Member Blog: As a Leader, You’re in the Business of Talent. That Means Your Top Priority Should Be Your People.

By Charlena Berry, Cannabis Business Growth

The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.

As a leader (especially a leader in the cannabis industry), you’re in the business of talent — identifying it, hiring it, developing it, and retaining it. Your top priority should thus be your people.

The first place to look to see if you have a people problem in your company is employee turnover. You can’t (and shouldn’t want to) completely avoid turnover, as it’s natural for some employees to move on and, occasionally, you will make hiring mistakes and need to let people go. 

However, if you have high employee turnover — say, as high as 20 to 30 percent over the course of a year — it’s a sign you have an illness in your company. While this figure may seem low, traditional retailers aim for an even lower turnover rate. To calculate turnover, divide the number of employees that left the company by the total number of employees. For instance, if 30 employees out of 100 employees leave in the course of a year, your turnover is 30 percent.

If your employees don’t want to work at your store, do you think they’re going to create the kind of environment that customers want to shop in? Probably not. And if a good portion of your employees are in training and don’t yet know what they’re doing, is that going to create a delightful customer experience? Again, probably not. 

The good news is that there are steps you can take — which I’ll share with you here — to reduce turnover and prioritize your people. Ultimately, by implementing some or all of these strategies, you’ll be able to offer your people the greatest possible experience. That will benefit not just them, but your organization and your customers as well.

Adopt the Leadership Mindset

Many factors can contribute to turnover. If you’re not offering compensation and perks that are on par with other cannabis retailers in your area, for instance, you’re likely to lose employees. 

The biggest factor, though, is leadership. You might have heard the saying before that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. If your management team makes employees miserable or doesn’t make them feel valued, they’ll leave. 

If, on the other hand, you adopt the leadership mindset and take the time to train managers to form a personal connection, be curious, empower, develop, and inspire your employees, they’re more likely to stay because those elements create a rewarding, enjoyable work environment.

Promote From Within

It’s also critical that you establish a practice of promoting from within. If your employees don’t see any growth opportunities within your company, they will be forced to leave to progress in their careers. 

Promoting from within also just makes good business sense. Who knows your store and your company culture better than the people who already work there? When you promote an employee to a leadership position, they can hit the ground running. 

Especially as you scale, promoting from within is key to implementing a seamless customer experience across multiple locations. When a role is empty, it disrupts the continuity of operations. Imagine a ship whose captain is swept overboard. You need a second-in-command ready to step up and fill the role.

Focus on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

As you hire and build paths to leadership positions for your employees, keep diversity, inclusion, and equity in mind. With the long history of people of color being disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, the very least we can do as retailers is ensure we are being fair and creating opportunities in our hiring and promoting practices. 

Plus, diversity leads to better business results! McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity in executive teams outperformed those in the bottom quartile by 36 percent.

Understand When to Let People Go

As unpleasant as it can be, the final aspect of managing the talent of your company is understanding when to let people go. Every employee is a representation of your company and contributes to the customer experience. You can’t afford to have subpar employees when you could put someone incredible in that role — someone who will make a difference in terms of how customers think and feel about you.

If a team member isn’t living up to the expectations of a role, you need to provide clear, regular feedback about what needs to change. Employ your curiosity and ask leading questions to try to mold them into the role: Why do you do things that way? Have you thought about other ways to do it? What if you tried x or y

If after several months, they’re still failing to meet expectations, they’re probably not a good fit for the role. At that point, you can either try to find a different role for them if you think they could still make a valuable contribution or let them go. You can’t expect people to magically know everything they need to know and perform well in a role without guidance and training, but you also can’t expect everyone to be a good fit.

Turnover is Expensive

Bottom line, turnover is expensive, both financially and culturally. Every time an employee leaves, you have to pay the costs of onboarding and training a new employee. According to Gallup, that cost can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.

It’s far cheaper — and results in a better customer experience — to retain and develop your current employees. Turnover also damages your company culture. When you have many empty positions or many new employees in training, it increases the pressure and stress on your veteran employees. It can trigger a wildfire of employees leaving, which lowers morale and disrupts team dynamics.

As a leader, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae — emails to answer, decisions to make, spreadsheets to review. Those tasks are important, but the area where you can have the most impact is in people’s development. When you put people first, it’s like dropping a rock into a still pond, spreading ripples throughout the company.

For more advice on actionable strategies you can implement that put your people first, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon.

Charlena Berry is the author of Breaking the Stigma: Racism, Lies, the Opioid Endemic, and Inviting Grandma to the Dispensary. In this book, she exposes lies that created the stigmas associated with cannabis, and how these stigmas must be addressed to see continued growth in the marketplace. She then outlines a framework that provides key strategies for retailers to implement to improve the customer experience and increase profitability. 

Writing from her experiences in the industry, Charlena is a global cannabis business executive and the founder of Cannabis Business Growth, a premier cannabis business consulting firm. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade in Supply Chain and Retail Operations for Fortune 500 companies like Whirlpool and Office Depot/Office Max. She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer for The Cake House, a chain of dispensaries in Southern California.

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