Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Crafting Better Leaders for Organizational Success

Karl Strauss Brewing Company, a pioneer in the craft brewing industry, was enjoying rapid growth and promoted several team members into leadership roles. To support the leaders in their new positions, they wanted to ensure everyone had the right leadership skills to be successful. “Our challenge was to provide training to team members working different shifts across multiple locations in Southern California,” explained Kristin Brookins Costello, chief administrative officer. The solution came from two programs created by The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Initially, Karl Strauss piloted and rolled out the Blanchard Online Learning for Managers program, which features a self-paced elearning curriculum that can be accessed at the learner’s convenience. Then Kristin and Ashley Vevoda, learning and development manager, attended a workshop for First-time Manager, a new Blanchard program designed specifically for new managers. “We knew right away that we needed to add this program at the beginning of our curriculum to provide basic communication skills—a foundation that would make the online learning program even more valuable to the learner,” said Ashley.

Although the content of the First-time Manager program was exactly what they were looking for, the Karl Strauss team changed the title to The Emerging Leader to better fit their internal needs. “We wanted the new managers to have exposure right away to critical leadership skills such as learning how to have effective conversations with team members and how to handle conflict,” Ashley continued. She and Kristin also realized new managers might struggle with building trust and rapport with their new teams unless they learned how to conduct the four conversations taught in the program: goal setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up.

Managers learn and practice how to partner with direct reports to set goals, praise progress along the way, redirect efforts if things aren’t progressing as planned, and celebrate success with a conversation that brings an honorable close to a project. The program also teaches managers how to improve the effectiveness of these conversations using a simple model for improving listening skills, asking questions to gain clarity, confirming understanding, and expressing confidence in the direct report’s ability. Comments from class participants support the importance of the program.

“I now have a better understanding of the importance of conversation skills: the value of praise and wrapping up, not just redirecting. I am much more aware of what I am communicating and how it is being interpreted.”

“Had I participated in this program two years ago, I might have been able to avoid some of the tough situations I encountered as a new manager.”

“I would definitely recommend this program to new managers. The communication skills I learned would have saved me a lot of stress over the past year.”

The next phase of training focuses on Blanchard Online Learning, in which participants deepen their skills by learning the fundamentals of Situational Leadership® II. During this training, learners go through online lessons at their own pace, then get together face-to-face on a monthly basis to discuss the learning, share success stories, and talk about how to apply the learning to their work environment.

Leaders learn how to diagnose a direct report’s development level on specific tasks to know the right amount of direction and support to provide each person. “This is where we see the light bulb go on,” Kristin explained. “Managers admitted that when they had an ‘A’ performer on their team, they assumed that person would be an ‘A’ player at all tasks. It was enlightening for them to learn that performance varies by task and that it is the job of the leader to help their staff succeed at all tasks, regardless of experience. They began to understand that it would be frustrating for a direct report to receive too much direction on a task where they were already competent, and just as frustrating for the person to not be offered any support on a task they were just learning.” Leaders and direct reports use regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings to agree on the amount of direction and support needed for each task.

Another module focuses on temperament, helping leaders understand how different personalities can affect working relationships. Participants gain a better understanding of the people they work with and how to improve communication and build stronger relationships.

A Look at Results

The quest at Karl Strauss was to improve all aspects of their business, not just to increase revenue. Crafting a work-life balance and giving team members additional skills was a critical aspect of the improvement plan. Early results include increased communication between teams and departments, more effective understanding between peers, and improved awareness of how the role of the manager adds to overall corporate success.

“Now that training is running smoothly, we have plans to measure results this year,” explained Kristin. “We know this training will have a positive impact on turnover rates, promotions, and employee engagement scores.”

Suggestions from the Field

Kristin and Ashley have some advice for companies starting this kind of an initiative. First, pilot the sessions and listen to learners’ feedback. “The pilots helped us put together a program designed specifically for our needs. We took the time to survey learners and we took their comments seriously. We asked what worked, what didn’t, and what we should change. And we were detailed with the questions. We wanted to know what learners thought about role plays, exercises, video, and technology.”

They also suggest bringing managers from different departments and divisions together in the training courses. This helps all managers develop a deeper understanding of other aspects of the company. And it builds camaraderie across departments and operating units. “We see friendships form between people who might never have met each other outside the training,” says Ashley. “It creates a real bond—a network and community for each other. They trust each other at a deeper level.”

There was one surprise along the way. “We wanted to train people to support our growth, but it was exciting to see how much our people wanted to be trained. Their appetite for training was huge. They were so enthusiastic about learning new skills. So this training met both organizational and personal needs. We are giving our staff tools to help them be better managers—and better people.”

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