Not only can communication in the workplace manage internal conflicts in a more advantageous manner, it also helps build better external relationships, increases employee engagement and often results in an increasingly skilled and productive staff. Educating your staff increases their knowledge base and skill set, which is good for your bottom line.
Consequently, when it comes to a highly sensitive, heavily regulated and nascent industry like legal cannabis, effective employee education and communication is not just a “nice to have,” it’s indispensable.
Employee Education and Communication in Cannabis
While employee education and communication are of crucial significance in the cannabis industry, it’s important to not look at them through a cannabis-centric lens. Cannabis companies are fighting to be treated as regular businesses. Therefore, they should act like a traditional business does by implementing employee education and training programs and effectively communicating with staff as often as possible in order to ensure organizational alignment and success.
Look, we get it. Streamlining employee education and communications is something we — like a lot of growing cannabis companies — have strived to improve. We started small and have since blossomed into an organization with over 300 employees operating across three states. As our organizational communications became increasingly disjointed, we found a need to streamline procedures.. In the beginning, it isn’t something many cannabis companies truly consider, beyond simply meeting compliance standards.
Compounding the issue, operations are quite different and vary across markets. In Colorado, for example, our education and communication initiatives focus largely on the retail level, while in Pennsylvania those same strategies are solely done on the production level. In Colorado, where we operate six retail stores, employees are predominately trained on how to deal with consumers and understanding the vast amount of products on the market, ultimately connecting consumers with the specific products that effectively meet their unique needs. Pennsylvania employees, on the other hand, don’t interact with patients or consumers. Our efforts with them surround production line education and how to safely produce the products delivered to dispensaries. It then includes a robust program for how to pass product information and education along to our clients.
With a few of our markets only operating on the medical side of the cannabis trade, we’ve got to be extra careful around language, making sure to not provide medical advice of any kind. In these markets, cannabis companies should instead advise on products, providing detailed explanations on what they are and how they work, as well as reports of positive responses to ingesting or otherwise utilizing specific products. This is why it’s crucial to communicate with employees and educate them around what they can and cannot say.
It’s important in all businesses to streamline internal communications, but employing a unified messaging and educational program for all employees is particularly vital in the cannabis space. For us, recognizing that deficiency — the notion that we, as a growing cannabis company, still have a lot to learn about employee education and communications — was a good place to begin.
Impact of COVID-19
For countless companies across industries, the coronavirus pandemic created a crisis situation in which effectively communicating with and educating employees became beyond critical.
As COVID-19 spreads, we continue to be bombarded by frightening news headlines, shifting definitions of essential vs. nonessential employees and different regulatory changes, creating curiosities surrounding the following:
As a result of the pandemic, companies across industries, including many of those in cannabis, began streamlining employee communications overall. Thus far, we’ve found that the situation made communicating easier — we increased the cadence of employee newsletters and memos and began conducting virtual meetings more often than in the pre-pandemic era.
Communication during this age of crisis has actually improved, allowing us to connect with more employees at once just out of sheer necessity to update our staff on everything going on both in the world and internally as a corporation. Even better, from multiple employee newsletters a week to hosting virtual happy hours for employee engagement, some of the most effective tactics aimed at staying connected will last well beyond the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
We’re all still learning how to work through the crisis, but stepping up to ensure your employees are educated and in the know on everything — global pandemic or not — empowers staff to be prepared to deal with whatever challenge comes their way.
What Cannabis Companies Can Do Moving Forward
So, what can cannabis companies do to equip employees with the right tools to deal with those challenges?
The first step, as mentioned, is recognizing any deficiencies in employee education and communication your organization might have and addressing those concerns.
From there, implementing a basic training and education program is a critical next step. When new employees are hired, it’s important that they are immersed in your organization’s corporate philosophy, corporate rules, production rules, retail rules and more to ensure everyone is more or less on the same page. Develop an employee handbook for each department across your operation and be sure that new hires understand the ins and outs of their role before working on the sales floor or in the production facility. After all, that’s the backbone of legalization — if an employee can’t comply with the supply chain and meet every top-down requirement in their department, your organization won’t be in compliance with the seed-to-sale system, which puts your organization — and the entire system — at risk.
Additionally, communicating just for fun has taken on increased importance. Nothing creates an adversarial relationship between employees and the executive level quicker than only communicating to employees when there’s a new rule or regulation to say, “you’re failing to do your job if you don’t do x, y or z.” Oftentimes, it’s as simple as checking in and saying, “Hey, how’s everyone doing?” and letting staff know that the proverbial door is always open if they need to discuss any concerns or anxieties they might have. Really, just having more compassion when it comes to communication with employees is critical, especially now when we’re asking them to do more with less.
Finally, let your staff know about all of the good you’re doing in the community. When your employees get a whiff of some of the great corporate social responsibility actions you’re taking, it often boosts morale and results in employees getting involved, whether that’s signing up for volunteer events or organizing tip drives benefitting the nonprofit of their choice.
Ensuring that you’ve done your job to educate your employees shouldn’t stop at compliance. The bottom line is that good employee education and communication is good for morale, which is good for business. In such a fragile and new industry, it’s critical that we support our staff at all times and make sure we’re doing everything we can to educate, communicate and build an industry that looks and feels like a “traditional” business, top to bottom.
Peter Marcus is the Communications Director for Terrapin Care Station, a national cannabis company with roots in Boulder, Colo. In addition to working on internal and external communications for Terrapin Care Station, Marcus assists with cannabis messaging and political outreach for the industry as a whole.
Prior to joining Terrapin in September 2017, Marcus served as the Senior Statehouse Reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette and ColoradoPolitics.com, covering politics, the governor’s office, the Colorado Legislature, Congress, and federal, state and local governments. He joined in November 2016 from The Durango Herald. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the top state-based political and legislative reporters in the nation. He also has won over a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association.
In prior positions, Marcus worked for the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly, and The Denver Daily News, a former free daily newspaper in Denver, where he covered City Hall, politics, and had an entertainment column. Before that, Marcus worked for the Longmont Times-Call.
An Ithaca College graduate, Marcus studied journalism and creative writing, before
moving to Colorado from New York in 2004.
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