Founded in 1859 (and now part of Pernod-Ricard International) Corby Spirit and Wine Limited is a storied Canadian distiller that creates and sells some of the world’s fave brands like JP Wisers, Absolut Vodka, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Glenlivet and Lambs Rum. But its not just spirits they excel at; Corby’s also been named one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Canada for the last 5 years. Sales and profits were consistent, and as of December 2015, all was relatively fine with the world.
But something was eating at the Executive Team. Maxime Kouchnir, Corby’s VP of Marketing, had noticed a creeping stagnation. Sure sales were OK, but they weren’t growing. The culture was becoming increasingly cautious and un-collaborative. Big ideas were fewer and farther between. Reliance on agency partners was at an all-time high while original thinking and inspiration were at their lowest. They were, to quote Paul Holub, VP of HR, “stuck in a rut.”
Beyond mindset, these issues were also starting to impact their bottom line. Lack of risk-taking was translating into stale advertising and failure to stimulate sales. “We live in an incredibly competitive environment,” Maxime said. “Constantly fighting for people’s attention. If you’re not interesting enough, you have a low chance of cutting through the noise.” Leadership worried that the talent they wanted to attract and retain might reject an environment that could be perceived as limiting. And time spent hashing and rehashing problems with no new solutions was costing real money.
“Combustion modelled the very behavior that we would demand of ourselves – transparency and vulnerability, energy, and passion. They’re on a mission.”
Maxime Couchnir, VP Marketing, Corby
With senior leadership support, Maxime decided it was time to take steps to stop this creative culture erosion in its tracks. He wrote an aspirational manifesto entitled “Creativity with Impact Permanent Training: Enhancing Corby’s Marketing Capabilities Through Mindset Change” and set out to find the ideal partner to make it happen. Research and reputation led him to us at Combustion. Corby truly wanted someone to “wake them up, call them on their bullshit and keep them on their toes” – and we sure know how to do that. “Combustion modelled the very behavior that we would demand of ourselves,” Maxime said, “transparency and vulnerability, energy, and passion. They’re on a mission.” Leslie Ehm, Combustion President & Chief Fire Starter agreed. “With Corby, we saw a partner who was all in on their commitment to change. We fell in love with them and their vision from the get go.”
Our solution was to create a progressive training program designed to embed and permanently change thinking and behavior while super-skilling for self-sufficiency. We knew that creative culture change could only work if leadership and teams are on the same page so inclusiveness was going to be key. And only through honesty and transparency were we all going to succeed. The first step was to administer our Organization Creativity Quotient Assessment (OCQ). This gave us an honest read of what people were feeling and thinking around their current culture of creativity. From there, we could later address their unique challenges and refocus their goals – all in a bullshit-free zone.
With the OCQ results on lock, we then moved 50 participants from Marketing, Finance, Operations and Leadership through sessions of our renowned 2-day foundational creative thinking workshop C-Lab™. Here they learned shared process, language, and confidence around creative problem solving. Their individual ThinkStyles™ were also assessed and revealed to help them better collaborate. Next was a highly facilitated workshop around Fuelling Creative Culture where their OCQ results were revealed. They were able to dig deep, work as teams and be super honest in accepting their creative ‘extinguishing points’ and using the skills, language and processes learned in C-Lab, work towards solutions. A new focus, vision and mandate were set. “This is so much more than training,” according to Corby CEO Patrick O’Driscoll, “That was the catalyst that knocked down obstacles, ignited discussions and inspired fundamental change in the way we create, innovate and lead at Corby.”
We then turned our focus to transforming Corby Marketers into the fiercest and boldest champions of external and internal creativity. We wanted to lessen their reliance on agency partners and help them confidently own their ideas, executions and creative destiny. So for the next 6 months, we trained them on everything from creative brief writing, insight development, brand storytelling, agency partnership and more. And it worked. Margaret McKellar, Senior Marketing Manager Innovation affirms, “We use the tools from the workshops every day. From the briefs we write to the framework for strategic insights, it’s changed the way we manage our agencies and really elevated our level of discussions with them.”
“This is so much more than training. That was the catalyst that knocked down obstacles, ignited discussions and inspired fundamental change in the way we create, innovate and lead at Corby.”
Patrick O’Driscoll, CEO, Corby
Fast-forward one year and Corby’s quest for a culture of creativity is well on its way. From ThinkStyles proudly posted on cubicles and office doors, to boxes of C-Lab session materials accessible everywhere, creative problem solving best practices and rules of engagement displayed in meeting rooms, and ideas posted in shared areas for quick “yes and…” contributions, the environment alone proves the shift. Kayla Campbell, Director, Human Resources Commercial & Talent says, “C-Lab has become our default way to solve problems here and ‘yes and…’ our common language.” Stuart Shapiro, Corby’s Senior Business Intelligence Manager highlights the changes, “Before the program we all worked in silos with no collaboration and no big ideas. Now it’s this environment of continuous improvement, we’re having really productive conversations, and we’re far more collaborative.”
“We use the tools from the workshops every day. From the briefs we write to the framework for strategic insights, it’s changed the way we manage our agencies and really elevated our level of discussions with them.”
Margaret McKellar, Senior Marketing Manager, Innovation
While still too early to know the long-term effect, Corby leadership confidently predicts these changes will result in increased sales and market share. So proud of their endeavors, a full page of their 2016 annual report was dedicated to their continuing commitment and growth around a culture of creativity. Even more importantly, Corby recently updated their company values to Empathy, Creativity, Collaboration and Boldness – all reflections of the learning and evolution during time spent with Combustion. “It’s a big shift for the company. Empathy and creativity are new words to our lexicon and because of that I feel I have a green light to be myself,” says Chris Bhowmik, Brand Director for Canadian Whiskey. “Combustion’s training worked – it stuck to the ribs as an organization because we learned by doing.”
As Corby moves into 2017, they recognize the need to keep flexing their new creative muscles, building their skills and pushing the boundaries even further. Combustion will be there to feed their res with fresh new learning because as one Corby team member said, ‘even champions need support from time to time.’ Kayla Campbell adds, “We have seen fundamental and substantial change in metrics like employee engagement. Corby is becoming an even better place to work.” Maxime gets the final word: “It wasn’t easy. It was an intensive program…and not just focused on creativity skills; it created cultural change because it fundamentally addressed behaviors and attitudes.”
“Combustion’s training worked – it stuck to the ribs as an organization because we learned by doing.”
Chris Bhowmik, Brand Director, Canadian Whiskey