We talk to Rachel Coleman about the work she is doing in relation to people at Hofmeister and how she is working with the Hofmeister Board to help the team to better understand and articulate the culture the business has already successfully developed.

It has often been said that a company is only as good as the people it has working for it. That may well be true but it goes hand in hand with creating a working environment and culture that people enjoy and want to be a part of. To achieve this, it’s critical to have great leaders and well thought out people strategies and initiatives.

Companies that genuinely have a happy, creative and collaborative working environment are worth their weight in gold. The world has moved on from the times when people were just happy to have a job and would keep their heads down however bad the work culture was around them.

Which is why it speaks volumes about the approach and leadership style of the senior Hofmeister team, led by founders Richard Longhurst and Spencer Chambers, that even in its early days of growth it has recognised the need to capture and maintain the unique Hofmeister working culture as the number of people working for the company grows.

From only a handful of staff in 2019, there are now just over 20 in the Hofmeister team, many of whom work remotely in sales roles as the business expands its national distribution.

Working culture
It’s this growth that prompted Spencer and Richard to invite highly experienced People Director, Rachel Coleman to work with the Hofmeister Board.

Coleman has had the opportunity to see and help manage the working practices and cultures in a wide range of businesses. From the complex world of major Pharmaceutical and FMCG brand business, GSK, where she held a variety of roles, to the Civil Service as HR Director of the Cabinet Office. Later she headed back to Financial Services (she started her career at Barclays) as Head of HR for the Clearing House Division of the London Stock Exchange Group.

Her connection with Hofmeister actually came through her partner who had invested in the company as part of last year’s crowdfunding campaign. “That’s how I got to meet Richard and Spencer and I pitched the idea of working with them,” she adds.

She is now in a position of being able to manage her own working culture having set up her own consultancy business as part of which she is now working in a very different world, helping to steer a startup premium beer business.

Coleman thinks having had such a varied corporate life gives her the skills and experience to quickly capture what a company’s staff culture is and what needs to be done to help it grow, innovate, improve or keep on track.

“Having the best people possible is critical in a small business like Hofmeister. If you are going to hire the right people into your business you need to have defined the company culture and values and know what the strategic and commercial goals are. Only then can you really understand whether an individual is going to be able to help you drive the business forward and fit with the culture. You then need to focus on retaining people by considering a variety of factors (for example learning and development, reward and the further development of culture and values) that form the overall employee experience ,” she explains.

“I hope I can share best practice from the corporate world and then adapt it and make it appropriate to the specific and important needs of a smaller business.”

Three key goals
She sees herself as having three initial objectives: to help the senior Hofmeister team bring the right people into the business to help with its next stage of growth; to design and implement  systems and procedures to better enable the business (for example designing a performance system that aims to enable the performance of all employees); and then to help articulate a company culture that already absolutely exists in the business, but which has not been formally defined or captured. 

“This is a great opportunity to introduce more agile and flexible practices from the corporate world - not driven by process and paperwork, but much more about the Hofmeister culture of coaching, support and personal development.”

Defining culture to drive growth
Her role is to make sure, as the company grows, that the culture clearly “resonates” with everyone already in the business, but also when people join the company.

“We need to make sure every single member of the Hofmeister team is living the culture every day and that it is embedded in all their processes.”

But how do you assess what sort of culture a company has? “One quite informal way is to talk to people across the business so that you can see everyone in the round and get that personal feeling of what it is like to work there and how people interact with each other.

Coleman was able to fast track that process somewhat when she was part of the company team trip to Bavaria in the summer to visit the Schweiger Brewery that makes the Hofmeister brands. There she could see firsthand how the team worked, played and enjoyed each other’s company.

What’s clear, she says, is that there are strong elements of the company’s culture that are also closely aligned to the values of the Hofmeister brand which is vital.

Fabulous culture
She says where Hofmeister has a great advantage is that there is already a culture alive and kicking in the business. “It has unconsciously developed, it’s very warm, generous and comes from people who are passionate and invested in what they are doing and have a real sense of their values and what is important to them.

“That generosity and warmth is very powerful. It’s also authentic and not opportunistic. It means everyone is invested in the company. The challenge is how that evolves and to make sure it does not get stifled but develops and is articulated better and comes across in every single interaction the team has with their customers in order to support the sales strategy and growth plan.”

New structure to retain and motivate
To support resilience, retain and continuously motivate the talented people who work here will need consideration – particularly with the current challenging environments. The senior Hofmeister team will need to make sure that there is consideration of career progression and development and that at each stage of an employee’s journey with the company they continue to feel valued, supported and challenged.

Hofmeister has already introduced more structure to the recruitment process, considering how it conducts interviews to assess both performance and culture and to enhance the experience of candidates through that process. In addition to recruiting high performing individuals, there is now a focus on induction and training, and getting feedback and support so every employee feels valued and equipped to deliver exceptional performance“That is what we call the Employee Value Proposition (EVP), or the lived experience of working in the company. The employee experience is absolutely critical,” she explains.

“For Hofmeister this means developing the people related policies, systems and processes that are already in place and introducing steps that are not.”

“It is something that has to be worked on.  Everybody has their unique role to play when you have such a small team. That’s why everyone has to be aligned to the goals and strategy of the company. It is important in larger companies, but absolutely critical in start ups.”

The long term
Part of Coleman’s role is to also look to the future and how the Hofmeister business wants to grow and work on a people process and culture that is also scalable.

“Everything we do has to be right for where we are now, but we also have to consider the aims and aspirations for three to five years time. How relevant will it be then? The performance process is a good example of that. Having a more adaptable and agile performance process rather than rigid system is the way to go as it can be developed when needs be.”

Coleman is also keen to stress her role is very much a consultative one. It’s why the roles of non-executive directors, Euan Venters and Kim Francis, are also key as they have enormous experience of working across a number of hospitality, brand and brewing businesses that can really help shape the culture now and in the future.

But most of all it is vital Hofmeister and the team don’t lose the exciting entrepreneurial spirit that shines through the business. “This is such a huge opportunity for Richard and Spencer and the team and they are really keen to grasp it. It is about creating a flexible and agile work place so as not to miss out on talent and new opportunities. After all, your culture is what your customers see and experience. They are buying from a person and buying your brand through them.”

They are already very much on the right path, she concludes: “It’s a fun and exciting place to work and everyone is encouraged to try new things, find different ways and new solutions. It is really refreshing to work in a company where there is that genuine excitement about what you are doing and to have such fantastic products to work with. It pulls you in and you want to be part of it. It’s a very unique culture that they have built.”