Open-book Management at New Belgium Brewery
Most Americans define "working" as getting paid to make money for somebody else. As parts of a centralized organization, many employees are directed by a manager who in turn reports to another upper level boss, which eventually leads up to the top with the CEO. Such a rigid hierarchy can make it difficult for lower level employees to have a true understanding of how the business is run, let alone any say in the company's overall direction.
That isn't the case, however, for Colorado-based New Belgium Brewery. The company has been an intimate operation ever since founders Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan poured their first pint in 1991. Inspired by the local breweries he encountered on a family trip to Belgium, Lebesch began brewing in his own basement with a limited clientele of friends and family. As craft beers grew in popularity through the 1990s and 2000s, New Belgium emerged as one of the biggest brands in the industry with its flagship ale Fat Tire finding its way into bars not just in Colorado (or Lebesch's basement), but across the country.
Even as the company has expanded into a nationally-recognized brand, New Belgium remains committed first and foremost to the people directly responsible for its success: its employees. From brewmasters to bartenders, the staff at New Belgium enjoys a level of empowerment that other runners in the rat race could only dream of. First of all, several operational divisions are almost completely decentralized. For example, New Belgium's quality assurance section contains no ranking manager to direct the staff. Instead, employees are trusted to make their own decisions if they find an opportunity to improve a product's quality. With less red tape to wade through, quality assurance is given more time to focus on the task at hand, thus improving productivity significantly.
But implementing such an open system is a risky endeavor. Employees need to be self-motivated and possess a legitimate interest in the overall performance of the company, or else productivity can suffer instead of soar. New Belgium keeps its staff tethered to the business's well being by turning them into shareholders. After an employee has worked at the brewery for a year, he or she is given a small slice of the company to own. As New Belgium profits go up, the value of that employee's share goes up as well.
Since employees are not only staff but also shareholders, New Belgium treats them as such with regular updates on the status and future of the company. Called "open-book management," employees are trained in basic financial practices and business lingo, so that Lebesch and Jordan can deliver board of directors-style meetings with their staff that informs them about the company's performance and upcoming plans. Employees are even given a chance to discuss upper management's decisions and to chime in with their own ideas. Keeping staff apprised of the company's daily dealings motivates employees because it teaches staff the importance of how their specific job fits into the overall fabric of the company. Employees are in turn more aware of their own significance in the grand scheme of the brewery, making them more conscious of the decisions they make on the job every day.
The overall environment of the American workplace is changing rapidly. As employees become more educated and managers more open to staff discussion, management structures like New Belgium's could become much more common.
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