The Wine-Lover's Guide to Leadership

January 19, 2017
The Wine-Lover's Guide to Leadership

If you spend enough time with me, you’ll eventually hear me rave about my brother Dan’s winery, set in beautiful Sebastopol, Calif. I like to talk about Dutton-Goldfield not just because of its terrific wine and how proud I am of Dan, but because of the organization they have built. As an avid reader of business books, it has been interesting to watch Dan and his business partner, Steve, create a highly respected winery in Sonoma County.

My work at TriNet is focused on helping small and midsize businesses (SMBs) be successful. In working with more than 13,000 SMBs, I can’t help but notice the parallels between winemaking and the principles involved in effectively building a successful business.

Each grapevine grows differently

In business, there are a few universal truths that are required for long-term stability. For starters, you must have an excellent product or service targeted to a specific market at the right price point. The infrastructure necessary to build and deliver your product must have a solid, well-structured foundation on which to build your business and the right people in the right environment. Finally, sustainable success requires flexibility in meeting constantly changing business needs.

The roots of a strong business are akin to what it takes to produce amazing grapes. Every wine connoisseur knows that if you want to harvest amazing grapes, you need quality plants and a fertile environment set in the appropriate climate. From there, you need a team to provide professional care that includes proper planting, pruning, water, fertilization and other maintenance specific to the type of vine with which you are working. It is important to understand that the care a grapevine requires must be adapted to the type of grapes you are growing, the location, the age of the vine, the weather conditions that year and a host of other factors.  

Just like a winery is only as good as the grapevines upon which it depends, your business is only as strong as your employees. They are the lifeline of your organization. Aim to hire the very best members for your team. I have always believed that hiring for core values and motivation, not knowledge, skills and experience, is the way to go.

When an employee joins your company, take the time to give them a strong foundation. This begins with a robust onboarding and training program. Provide employees with developmental and educational opportunities that tie to your business goals but also help them achieve their career goals. Give them room to spread their wings through higher-level responsibility. Allow them to take on projects that push their limits and are outside the scope of their original job description. Encourage them to enroll in classes where they can develop new skills. When you trust your employees with the tools they need to grow and thrive in a way that works for them, they will return your efforts tenfold by delivering increased productivity and better results.

Pairing is important

Wines are created with a specific end result in mind. The choice of the grape, as well as the aging and fermentation process, is key to the final product. Wines vary dramatically. Many people find a Riesling delicious but a glass of Riesling is unlikely to be anyone’s first choice to drink with a steak dinner. Each type of grape serves its purpose and smart winery owners play off the characteristics of their grapes to deliver a truly unique bottle of wine.

Follow Stephen Covey’s advice and “begin with the end in mind.” You will need very different people for very different roles. Maximize the talents and abilities of each of your employees, and determine how you can offer them to your customers in ways the competition hasn’t thought of.

Just as a Riesling is unlikely to pair well with a steak dinner, someone who is brilliant with technology and thrives at working behind the scenes may not perform well in a customer-facing position. However, such a brilliant technologist might “pair well” with your product development team. They could even be the key person to come up with a program that drives sales through the roof, or they might be the creative genius to take your marketing to the next level. Your job as a leader is to discover and nourish these talents.

Define what success means to you

I admire that my brother has defined what success means to him and that he has achieved it. Dan has many passions, including mountain biking. He has found a way to pursue multiple passions and be successful at all of them. For him, the winery is a dream come true.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice.


Additional Articles
ESAC Accreditation
We comply with all ESAC standards and maintain ESAC accreditation since 1995.
Certified PEO
A TriNet subsidiary is classified as a Certified Professional Employer Organization by the IRS.