Culture Lessons From an Off-Centered Craft Brewer

By | June 25, 2014
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Dogfish Head“Who so would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is atlast sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

That quote is prominently featured on the wall at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware. It serves as the long-form mission statement and guiding principal for a well-differentiated company that refuses to conform and continues to innovate.

Because Emerson’s quote can’t fit on the side of a six-pack, it has been distilled down to the company’s short-form slogan, “off-centered ales for off-centered people.”

Dogfish Head’s off-centered, non-traditional culture is one of many reasons it has grown from the smallest commercial brewery in America to the 13th largest craft brewery in the country (based on 2013 beer sales volume). The Dogfish Head culture extends beyond just its workers, taking on a life of its own and attracting beer enthusiasts from around the world that want to taste cutting-edge beers and have a good time doing it.

Even though I don’t work in the beer industry, I’ve learned a lot from Dogfish Head on how to infuse passion into the workplace. Below are a few lessons on company culture applicable to modern marketing agencies.

Lesson #1: Everyone Is a Coworker

Founder and president Sam Calagione is the maverick behind Dogfish Head’s unique approach to brewing and business. In any interview or talk that Calagione gives, you’ll notice he never refers to his employees as employees. He always references them as “coworkers.” This is a conscious decision he makes to recognize that his colleagues do a lot of the heavy lifting on an operational level.

Calagione never sits at the head of the table during management meetings, and his cubicle is the same size as everyone else’s.

Whether you are the big boss, an account manager or an intern, every person plays an important role in the success of your agency. Every coworker should be respected and treated as an equal. That attitude starts at the top and trickles down.

Lesson #2: Practice What You Preach

Calagione does not shut down his office computer at night. In fact, he doesn’t mind when coworkers go to his cubicle and pull up information for him while he’s out of the office. He leaves his email inbox open as a symbolic gesture to promote complete transparency and accessibility at the brewery.

In an interview with Inc. Magazine, he said, You've got to practice what you preach when it comes to openness and accessibility. If people want to check my e-mails, I don't care. I'm not trying to run the CIA here.”

It’s not powerful enough just to say that you have an open and accessible culture, that titles don’t matter at your agency or that you value work-life balance. If you say it, then you have to put it into practice. Whatever principles you decide to build your agency culture on, make sure you live those principles everyday. Walk the walk.

Lesson #3: Create a Workspace that Drives Culture

At Dogfish Head’s Milton brewery, you’ll find a faux-urinating statue, a belt buckle that doubles as a bottle opener, two regulation-sized bocce courts, wood-framed cubicles and a futuristic sculpture on the front lawn that is affectionately called The Steampunk Tree House. Dogfish Head’s work environment is unconventional, but has been thoughtfully designed to keep day-to-day activities light and enjoyable.

Besides providing fun and relaxation, the bocce courts give people the opportunity to meet other coworkers from different departments. The chief operating officer could be throwing a bocce ball and drinking a delicious beer with a forklift driver—and so on.

At PR 20/20, our lounge is the epicenter of our office community. Complete with a flat screen TV, bar and barstools, comfy couches and a Starbucks coffee machine (incredible), the lounge is where our culture comes alive. It is where we gather every morning for our daily huddle, debate the best ‘90s TV shows, enjoy agency potlucks and exchange creative ideas.

Whether you have five coworkers or a hundred, creating a workspace that fits your agency philosophy is key to a healthy culture.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about Dogfish Head and would like to see its awesome culture in action, check out the series, Brew Masters (2010), on Netflix.

What other companies have an awesome, off-centered culture? Does yours? Let us know in the comments.

Image Source: Craige Moore