a half day off on your birthday, company sports teams, and Trivia & Karaoke nights among its fringe benefits.

Community Involvement
“We do have a lot of fun in our workplace, but we also encourage our staff to do good,” says Greg, who for more than 6 years recruited Steam Whistle volunteers (on paid company time and in brewery vehicles) to deliver Meals on Wheels every two weeks to downtown shut-ins.“My first employer out of university had me deliver Meals on Wheels and I remember how impactful that was for me: to see how others live, to be able to offer help and to be reminded of how fortunate my circumstances were. I think it’s easy for companies to write cheques, but more difficult to engage staff in volunteering their time.”

Since 2006, our Brewery has donated Beer to the Troops, shipping Steam Whistle Pilsner to forces in Afghanistan or on bases here at home. This began when two staff, whose parents worked in the military, offered to donate their staff beer to soldiers for Christmas. They encouraged their coworkers to do the same and then Cam and Greg matched staff beer with a company donation. A new tradition was born with annual Holiday and Canada Day shipments. We supports literally hundreds of charitable, cultural and community events annually, through financial and in-kind donations. Particularly heart-warming for our staff was to work the annual 200km Ride to Conquer Cancer in both Alberta and Ontario, handing out more than 20,000 donated servings of beer to thirsty participants. “The thank-you letters we receive from our donations are posted on the staff bulletin board to reinforce the reasons we get involved,” says Cam.

Sustainability
We also encourage staff to participate in our brewery’s environmental stewardship. In 2007, we formed an Environmental Committee asking for volunteers from each department. The group quickly grew to 12 staff with all functional areas represented, and has been responsible for introducing a number of water and energy-saving and waste diversion programs which helped the brewery win an Environmental Award of Excellence at the Green Toronto Awards, to be honoured by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in their inaugural Minister’s Award for Environmental Excellence and to be named as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers.

In a recent Human Resource survey of successful companies, we were asked How do you measure whether your corporate culture is working? “This is something that we don’t formally measure, but gauge through such feedback as unprompted emails from customers saying “your staff were friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and obviously enjoy their job”, Greg says with pride. Another great indicator is participation in the annual holiday talent show which has replaced a hired band or DJ at the company Christmas party. Staff get up on stage to share their particular talents with their co-workers. “We’ve enjoyed everything from traditional Greek dancing, a Steam Whistle rap song, staff movies and even a choreographed dance troupe performance. When our employees are willing to share something personal and put themselves on the spot for our company’s entertainment, we know we are doing something right,” says Cam.