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How Cannabis Businesses Can Adapt To The Great Resignation

From Guest Writer Terry Smith

The subject of the Great Resignation has sucked up a lot of media air since the fall of 2021ha, when the Harvard Business Review published a comprehensive study about the effect of literally millions of people resigning their jobs and walking away, often with nothing in hand.

Since then, we’ve all gotten a thorough immersion in the topic. And not without good reason; anyone who has been keeping score knows the impact. August 2021 alone saw 4.3 million people walk away from their jobs, on top of the several months prior rolling up equally breath-taking numbers.

Many industries seem hardest hit by this Tsunami of departures, including the obvious culprits of retail, hospitality, and food service. Some industries, though, seem to not only be weathering the storm, but are actually seeing some benefit from it.

How The Cannabis Industry Is Weathering The Great Resignation

One of those industries, at least in the view of some experts, is cannabis. Various pundits have remarked on the surge of interest in our business by people from many walks of working life, notably those same hospitality, retail, and service sectors. Multiple publications inside and outside of the cannabis community report brisk upticks in applicants for roles throughout, as people turn their backs on the jobs that chewed them up and burnt them out prior to the pandemic.

Many such people report seeing the industry as a growth sector (they’re right), and see opportunity to re-start in a business that presents the image of a community, and as a welcoming environment where fresh starts are at least possible.

All of which would seem to be a boon for business. It’s significant that leaders in the industry have gone on record as stating the importance of being the industry that has learned from the mistakes of others, and have the opportunity to start from the right perspective, to do the right things that so many other industries failed to do. And therein lies the cautionary tale.

What Can Cannabis Businesses Do To Get Ahead Of The Great Resignation?

There are a number of ways to approach this, and a lot of people have a lot of different ideas. Here are four that resonated with me:

Be aware of your impact.

As leaders, people are watching you all the time whether you realize it or not. So, pause and consider how you are showing up in both your words and your actions. Are you aware of how your own concerns and frustrations are experienced by others? Are you unintentionally adding to their fear and uncertainty? When you become aware of your impact, you can control it and steer it in the right direction.

Focus on potential and possibility.  

Consider what outcome you want to create out of this uniquely disruptive time. This is a time for cannabis companies to be grounded in pragmatism blended with possibility, gratitude, and recognition of what your people, old and new, are going through.

Get curious and ask:

  • What do you envision as the best possible outcome for this situation?

  • What excites you about that?

  • What does that give you/the team/the organization?

When you communicate to your people in this way, the impact is one of potential and possibility instead of fear and uncertainty.

What it boils down to:

Give your employees the respect and attention they deserve

The marketplace for talent has shifted, and not just in the cannabis industry. You need to think of your employees like customers and put thoughtful attention into retaining them. This is the first step to slow attrition and regain your growth curve.

This cannot happen when your employees feel ignored in the fever to hire new people or underappreciated for the effort they make to keep business moving forward. You cannot take your people for granted and expect them to stay — healthy relationships do not work that way.

What can cannabis HR leaders do to help and support line managers?

Consider what conversations would be like if you were recruiting them to your company.

Spend time understanding their motivations and ambitions. With so much new hiring taking place, identify where opportunities might exist inside the organization (even if it is outside of your team) to help them fulfill unrealized dreams and ambitions.

Help them see and claim the positive impact they are making in the organization. Acknowledge not just what they are doing, but why it matters. Let them know what you appreciate about how they are showing up during difficult times. People want to know they are making a difference.

Don’t stop. These are not one-time conversations. You can’t just wade in, have a talk, and think all is good. This should be the primary focus of each manager and leader in your company.

Reward them.

This may ignite the need for a systemic look at how and what is recognized and rewarded in your organization. Now may be the time to challenge the status quo if what you are seeing from your people and hearing from the talent marketplace is misaligned to your company’s current reality.

This is not just about paying people more — research tells us the motivational effect of pay raises is short-lived. Just as important is how you recognize and value the contributions and impact of your people.

Think about the DNA of your organization. If the old ways of doing things no longer serve the organization and its people, figure out what does.

Be willing to let go of the past … it’s gone.

Play the long game here. Be sure your company’s compensation philosophy is clear and understood by all. (That starts with you.) Make sure accountability is in place so that those current employees are not shorted when new people are hired.

Equity starts in how you value contribution. You may not be the only one in your organization to fix the myriad of issues linked to recognition and rewarding your people, but you can lead. You can give voice to the issues and advocate for accountability.

Engage them. 

Businesses are hurting and at the root of that pain for many today is a shortage of people to do the work. Your existing people feel that pain as they extend themselves to pick-up extra shifts to provide coverage, listen to customer complaints when they are helpless to fix the real issue, or witness one more colleague call it “quits” when their tipping point is reached.

So, be bold and engage your people in helping you solve problems.

Ask for their help. This requires courage because admitting that you do not know all the answers is vulnerable work. It takes strength and confidence to appreciate that outcomes are better when more ideas are included, when fuller representation is present, and diverse perspectives are heard.

Give them agency to help mitigate the day-to-day concerns they are faced with. Create space for them to step up, participate and inform the way forward. This sends the crucial message that they are trusted and valued.

Focus on the desired outcome. Actively seek the insights of diverse voices and points of view into what will help achieve it, especially insights and ideas different than your own. Remain open to being surprised and delighted.

Daring to be vulnerable and admitting you don’t have all the answers paves the way to creating deeper engagement and loyalty from all your stakeholders: teammates, peers, colleagues, and direct reports. You lead the way by opening the door.

Author Bio:

Terry Smith, founder of STS Design, is a senior Human Resources leader, specializing in Organizational Development, as well as strategic and operational change management. His background includes three different start-ups, two Fortune 500s, and several mid-cap firms. He has led the design and delivery of innovative HR solutions in multiple companies, including programs in total rewards and compensation, talent acquisition, performance management, staff development, and workforce strategy and planning.


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