Meredith Grelli | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Meredith Grelli

Background:  

Wigle Whiskey was the first distillery in the city of Pittsburgh, blending regional flavors, local history and spirits using organic grains from farms within a 200-mile radius. The portfolio of blends includes apple whiskey, ginger whiskey and a Dutch-style, whiskey-based gin, as well as a line of rums using local honey instead of sugar cane.

The Mistake:

Not understanding that processes don’t have to be a barrier in creative work but can, in fact, facilitate creativity.

Learning this lesson has played out in the way Wigle is structured. Our family is Quaker and much of the flat, consensus-driven way that Quakers operate permeates our distillery’s life. We are intensely collaborative, both internally and externally. This has built a very cooperative and creative culture within our organization, where team members have sincere agency and put an imprint on the way we operate.

But we found that some of our hires had a hard time with not having a singular, top-down, decision-making structure. I failed to recognize this initially.

As an entrepreneur, my natural tendency is to allow people to chart a path in their respective role and course-correct as necessary. When I brought our first team together, I was confident that a consensus-driven approach would engender trust, feelings of ownership and motivate people to do their best work. I wanted everyone to be a builder.

What I’ve come to realize is that for all but the very few, this approach is frustrating and overwhelming. While we overwhelmingly hire independent, creative thinkers who are action-oriented, most people yearn for a level of structure and process that is more defined than that which I initially created.

Most people yearn for a level of structure and process that is more defined.

The Lesson:

At the request of staff, we have instituted clearer layers of decision-making and process. 

Now I understand the value of a consensus-driven style infused with structure. At best, this structure takes away some of the friction of creative work and decision-making and allows people to do their best work.

We're also very upfront about this cultural bent in our hiring process and seek out those that we think will thrive in it. When hiring and managing leaders, we look for, support and celebrate those who are strong developers of structure and process, in a way that we did not when we first started.

Follow Meredith Grelli on Twitter at @WigleWhiskey.

Photo courtesy of Wigle Whiskey

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