So you're sitting around the bar at the Think and Drink Tavern with five of your co-workers. You make some decisions that involve drinking more than you should, and suddenly you find that you have overconsumed. What do you do? Call a cab? Insist to your friends that you're fine? Buy another round?

Matters such as these, surrounding the responsible consumption of beverage alcohol, are ones taken to heart at Brown-Forman Corporation, producer and marketer of high-quality beverage alcohol brands and one of the largest companies in the global wine and spirits industry. Brown-Forman brands include Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Fetzer Wines, Korbel California Champagnes, el Jimador Tequilas, Herradura Tequilas, Sonoma-Cutrer Wines, Tuaca Liqueur, and Bonterra Vineyards.

Promoting responsible consumption of its products is such a high priority for the company; their corporate responsibility report is the front-and-center headline on the corporate home page. Employee responsibility is a crucial element of that corporate responsibility policy, recently highlighted through the new global initiative to create a positive drinking environment by encouraging responsible consumption and reducing the abuse of alcohol beverages. As the company continues to expand employee education on these issues, the corporate learning function, known as Brand Building U (BBU), created a board game to help get the message across.

"The training we've developed is designed to raise awareness about responsible consumption for our employees," said BBU Director Patte Schamore. "With both the board game and the online version of the training, there are a number of opportunities for interaction and individual thinking and resolution. Our goal is to teach our employees how to recognize, practice, and encourage responsible alcohol consumption and service."

The board game provides ample time for participants to engage in an open dialogue about responsibility. In fact, the elements of the game include bar items and conversation starters, including a simulated bar mat, shot glasses, car keys, credit cards, I.D. cards, taxi vouchers, subway tickets, and even a matchbook with a phone number jotted inside. The team that earns the highest responsibility score wins the competition; but both teams win in the long run, as they make their way along the game board, encountering real-life scenarios, discussing responsible business practices, and making on-the-spot decisions about what constitutes responsible behavior.

"While in many instances, there won't be just one correct answer, this training demonstrates good, better, and best behaviors as they relate to responsible consumption," says Schamore.

Schamore has been with Brown-Forman for 24 years. In the past five years, since the creation of BBU, she has seen corporate commitment to employee learning and development grow. "Training and development was formerly a response to a deficit somewhere, delivered to isolated pockets of people," she says. "It is now seen as an essential priority for our company, and is strategically based to drive the business forward."

Schamore supervises a staff of 10 that concentrates on designing and developing learning content that is explicitly connected to the company's overall strategies. Most courses dealing with core operating principles and proprietary information are developed internally, while leadership content, language needs, and regulatory training are mostly outsourced. Each year, Schamore and her team review corporate goals and business strategy with senior leaders across the organization.

They use employee development data and information generated by their performance management system to determine development needs and new learning opportunities. They also look at trends in the beverage alcohol industry and the business world in general for opportunities to improve knowledge and processes.

"The business changes all the time, but we try to stay in front of it," says Schamore. "Our operating groups pay for our services, so we check in with those stakeholders routinely."


Approximately 60 percent of annual training hours at Brown-Forman are spent in the classroom. The need to better differentiate and communicate Brown-Forman brands drove the creation of the company's most innovative learning initiative of 2008 - a two-and-a-half-day training program called "The Art and Science of Brand Building."

The course is designed to expand marketing professionals' collective competence in brand architecture and focuses on consumer insight development, brand equity and positioning, and visual brand expression. "These are both traditional and nontraditional marketing techniques," says Program Manager Steve Hirsch.

The direction for the program came straight from the top - the company's chief marketing officer asked BBU to partner with marketing leadership to create a consistent learning experience that would teach all of the elements of brand building. He visits classes to explain the importance of the material and the reasons why the course was developed.

Participants work in teams to develop a brand architecture for a sample brand, presenting elements and completing exercises along the way. Representatives from Brown-Forman's key creative agencies attend, providing a unique perspective to the program. Attendees even take consumers on a "brand safari," observing their drinking patterns and choices. At the end of the program, teams present their final project to a panel of senior marketing executives who serve as judges.

Brown-Forman uses many major metrics to measure performance, including ability to retain essential employees, employee satisfaction, quality of products and services, and overall profitability. A key measure in 2008 was sales and revenues, driven in part by the rollout of BBU's new "B-F Way of Selling" course.

"In 2007, we decided that we needed to leverage the strength of our full portfolio, eliminate redundancies, and refocus on selling," says Schamore. The two formerly separate salesforces for wine and spirits were combined into one, necessitating that each salesperson learn the other half of the product portfolio. BBU launched 32 online modules and created a week-long wine academy to take category knowledge and portfolio selling to a higher level.

BBU also partnered with sales leadership to create the B-F Way of Selling. That strategic initiative was launched simultaneously with a consultative selling skills course, which was delivered over two days in a classroom format. Virtual Reconnects were delivered online to employees who attended the classroom course, where employees are asked to share examples of how they use their new tools and selling skills in the marketplace.

Webinars were created for sales leaders, to reinforce the importance of their roles in driving the new selling culture. BBU also created 90-minute sales clinics to reinforce participant learning. These clinics are unique in that they are taught by sales leaders to create genuine ownership of the sales process. Subsequent to the rollout of the consultative selling skills class, sales numbers in the United States were up. While impossible to link it directly to training, the increase was attributed by division sales leaders to both solid programming and a renewed focus on selling. t+d