In September while traveling through Seattle, I sat down with my friend Alan over a beer, and our conversation turned to hiring other people’s employees (H.O.P.E.). We sparred about the process and rules associated with respect to help-wanted and H.O.P.E. I offered my most recent experience of having a brewer hired away from our operation and the details of his leaving. Nodding appreciatively and listening intently, he formed a simple rebuttal that went something along the lines of the noise made by sticking your tongue out and blowing air over it.
Essentially his advice was to get over it. Every business should do whatever it takes to hire the best talent, even if it means we actively pursue our next brewer in Chico, Santa Rosa or Paso Robles. For him, we should be vigilant and always in the business of being in it to win it.
I understood his position, but given the number of newly opened breweries or breweries in planning, there is an enormous (almost unhealthy) number of employees leaving their current jobs. It has me wondering, What is the responsibility of the employer to provide for its employee ,and what in return is required of the employee in exchange for this security?
Like many owners, I zealously point out the amount of training and specialized information that is acquired working at our operation. We’re not solely in the business of making widgets here. As a whole, craft brewers operate incredibly diverse facilities, and getting new employees up to speed is not the simplest of tasks. I’m sure I am not alone in this sentiment.
Losing key employees is inevitable no matter what business you’re in. And I’m sure it will always be a part of our industry as well. But there’s a dirty little secret facing those of us running medium- and larger-sized breweries. There’s a real lack of available talent for all of us to grow at the pace that the industry is trending.
As such, there’s a premium being placed on acquiring trained and proven brewery personnel as larger startup operations and rapidly expanding smaller breweries continue to expand at breakneck speeds. Employee retention has become a challenge, to say the least. Perhaps there is a code associated with this acquiring of talent, but if there is one, no one seems to be talking about it.
Recently we lost an employee to another new brewery in town and had a near-miss with another. Nothing shocking there; the number of breweries in San Diego has doubled in the past three years. Seemingly, there are opportunities for brewers young and old to examine their current positions and jump ship if a more interesting opportunity arises.
We’ve lost more than our fair share of brewers over the years. But it wasn’t losing this employee to another brewery that chapped my hide. Rather, it was the manner in which the job was solely offered to one of our employees without a posting for it being created. In that way, Brewery X went fishing in our pond without asking permission. That’s called poaching. And I promise you it won’t be the last time it happens.
To my knowledge, neither of these jobs was ever posted on Probrewer.com or any number of other sites where postings of this kind would be found. I’m familiar with this style of hiring, because we were guilty of behaving this way one time in our youth as well.
Stone Brewing Co. employs many great people who fulfill a wide range of duties. And many of them have quietly inquired about working for us. We have only hired two employees from this company since opening our doors, and while there has been ample opportunity to hire others, we have ultimately stayed away from doing so. Why? Mostly because Stone found them, hired them and trained them to be exceptional employees, and they deserve to reap what they have sown.
But there are many days when I think about how easy it would be to just point out the personnel we need and whip out my company checkbook to pay for them. Is this doable? Sure thing. Would it be in our best interest to hire some of them? Without fail, because they have been a part of a very successful operation and would immediately add value.
It makes sense. When a smaller brewery hires an employee from a larger, more established facility, it lends instant credibility. But at what cost has to be asked. Should the larger breweries in town need to look over their shoulders each time someone else needs a well-trained brewer?
Perhaps we as larger brewers are expected to have attrition rates and lower returns on our investments? I suppose one could argue that if we were exceptional businesses focused solely on our employees, we would never lose any of them. But that’s a hollow argument at best.
This past summer I read a couple of great books on business management. They each affirmed similar notions. It is paramount for growing companies to be diligent in your hiring practices, and most importantly when scaling a business, it’s often easiest to look to your neighbor for the person you need to assist you in your growth. But that is not always in your best interest.
So what are our policies at Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey as it relates to H.O.P.E? First and foremost, our policy is that all job openings must be posted. This way, there cannot be a whisper or notion of poaching. Have we always had this policy? No, and when we hired that employee from another brewery, it was made abundantly clear to me that professional courtesy dictated minimally a posting as a way of announcing our needs.
Beyond creating a posting and not specifically targeting one single individual, we also have developed a policy that states we will not have more than two employees on our payroll who previously worked at the same brewery. Is two an arbitrary number? Perhaps it is, unless you happen to own the brewery where those two brewers came from. Currently we have two brewers on staff who interviewed with us while being employed at North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg.
When we post our next job opening, I can assure you we will not entertain a brewer from this facility, as we don’t believe it should be a proving ground for our entire staff. What does this rule accomplish? Two things mostly. Chiefly it reassures the owner of that brewery that the next time we post for an opening, they won’t be losing another brewer. Secondly, it keeps us from having too many employees on site from a particular region or operation.
These two rules are realistically the only two guiding us right now in terms of our growth. Have we ever published this information? No, but it is something we use to frame our decisions. I’m certain we’re not alone in having standards for hiring and talent acquisition, but understanding what basis everyone is using might clear up some of the confusion.
Beyond these two principal rules, we don’t have a whole bunch of other rules when it comes to H.O.P.E. Like many breweries, we have needs as well. If we announce our needs and have a process for not shopping for new brewers in one proven place, then the rest should take care of itself. If a currently employed brewer makes it through our open interview process and is the best fit for our position, we will hire that person provided he or she gives the current employer enough notice before leaving.
None of this is unique to our industry. However, not many industries have thrived as long as ours on a deeply rooted spirit of collaborative courtesy. I believe there should be rules. Simple ones that are truly in line with collaborative courtesy and not slash-and-burn, do-what-you-have-to-do methodologies.
Tomme Arthur is director of brewing operations at The Lost Abbey Brewing Co. in San Marcos, CA.