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Soapbox

Give a Voice to Scientists in the Executive Suite

By Dr. Markus Roggen, Amanda Assen
2 Comments

What do Aurora Cannabis, Tilray and Pfizer all have in common? They all produce and sell products used for medicinal purposes, they are top competitors in their field and they all have statements on their websites claiming that science is one of the most important things to their business. But unlike Pfizer, Aurora and Tilray do not have any positions in the executive suite for scientists or medical personnel. This led us to wonder, why does the structure of their corporate ladder (as well as so many other cannabis companies) not align with what they claim to be their values?

According to Aurora Cannabis, “Science is at the core of what we do”.1 Look up the definition of “core” and you will get “foundational, essential, central, and enduring.”2 Sounds important. Meanwhile, Tilray’s main page states: “For the therapeutic value and risks of cannabinoid-based medicines to be fully understood, Tilray believes it is critical to evolve current scientific understanding of the field.”3

aurora logoYou would assume that somebody in the executive suite would have a position and an educational background relating to the central and enduring part of a business, right? We looked at 10 of the biggest Canadian cannabis companies, their founders’ educational backgrounds and whether there were executive positions for science, R&D or medicine (Table 1). We also looked at the same data for the top 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies (Table 2). As expected, every pharmaceutical company had upper-level (C and/or P level) positions for scientists and/or medical personnel. However, only 2 of the 10 cannabis companies had this.

tilray-logoTo figure out why this is, (as scientists) we did some research. It turns out, the consensus is scientists are bad at commercialization. Scientists are rarely successful as CEOs because they are (usually) not good at attracting customers and get confused by things like revenue models.4 As Akshat Rathi bluntly put it, “just because you are the smartest person in the building does not make you capable to run a company.” In fact, many CEOs of life science companies got to the top by pursuing business, finance, marketing or sales. In the 90s, some life science companies took a chance on scientists and hired them as CEOs, but when they hit financial turmoil, they quickly undid this.5

So maybe scientists aren’t always cut out to be the CEO of a company. But that still doesn’t explain why so few large cannabis companies have a chief scientific/medical officer, or even a president of R&D.

Maybe we are looking in the wrong place. Maybe their value of science can be demonstrated by their spending on research. Typically, a larger agricultural company will spend 9% or more on R&D, and a smaller company will spend 2-4%.6 Meanwhile, the major pharmaceutical companies we looked at spent between 12 and 25% of their revenue on R&D during their most recent fiscal year. Since a cannabis company falls somewhere in between we approximate they would spend around 9-12%.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoHowever, Canopy Growth was the only company that fell into our prediction range, spending 10.5% of their revenue on R&D in 2021.7 Tied for a distant second place were Charlotte’s Web and Aurora Cannabis (a subsidiary of Tilray), spending 4.6%. At the very bottom were Tilray which only spent 0.16% on R&D and TerrAscend which spent 0.21% during their most recent fiscal year.8,9 With most of the cannabis companies, we saw a gradual decrease in R&D funding over time, which intensified with the Covid-19 pandemic.

So why the heck are these companies going on about how they value science? To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they do think they value science, but they don’t know how to value it.

 It’s hard for a company to take actions that show they value science if there are no voices for scientists at the executive level. After all, how can you make decisions based on science if nobody in the room understands it? Sure, we saw the argument that people who make it to the top can “learn enough science to ascend to the executive suite without much trouble”.5 But what is “enough science”? The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell?

This leads to our argument for putting scientists in the executive suites of cannabis companies and giving them a more powerful voice. Whereas scientists are not good at marketing, those in managerial roles tend to overly rely on intuition – even when the evidence is against them.10 For those relying on intuition, R&D is an easy target during times of crisis (like a global pandemic). Cutting costs in R&D yields a short-term immediate increase in profit and the negative impacts are often not felt until years later.11 However, cutting R&D investment is the opposite of what you should do during a time of crisis. Evidence suggests companies that maintain or even increase spending in marketing and R&D and focus on operational efficiency (such as process optimization) are the ones that will come out as the top competitors in the long run.12,13 Having a chief scientific officer or an executive for R&D with a scientific background can help sustain companies by promoting R&D during hard times and indicating what projects will be the most promising to help the company optimize their processes.

Having a scientist in the executive suite can also help keep everyone in check. “Senior execs live in a feedback loop of positive reinforcement making them unlikely to question their decisions,” according to Stefan Thomke and Gary Loveman.10 They claim the best way for those in managerial roles to avoid over relying on instinct and break out of that positive feedback loop is by “thinking like a scientist”. This involves not letting bias get in the way of truth, studying anomalies, being skeptical, developing strong hypotheses, producing hard evidence and probing cause and effect. To add to this, we think a major part of thinking like a scientist is by having at least one high up in the team. In our own company, giving equal value to scientific voices has resulted in all parties learning and thriving by making fact-based decisions.

Finally, scientists deliver! To be a scientist (with a PhD), one must master the field, find a gap in the knowledge, then fill that gap – all for little pay and no guarantee of a job at the end. This makes them dedicated workers whose main goal is to contribute something unique to their field, or in this case, their company.14 Having someone up top who is dedicated, passionate, innovative and trained to look for gaps in knowledge can be an invaluable voice in the executive suite. They are likely to point out potential money-saving solutions (i.e.: optimizing extraction conditions) that others up top may not have thought of on their own.

If you feel strongly that science is at the core of what you do, and you already know that R&D is crucial for the long-term survival of your company, you are already on the right track. In addition to this, consider giving a voice to scientists at the executive level in your company. The cannabis industry is still in its infancy. This means there is potential for R&D in more than just new product development. Basic stuff like extraction, modifying plants to be heartier against harsh conditions and pathogens, curing and safety testing processes have all barely been studied and optimized to reduce costs. These things won’t be solved by a Juris Doctor, an MBA or even an engineer, they will be solved by scientists, and it will take a scientist up top to ensure the whole company recognizes the importance of these projects.

Table 1: Top cannabis companies stats on founders and their educational backgrounds, presence of scientific executive positions and spending on research and development

Company Founders Founder’s Educational Backgrounds Science executive position? % Revenue spent on R&D
Aphria Inc.

(now owned by Tilray)

 

Cole Cacciavillani and John Cervini Cole: B. Eng

John: Born into a family greenhouse business

Chief science officer

Garry Leong: B.Sc. Chem,

M.B.A. Quality Management 15

NA
Canopy Growth Corp

 

 Bruce Linton and Chuck Rifici Bruce: Ba Public Policy, Minor: Economics. 16

Chuck: B. Eng, MBA

no 10.5% 17
Aurora Cannabis Inc.

(subsidiary of Tilray)

Terry Booth, Steve Dobler, Dale Lesack and Chris Mayerson Terry: Master Electrician18

Steve: B. Eng

Chris: Concrete business

Dale: Electrician and homebuilder

no 4.6% 19
Village Farms International Inc.

 

Michael A. DeGiglio BSc Aeronautic Science no No data available on R&D expenses
Tilray Inc

 

Brendan Kennedy, Christian Groh, Michael Blue Brendan: Ba. Architecture, Msc: Eng, MBA20

Christian: Ba. unknown, MBA21

Michael: Ba. Finance, MBA22

 

no 0.16% 23
Ayr Wellness Inc

 

Jonathan Sandelman Juris Doctor, Law Degree24

 

no No data on R&D spending available
TerrAscend Corp

 

Michael Nashat Pharm. D . Post doc in Neuroscience25 no 0.21% 26
HexoCorp

 

Sebastien St-Louis Ba. Economics, MBA 27

 

no 3.09% 28
Fire & Flower Holdings Corp

 

Trevor Fencott Ba (unknown), and Law degree29 no No data on R&D spending
Zenabis Global Inc

(now owned by hexo corp)

Rick Brar, Mark Catroppa, Monty Sikka Rick: Ba. (unknown)

Mark: Ba. Finance 30

Monty: Ba Accounting and Finance31

 

Chief science Officer:

Natasha Ryz PhD experimental medicine.32

 

 

NA

Table 2: Top pharmaceutical companies founders and their educational background, presence of executive positions for scientists and spending on R&D

Company Current Executives Educational Background Science executive positions? % Revenue spent on R&D
Amgen Robert A. Bradway BSc. Biology, MBA33

 

Chief Medical officer: Darryl Sleep, M.D. 33

Senior VP in R&D:

Jean-Charles Soria PhD molecular Biol, MD

18.5% 34
Sanofi Paul Hudson Ba. Economics, honorary doctorate in business35

 

Executive VP, R&D:

John Reed, MD, PhD in Immunology35

14.51% 36
Bristol-Myers Squibb Giovanni Caforio MD.37

 

Chief Medical Officer: Samit Hirawat, MD.

Rupert Vessey:

Executive VP: R&D PhD molecular immunology 37

 

24.58% 38
Takeda Christophe Weber PhD. pharmacy and pharmacokinetics, Msc. pharmaceutical marketing, accounting, and finance39

 

 

Director

President, R&D:

Andrew Plump, MD.  Ph.D. in cardiovascular genetics 39

14.25% 40
AbbVie Richard A. Gonzalez No college degree. Practical experience in biochemistry research. Vice chairman and president, R&D:

Michael E. Severino, MD, Bsc biochem41

 

12.60% 42
Novartis Vasant Narasimhan Bsc. Biology, MD, Msc Public policy President, Biomedical research, James Bradner M.D.

President innovative medicine, Victor Bulto: Msc. Chemical engineering, health economics, and pharmaeconomics, MBA. Chief medical officer, John Tsai BEng. MD43

 

18.04% 44
Merck Robert M. Davis Ba Finance, MBA, Juris Doctor45

 

Executive VP and president of Merck Research Laboratories; Dean Li MD, PhD cardiology45 25.14% 46
Johnson & Johnson Joaquin Duato

Vanessa Broadhurst

Peter Fasolo

Joaquin: MBA, Master of international management

Vanessa: Ba, Master of Business Administration

Peter: PhD in organizational behavior, Msc. Industrial Psychology, Ba Psychology47

 

Executive VP, Chief Medical Safety Officer; William Hait MD. PhD Oncology

Executive VP, Pharmaceuticals R&D; Mathai Mammen MD. PhD Chemistry

15.69% 48
Pfizer Dr. Albert Bourla

Sally Susman

Payal Sahni Becher

Rady Johnson

Albert: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (biotechnology)

Sally: Ba Government

Payal: Ba psychology, Msc Psychology

Rady: Accountant49

 

 

Chief Development Officer:

William Pao: MD. PhD oncology

Chief Scientific Officer, Worldwide R&D:

Mikael Dolsten; MD. PhD Tumor Immunology49

17.01% 50
Roche Dr. Severin Schwan, William N. (Bill) Anderson, Dr. Thomas Schinecker, Dr. Alan Hippe Severin: Ba economics, PhD law

William: Msc in management and chemical engineering

Thomas: Bsc genetics, Msc molecular biology, Phd molecular biology

Alan: Ba, Phd in administration51

 

 

CEO Roche Diagnostics; Dr. Thomas Schinecker; PhD in Molecular Biology51

 

23.563% 52

References:

  1. Aurora Webpage. Auroramj https://www.auroramj.com/#science.
  2. Definition of Core. Merriam-Webster Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/core?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld.
  3. Tilray Brands WebPage. https://www.tilray.com/.
  4. Rathi, A. Why scientists make bad entrepreneurs—and how to change that. Quartz (2015).
  5. Mintz, C. Science vs. Business: Who Makes A Better CEO? Life Science Leader (2009).
  6. Fuglie, K., King, J. & David Schimmelpfennig. Private Industry Investing Heavily, and Globally, in Research To Improve Agricultural Productivity. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2012).
  7. Canopy Growth R&D expenses. https://ycharts.com/companies/WEED.TO/r_and_d_expense.
  8. Tilray R&D expenses. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/TLRY.TO/r_and_d_expense.
  9. TerrAscend R&D expenses. Ycharts.
  10. Thomke, S. & Loveman, G. Act Like a Scientist. Harvard Business Review (2022).
  11. Knott, A. M. The Trillion-Dollar R&D Fix. Harvard Business Review (2012).
  12. Gulati, R., Nohria, N. & Wohllgezogen, F. Roaring Out of Recession. Harvard Business Review (2020).
  13. Soferman, R. Why You Shouldn’t Cut R&D Investments In Times Of Crisis And Recession. Forbes (2020).
  14. Madisch, I. Why I Hire Scientists, and Why You Should, Too. Scientific American (2018).
  15. Havn Life Sciences Inc. Announces Appointment of Gary Leong as Chief Science Officer. https://apnews.com/press-release/accesswire/science-business-life-sciences-inc-aphria-inc-319a516963144b308d146d97dee0dc69 (2020).
  16. Bruce Linton. Elite Biographies https://elitebiographies.com/biography/bruce-linton/.
  17. Canopy Growth Page . Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/CGC.
  18. Lee, A. 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Terry Booth. Money Inc (2020).
  19. Aurora Cannabis page. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/ACB.
  20. Brendan Kennedy Profile. linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/kennedybrendan/.
  21. Christian Groh Profile. Bloomberg https://www.bloomberg.com/profile/person/17139193.
  22. Micheal Blue Profile. Bloomberg https://www.bloomberg.com/profile/person/18227502.
  23. Tilray Page. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/TLRY.
  24. A Jonathan Sandelman Profile. zoominfo https://www.zoominfo.com/p/Jonathan-Sandelman/2245250.
  25. Dr. Michael Nashat Appointed President & CEO of TerrAscend. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/dr-michael-nashat-appointed-president-ceo-of-terrascend-1012862002 (2018).
  26. TerrAscend Page. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/TRSSF.
  27. Sebastien St-Louis Profile. Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/sstlouis/?originalSubdomain=ca.
  28. HEXO Corp Page. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/HEXO.
  29. Trevor Fencott Profile. bezinga.com https://www.benzinga.com/events/cannabis-conference/speakers/trevor-fencott/.
  30. Mark Catroppa Profile. linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/markcatroppa/.
  31. Monty Sikka Profile. linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/monty-sikka-3024a1a6/.
  32. Natasha Ryz Profile. crunchbase https://www.crunchbase.com/person/natasha-ryz.
  33. Senior Management Amgen Page. Amgen https://www.amgen.com/about/leadership.
  34. Amgen Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/AMGN.
  35. Sanofi Executive Team Page. https://www.sanofi.com/en/about-us/governance/executive-committee.
  36. Sanofi Stocks Page. Ycharts https://ycharts.com/companies/SNY.
  37. Bristol Myers Squibb Leadership Team. https://www.bms.com/about-us/leadership/leadership-team.html.
  38. Bristol Myers Squibb Stocks Page. YCharts.
  39. Takeda Executive Leadership Page. Takeda https://www.takeda.com/who-we-are/company-information/executive-leadership/.
  40. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Stocks Page. YCharts.
  41. Abbvie Our Leaders Page. Abbvie https://www.abbvie.com/our-company/leadership.html.
  42. Abbvie Inc Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/ABBV.
  43. novartis executive committee page. novartis https://www.novartis.com/about/executive-committee.
  44. Novartis AG Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/NVS.
  45. Merck Executive team Page. Merck https://www.merck.com/company-overview/leadership/executive-team/.
  46. Merck Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/MRK.
  47. Johnson and Johnson Our Leadership Team Page. Johnson and Johnson https://www.jnj.com/leadership/our-leadership-team.
  48. Johnson and Johnson Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/JNJ/market_cap.
  49. Pfizer Executive Leadership Page. Pfizer https://www.pfizer.com/about/people/executives.
  50. Pfizer Inc Stocks Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/PFE.
  51. Roche Executive Committee Webpage. Roche https://www.roche.com/about/governance/executive-committee.
  52. Roche Holding AG Stock Page. YCharts https://ycharts.com/companies/RHHBY.

Best Practices for Training New Hires and Documenting Operations

By Dede Perkins
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Let’s just say it. There is an undeniable chaos in the cannabis industry. It doesn’t matter if you’re a big or small operator, it’s likely that you don’t have a documented system for creating and managing ever-changing SOPs or for consistently training all employees on the most current versions of those SOPs. This chaos is often the result of rapid growth, mergers and acquisitions, and the ever-present turnover in our industry. When department leadership changes, and it often does, established policies and procedures are often left behind. In some cases, this is a positive sign of growth. As a company outgrows SOPs and as it develops more sophisticated ways to cultivate, extract, process, manufacture, package and sell cannabis and cannabis products, inevitably, the old ways of doing business need to be replaced. For those operators who have prioritized operational excellence, whether they want to position their company for new investment, merger or acquisition, or just want to create a consistent and standardized, branded product, it’s critical to get control of SOPs, training and documentation.

Food processing and sanitation
By standardizing and documenting safety procedures, manufacturers mitigate the risk of cannabis-specific concerns

As with most big goals, to obtain operational excellence, you need to break the goal into manageable steps. Assuming you have accessible quality policies and procedures in place, properly training employees when they first start work and on an ongoing basis as policies and procedures change is the number one key to successful operations. When employees know how to do their job and understand what is expected of them, they are positioned for success. When employees are successful, it follows that the company will also be successful. Documenting operations is a second important step in obtaining operational excellence. While training and documentation appear to be different, in best-practice organizations, they are inextricably linked.

One Set of SOPs

Those of us who have been in the cannabis industry for a while have experienced firsthand or heard stories of facility staff working off of two sets of SOPs. There’s the set of SOPs that are printed or digitally available for the regulators, let’s call them the “ideal” set, and then there are the SOPs that actually get implemented on a day-to-day basis. While this is common, it’s risky and undermines the foundation of operational excellence. Employees often know there are two sets of SOPs. Whether they express it or not, many are uncomfortable with the intentional or unintentional deception. When regulators arrive, will they have to bend the truth or even lie about daily operations? Taking the time to establish and implement one set of approved SOPs that is compliant with both external regulations and internal standards is good for employee morale, productivity and ultimately, profits.

What’s the best way to get control of a facility’s SOPs? Again, break it into manageable steps:

  • First, task someone with reviewing all SOPs that are floating around. Determine if any are non-compliant, which ones need to be tossed and which ones need to be revised so they work for the company as well as outside regulatory authorities.
  • At a minimum, establish a two-person team to draft, review, publish and distribute the final SOPs. Ensure that at least one member of the team has management level authority. Assign that employee the responsibility of reviewing the SOPs before “publication” and distribution.
  • Archive, delete, or actually throw away outdated or non-compliant SOPs
  • Revise or create new best-practice SOPs that are in compliance with external regulations and internal standards
  • Establish a system to update SOPs when external regulations and internal standards change
  • Use a naming convention that distinguishes draft SOPs from final SOPs, for example, “Post-Harvest Procedure, FINAL”
  • Inform employees that they will be retrained on the new SOPs and that approved SOPs will always have the word “Final” in the title
  • Store the final SOPs in an easily accessible location and give employees access, not only during training, but on an ongoing basis

Centralized Repository for Final SOPs

Storing final, approved SOPs in one easily accessible, centralized location and giving employees access sounds simple, but again, this is the cannabis industry, so this often doesn’t happen. Many of us have or are currently working for an organization that stores SOPs in multiple places. Each department may have its own way of updating, disseminating and storing SOPs. Some SOPs are stored in a printed binder stuffed in a drawer or left on a bottom shelf. Others are stored digitally. Some use both systems, which creates confusion. Who knows if the digital versions or the printed versions are the most current? Surely someone knows, but often the front-line staff do not.“Once you’ve established a single set of compliant SOPs and have stored them in one accessible location, it’s time to train your employees.”

Establishing a centralized repository for final, approved SOPs is the foundation of operational excellence. It lets employees know that operations are organized and controlled, and it reassures regulatory authorities and external stakeholders—think insurers, bankers, investors—that the company prioritizes compliance and organization. And external stakeholders who believe that an organization is proactive and well-run tend to be more forgiving when the inevitable missteps occur. Companies that are organized, have effective training systems, regularly conduct internal audits to identify potential issues and take identifiable action steps when necessary to remediate issues, receive fewer deficiency notices, violations and fines than their less organized competitors.

Train Employees

Many states require cannabis operators to provide a specific number of training hours prior to an employee beginning work, and a specific number of continuing and refresher training hours annually. Once you’ve established a single set of compliant SOPs and have stored them in one accessible location, it’s time to train your employees. To do so, set clear expectations and decide who is responsible for what. Is the HR manager responsible for initial onboarding and training? Are department managers responsible for ongoing and annual training? Create a training responsibility chart that works best for your company; write it down and share with all stakeholders.

Documenting all key areas of operation on a recurring basis will help you keep track of a large facility and workforce

The next step is to figure out how to train your employees. Individuals have different learning styles, so ideally, you’ll offer multiple ways for them to master the requirements of their position. Assign written materials and if possible, attach short videos showing the best way to complete a task. Follow up with a quiz to determine comprehension and a conversation with a department lead or manager to answer questions and review the key take-aways. Ideally, the department manager or lead employee will work with the employee until they are competent and comfortable taking on new assigned tasks and responsibilities.

Sum It Up 

Operational excellence begins with:

  • Knowledge of and access to current external rules and regulations and internal standards
  • One set of approved and easily accessible policies and SOPs that comply with both external and internal standards
  • An initial training system with clearly assigned roles, responsibilities, and goals
  • An ongoing training system with clearly assigned roles, responsibilities, and goals
  • Systems to:
    • Test knowledge before employees begin unsupervised work
    • Stay up-to-date with all changes to external rules and regulations and internal standards
    • Control policy and SOP revision process
    • Inform all stakeholders when policies and SOPs change
    • Test that employees understand new standards
    • Document all key areas of operation on a recurring basis
    • Address deficiencies and evaluate whether SOP revisions are warranted
    • Document and implement necessary remediation when necessary

For those of you rolling your eyes and thinking you don’t have time for this, ask yourself, “Can you afford not to?”

For those of you committed to operational excellence and doing what it takes to get there, congratulations on being a visionary leader. Your efforts will pay dividends for your own company and will help the cannabis industry grow into a well-respected, profitable industry that improves lives.

Why Employee Training is Your Key to Financial Success

By Shannon Tipton
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So, there you are, pondering your finances, there are many expenses and costs that go into running your business and when your budget is already tight, should you add or increase training to the expense list? Why frustrate yourself, looking for ways to train people, when you could be focusing on things like technology, product development or sales that help with business growth?

We all know that product development and sales are important. But what differentiates training from other expenses is that while on the surface training might appear as an expense, it’s not.

Think about this analogy: We know one achieves a greater plant quality and yield by using advanced cultivation practices. That said, the quality of the plants also greatly depends on the lighting, the nutrients and the nurturing they receive. The training and development of your people depends on the quality of effort you give them. Therefore, it is not so much a cost as it is an investment in the growth of your people, and when your people grow, you experience business growth.

Why invest in continual training?

The answer as to why continual training is important can be summed up in four points:

  1. Well trained employees = happy and loyal employees.
  2. Happy employees = educated and happy customers.
  3. Happy and educated customers = customer loyalty.
  4. Customer loyalty = increased business revenue

Any break in the chain breaks the relationship with the customer. There isn’t any business right now that can afford to lose a customer over something as intuitive as keeping people knowledgeable and happy.

This approach does, however, come with a caveat. Your training needs to be amazing and it needs to stick. You need to be willing to give your people the tools they need to succeed, and amazing training doesn’t come with a low-price tag. It requires not only a monetary investment but the investment of time and energy of the entire team.

Consider this, according to a Gallop research paper, happy and well-trained employees increase their value, and dedicated training and development fosters employee engagement, and engagement is critical to your company’s financial performance.

In short, this means your happy people will be earners for you. They will help you exceed industry standards, sell more and hang around longer. This means lower turnover costs.

Who doesn’t want that?

Educated and loyal employees lead to increased financial results

According to another Gallup study, businesses that engaged workgroups in continual development saw sales increase and profits double compared to workgroups that weren’t provided with development opportunities. The pressure to succeed among competitors of the cannabis industry is intense and rewards high. Having a good product is a start, but if your customer does not trust you or your employees…then what?

You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t sell it, you still have it.

Can your business survive without trained people and loyal customers? The growth rate for legalized cannabis will be $73.6 billion with a CAGR of 18.1% by 2027. Plus, total sales of illicit cannabis nationwide were worth an estimated $64.3 billion in 2018, projections call for the U.S. illicit market to reduce by nearly $7 billion (11%) by 2025.

Those customers are going somewhere, will they be coming to you? Are you and your people prepared to earn potential customer trust and build critical relationships? Can you afford to miss being a part of this growth because your people were not carefully trained and your customers were uninformed about you, your product and your services?

A common adage is, “What if I train them and they leave? What if you don’t and they stay?” – where does your business stand?

Time for non-traditional approaches for high-impact training

With the rapid growth of the industry with ever changing regulations, new types of edibles, better product with exponentially more options – your customers will demand higher quality standards and expect your people to be in-the-know. This requires “just-in-time” knowledge as opposed to formalized training delivery.

Disappointingly, only 34% of businesses feel their overall training is effective. So, as the industry continues to evolve, it is important to know how to make your programs as effective as possible for your people. The traditional training that has failed corporate America is not the answer for this non-traditional cannabis industry. The need for new and non-traditional training methods will be critical for your people to be efficient, productive and adaptable to react to fluctuating business needs.

Six areas to focus your non-traditional training

1) Build a strategy

As the gap begins to widen and the competitive “cream of the crop” starts rising to the top, you will need to take the initiative in training and upskilling employees. This means planning future training efforts and reimagining current ones.

The steps involved in creating a training plan begins with establishing business goals. Ask yourself what business factors and objectives you hope to impact through training? You will also need to decide what critical skills are needed to move the business forward. Start your training focus with high-impact skills. These are the skills, if mastered, that will lead to customer loyalty and education. Ultimately impacting your bottom-line.

2) Target skills that build relationships

Building relationships is often placed in the category of, “soft skills.” However, this is a misnomer; “soft-skills” are core strengths you will need for your business to stand apart from your competition. This goes beyond smiling at the customer. Your business requires adaptable, critical thinkers who can problem solve and communicate effectively. Soft skill training is never “finished.” Therefore, consider how reinforcement is going to be delivered and how coaching will evolve.

3) Personalize training to individuals

Many traditional training programs approach people with a “one size fits all” mentality. Just put all the people in all the classes. This is a common failed approach. Each person on your team has individual skills and needs that require attention. This means creating and planning the delivery of training programs to address specific strengths and skills challenges. Not everyone will be at the same level of knowledge. If you are hiring for culture (which you should) rather than specific skills this means providing ongoing support at different times. This requires developing a training plan that allows people to choose their training path.

4) Create digital learning spaces

Ensuring employees make time for learning was the number one challenge talent development teams faced in 2018. One way to combat this challenge is putting training in the hands of people through platforms they are already using. Most notably, their cell phones and mobile applications.

Training should be created and delivered through multiple platforms (mobile and on-demand), where the training can be personalized, and offer ongoing job support. For example: Consider training to be delivered through mobile apps, text messaging or instant messenger. This type of training is targeted, direct, can be tracked and supports “just-in-time” delivery of help. Help when the people need it and when the business needs them to have it.

5) Make training interesting through gamification

There is a general misunderstanding about how gamification and training programs work. Many business owners discard the idea of gamification because they believe it means turning training programs into video games. Understandably, owners do not want critical and regulatory compliance training to be like a game of Candy Crush. What is important to realize is that gamification is a process of building a reward system into training that imitateschallenge games. Allowing people to “level-up” based on skill or knowledge acquisition. The use of badges, points and leaderboards encourage participation in online experiences. Thus, making training interesting and more successful.

6) Plan to educate your customers

As stated, providing customer training around your products or services is a fantastic way to differentiate yourself from competitors. It also boosts customer engagement, loyalty and enables them to gain more value from you.

Customer training is now considered a strategic necessity for businesses in every industry and within the cannabis industry, education programs will play a critical role in attracting new customers. Although, keep in mind your new customers do not need “training.” They need educational awareness. Consider the education you are providing customers as an onboarding process. Thoughtfully designed educational content can help customers make the right decisions for them, and you are there every step of the way.

Choose a different path for your training efforts

Your business needs a non-traditional training plan to help your people to be better, smarter, faster than your competitors and to gain customer trust and loyalty. Cannabis is a non-traditional industry, why box your business into traditional corporate training models proven to be unsuccessful? Your business and your people deserve better.

Contact Learning Rebels to learn more about what we can do for you to help you develop training tools and resources that will make your people stand above the rest.

The Women in Cannabis Study: A Q&A with Jennifer Whetzel

By Aaron G. Biros
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Ladyjane Branding and Wolfe Research & Consulting are leading an ambitious study to explore and document the experiences of women working in the cannabis market. Women in Cannabis: A Living History officially kicks off on December 10th at the National Women of Cannabis Conference.

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of LadyJane Branding and founder of the Women in Cannabis Study

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Ladyjane Branding, says this is an opportunity for women to tell their stories about their experience working in the cannabis industry. Women can participate in the study by going to womenincannabis.study and sign up to take the survey. You can also sign up to be a sponsor or partner of the study at that website. Sponsors will get access to content like press releases and the opportunity to incorporate the study’s findings in their messaging. We invite our readers to participate, sponsor, partner, share and encourage friends to take the survey.

With beta testing starting the week of November 18th, we caught up with Jennifer Whetzel to talk about why she decided to start this project, what they expect to learn from it and what the future may hold for professional women in the cannabis industry.

Cannabis Industry Journal: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into the cannabis industry? 

Jennifer Whetzel: My entrance into the cannabis industry was certainly a culmination of my personal experience and professional journey.

After moving to Maine, I became a medical user to ease symptoms of an immune and an auto-immune disorder. When I sought out treatment for PTSD, I found that a combination of cannabis, therapy, meditation and brain retraining was the most helpful and healthy solution.

This course of treatment for PTSD was life-changing as it allowed me to resolve symptoms from all of my medical issues, and I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that supported me. I had been working in marketing for over 25 years and realized I had quite the diverse professional background. My experience included retail merchandising and operations, public relations on a military base, research design and strategy for ad agencies, new product development and launch for animal health companies, and experiential marketing strategy and design. I’ve been lucky enough to work with small companies and Fortune 500’s which has led to finding solutions in unexpected places.

When pairing my knowledge and skills with the cannabis community, I realized I could make an impact by advising new entrepreneurs who needed help making their brands stand out. That’s how Ladyjane Branding was born.

CIJ: Can you give us an overview of the Women in Cannabis Study?

Jennifer: The Women in Cannabis study aims to understand how women are faring in the cannabis industry and whether we are doing enough to support women, their careers and their professional goals. It’s well documented that women in corporate America do not have the same opportunities for career advancement as men, holding fewer executive or board positions, having fewer opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship and career progression.

The study is comprehensive, with more than 80 quantitative questions along with qualitative telephone and video interviews of female-identifying professionals working in the cannabis industry – whether they are involved with cannabis, CBD or hemp. Through monthly infographics, video summaries, quarterly in-depth themed reports and a comprehensive year-end report, we will be telling the stories of women’s professional experiences in cannabis with the goal of transforming the industry into one where women can succeed and thrive.

Painting a picture of the women in cannabis, and understanding them as a group, we look at demographics to explore their diversity and reveal whether personality differences may affect their experiences, as well as experience with stigmas regarding cannabis use and working in the industry.

To understand professional trajectories and roadblocks on a path to success, we dive into work history, reasons for entering the cannabis space and the barriers they have faced on their journey. We explore opportunities for mentorship, support and leadership, the types of harassment, discrimination and disrespect they’ve experienced and how that may have impeded their careers.

We’d like to understand how (or whether) women find balance in their personal and professional lives, what sacrifices they’ve had to make for a career in cannabis, as well as best practices for women to foster success.

CIJ: Why did you decide to take on this endeavor and lead the work on this study? 

Jennifer: While there are numerous studies looking at how women fare in corporate America, we found that there’s a lack of a recent and comprehensive deep dive into this topic specifically for cannabis. As an emerging industry, we have a unique opportunity to make valuable recommendations to potentially increase inclusivity for women in this early stage of industry culture before it becomes too entrenched. Our goal is to ensure we have the hard numbers to document a baseline now, then follow-up over time to understand how the industry changes.

By surveying and speaking to women in the industry, and understanding where strengths and weaknesses in the industry lie, we can make recommendations to improve the lived experience for women working in this industry.

The only way to make improvements to a system is to understand it.

CIJ: How do you think we can create a more inclusive industry?

Jennifer: I think it begins with an understanding of where we are starting – we don’t know what we don’t know. Being in the cannabis industry, we often hear the argument that anecdotes are not data. Just like we need the scientific data to prove efficacy for medicine, we need the data that shows the hard numbers about diversity and inclusion, the stigma and shame of cannabis use or working in this industry, about sexual harassment, disrespect and bullying.

This study is about generating information and creating knowledge on this issue so we can determine the education, policies, procedures and actionable recommendations that can help make the industry a welcoming space for everyone.

One of the best ways to create a more inclusive industry is through education.

CIJ: What hurdles do women face in the cannabis industry? How is that different from other, more established industries?

Jennifer: As we review research results from more established industries, it seems clear that women face similar hurdles in cannabis. Various studies have shown that working women are faced with unequal pay, fewer opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship, as well as discrimination and disrespect. The issues for female entrepreneurs are even greater as women are significantly less likely to receive venture capital funding, which certainly speaks to experience in the cannabis industry.

Because there’s little data specifically focused on the cannabis industry, we are just guessing. This study will provide us those answers.

CIJ: Looking ahead, how do you think women will fare in the evolution of the cannabis market?

Jennifer: I’d like to think that if we are all purposeful and intentional about creating an equitable, inclusive, and representational industry, that women will fare significantly better than they have in other industries typically dominated by men. If that can happen, everyone will feel welcome and respected, and it will no longer be surprising news when a woman is promoted to CEO or becomes a successful founder.

The Hiring Dilemma Facing The Cannabis Industry

By Gilbert J. Carrara, Jr., MD
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The business of cannabis is starting to mature and the industry as a whole is gearing up for rapid expansion. This means that pharmaceutical companies, dispensaries and other cannabis-focused businesses are starting to expand their executive teams. However, finding qualified candidates is proving to be an incredibly challenging task, due to the shallow talent pool of leaders with cannabis-related experience, the volatility of the industry and its lingering public perception problems. Companies must therefore dip into other, related talent pools. Here are some factors to consider when beginning the hiring process:

Desired Experience

The ideal candidate to fill an executive role in the medical cannabis industry needs to possess a unique skill set and extensive experience. One obvious source of candidates are peopleIt is important to be resilient in the face of intense criticism and have a thick skin. Diplomatic strength is required. who have hands-on leadership credentials in the pharmaceutical industry, given the highly regulated nature of both the business and consumer sectors. Other good talent sources are the tobacco industry and consumer healthcare services (such as hospitals and other kinds of medical centers).

Due to the evolving nature of the cannabis industry and the intense scrutiny it is under, executives will need to be well acquainted with how to manage compliance with governmental regulations and keep up-to-date on upcoming rule changes and potential legislation. This is especially true for dispensaries, as they are often arriving right after a state vote occurs, leaving no room for error when it comes to knowing and adapting to a state’s unique rules and regulations.

It is also important for a candidate to possess both business and consumer experience, not only on the medical and regulatory side of the business, but also the sales process. A large part of what medical executives do is indirect marketing through their interactions with people — both business affiliates and consumers. Having an executive with poor communication skills could prove to be costly down the line. 

Recommended Personality Characteristics

Due to the controversial nature of the business, a potential executive needs to possess a number of characteristics or personality traits. As with other industry sectors that face similar public approbation, including the tobacco industry, it is not a job for the thin-skinned or easily discouraged. Important traits to look for include:

Flexibility: Due to the evolving nature of the industry and its rapid growth, you cannot possibly control everything and everyone. Remaining flexible is the only way to remain sane and successful during this phase of industry expansion.This ability to easily communicate with diverse audiences is a strong indicator of success.

Resiliency: The cannabis industry is often vilified, and as a result so are the businesses and employees who work in it. It is important to be resilient in the face of intense criticism and have a thick skin. Diplomatic strength is required.

Adaptability: A candidate should be comfortable and credible talking about scientific and business issues one minute, and consumer issues the next. This ability to easily communicate with diverse audiences is a strong indicator of success.

Passion: If a candidate possesses passion for the cause and the medical and therapeutic value of cannabis, there is a much greater chance that they will weather the storm. Having someone who genuinely cares will show in every facet of the way they conduct business — from discussing quality of life to discussing the scientific background to relating to patients.

Hiring at an executive level is never easy and in the case of the cannabis industry, it is infinitely more challenging than most. It is imperative to never “settle” on a candidate simply because time is an issue. Having someone on your recruiting staff, or using a professional recruiter who has deep experience in the medical, pharmaceutical or consumer healthcare industries is also helpful, as they can “speak the language” of recruits and thoroughly answer their questions. Their credibility can help a candidate determine if the cannabis industry is right for them. Finding a quality candidate who understands the industry, the regulations and has a passion for their work will serve your business well as the cannabis industry matures.

Soapbox

Cannabis Business Owners: How To Legalize It!

By Kay Smythe
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If you have never heard of the terms social capital or social homophily, you are not alone. To many in the cannabis space, these terms are quite foreign to them, but as we’ll find out, also quite crucial to them.

That’s okay. You’re not a social scientist, human geographer, macro nor micro sociologist, so why would you? However, I can guarantee that your life has been influenced by these two sociological paradigms, and if you’re a working member of the cannabis industry, these are the two theories that could result in your business failing, you ending up in jail or even bankrupt.

Don’t like capitalism? Tough.Let’s talk in layman’s terms.

Social capital: this wonderful theory can, in its essence, be described as the science behind “street cred.” Social capital refers to the lived social networks and relationships that you are a member of. Examples include: family, friendship groups, work colleagues, et cetera.

Social homophily: this even more excellent theory decides your social groups before they solidify. Homophily is the ability of the individual to only associate, and subsequently bond with, those that have similar interests, passions…

Together, these two theories work together to first decide upon your social groups (homophily), and subsequently lead to the building of tighter social networks (capital).

So, how does this relate to cannabis?

Unfortunately, like any other billion-dollar industry, cannabis will eternally depend on politics, the economy and men in suits. For want of a more succinct phrase, the cannabis industry depends on capitalism. Why? Because it’s a business, just like any other, and businesses live and die by whom you’re friends with.

Don’t like capitalism? Tough.

Herein lies the issue with the big players leading the cannabis industry: you guys play horribly with the people that control your fate.

The easiest way to normalize a trend is to have all of the most important people in the world doing itCannabis is still federally illegal, and the general belief is that it has remained this way because the United States government does not yet have a big enough reason to legalize it. Ask any left-leaning sociologist, economist, or political scientist and they’ll tell you the honest truth: the people who run the cannabis industry do not have any influence over bankers, oil tycoons, major industry leaders, or any of the men in suits that you need to be friends with to get anything done in this country.

Think of it like this: the argument for the legalization of cannabis in Europe centers around alcohol. If you were walking home one night and you cut through an alleyway, who would you rather bump into: a drunk looking for a fight, or a stoner looking for a box of chocolate cookies? It’s a logical argument that plays to both the lowest common denominator, and the highest ranks of British government.

The thing is though; as we discussed in my last piece, cannabis is normalized across Western Europe, and so we don’t have the same issues as the United States.

In the United States, the sensible person wouldn’t walk down the alleyway in the first place. Therefore, we have to first normalize cannabis with normal Americans, and then look to legalize.

The easiest way to normalize a trend is to have all of the most important people in the world doing it. However, the cannabis industry is wrought with incompetence that consistently marginalizes the space from societal norms, which is precisely why cannabis is still illegal, and why you’re killing your future business endeavors before they’ve begun.

The End Goal

I was recently told that I didn’t know enough slang to write for a cannabis company. Firstly, I had actually taken all of the slang terms from another member of the company (which was just plain embarrassing for the wannabe industry leader, but I wasn’t surprised – I mean, this is what I do), and secondly, can we all please read the article I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how using slang is one of the most detrimental moves that the cannabis consistently makes that further reduces legalization efforts.

Put on a suit, talk to your local councilman, pay your taxesDo you see HSBC or Chase using slang in their advertising campaigns?

What major political leaders have you seen trying to create divisions between them and those not “cool” enough to be in their gang?

I have no evidence to back this up, but I’m fairly confident that the Koch brothers have never used a skateboard as a consistent mode of transportation to or from work.

As a macro and micro sociologist, I can’t stress this enough: if you want your business to become legitimate, then you have to stop being legit. Most folks in the cannabis industry don’t want to be friends with big bankers, oil tycoons and billionaire businessmen, but creating such an inherent divide between the cannabis business and the rest of the working world ensures that our children will still go to jail in more than half of US states just for smoking a joint.

Time to Swallow Your Pride?

If you are reading this, and are currently an active member or leader in the cannabis industry, then please put your version of ‘street cred’ to the side. Your actions are the reason that most of your businesses fail, the reason you get robbed and don’t have the law on your side, why we have such huge numbers of minority men in our prisons, and more importantly its the reason that the rest of the real world sees you as irresponsible potheads, and not the innovators you could be.

You have the tools to make one of the biggest political changes for two-thousand years, so why not grow up, take one for the team, and have you and your business’s legacy revolve around the good you did for your fellow man, not as the ‘cool kid.’

Social homophily: You and the big business world want the same thing- legalization. Even Monsanto is getting in on the cannabis game, and I’d rather work for them and see actual change than sit in a room full of men smoking at their desks while they sell cannabis from a dark, illegal dispensary.

Social capital: Unfortunately, the big business world wins here. Put on a suit, talk to your local councilman, pay your taxes, realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, but it will if you play by their rules. You can still be a weekend hippy, but stop doing it in public. The world isn’t ready… yet.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill? Cannabis Reform Proposals and the 115th Congress

By Brian Blumenfeld, J.D., M.A.
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As CIJ readers are probably aware, last month Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017—the annual budget, in other words. Lying within this 1,665-page document is Section 537, which for one year restricts the Department of Justice from using any funds to prevent states from implementing their medical cannabis laws. Medical cannabis businesses and patients can take some solace in this restriction. Last summer, the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting in San Francisco, confirmed that this appropriations rider prevents federal prosecutors from bringing suit against medical cannabis businesses and users operating in compliance with state law. Two problems remain glaring, however: one, the protection only applies to medical cannabis activity, not recreational; and two, it is only guaranteed to last for one fiscal year.

To be sure, for the 115th Congress to address the profusion of issues emerging from the nationwide legalization movement, they must do something more. Various reform proposals have in fact been introduced during the current congressional session, and in order to fully digest where they stand and what they have the potential to accomplish, it will help to make sure that we know how they fit within federal legislative procedure.

Catching Up to Speed with the Legislative Process 

How A Bill Becomes A Law
Photo: Mary-Frances Main

Whenever confronting a question about government and politics, it is never a bad idea to start at the source of authority. In America, that source is of course the Constitution, and in Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, We The People have given to Congress the power to “determine the rules of its proceedings”.  When we remember back to the School House Rock cartoon for How A Bill Becomes A Law, the majority of political maneuvering behind the basic process taught in the cartoon actually happens according to these ‘rules’ or ‘resolutions’. In fact, at the beginning of each new Congress (every two years) each chamber, and each committee and subcommittee within each chamber, votes on the rules that will govern how they are to go about their legislative business. Traditionally, the rules from the previous Congress are carried over by this vote with only minor tweaks. On top of that, both parties in each chamber have their own internal rules and procedures for setting their policy agenda, directing political strategy, and determining which members will be nominated to certain leadership positions and committee posts. Playing the game of politics according to this layer cake of rules is a necessary part of the work of a legislator, and is often as important a factor in how our country is actually governed as is who wins election to office and what substantive provisions are formally enacted into law. So for the purposes of understanding federal cannabis reform, let’s take a quick look into the procedural status of the relevant legislation and who is in a position to influence what happens to it; then, when reviewing the policies they stand to codify, we will also understand the legislative landscape they must navigate.

Rep. Rohrabacher launches the Cannabis Caucus, Photo via Earl Blumenauer/YouTube

A good place to start is February 16, 2017 when Republican Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) along with Democratic Congressmen Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Under House and Senate rules, such a caucus must formally register with the House Committee on Administration as a Congressional Member Organization (CMO), disclosing its officers and members and declaring its purpose. These CMOs are sometimes referred to by different names: caucuses, conferences, coalitions, task forces, etc. The best known of these are the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses and the House and Senate Republican Conferences. By setting party policy, driving legislative strategy, promoting party cohesion and rewarding party loyalty, these largest of CMOs dominate partisan activity on Capitol Hill. Smaller CMOs, on the other hand, advance only specific interests and often cross the partisan divide. The Cannabis Caucus, for instance, was formed to catalyze a federal response to the nationwide legalization movement, and its “Path to Marijuana Reform” is a large part of the spate of bills that have been dropped into the congressional hopper over the past six months.

All in all there are twenty cannabis reform bills currently pending in Congress. In the House, all but two of the fourteen bills there have been referred to either the Energy & Commerce Committee or the Judiciary Committee, and all but one of the six in the Senate have been referred to either the Finance or Judiciary Committees.

A Note on Committees & Procedure

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is on the Ways and Means Committee
Photo: Michael Campbell

Under House and Senate rules, bills are referred to committees by matching the former’s subject matter to the latter’s jurisdiction. In the House, the Speaker may attach time limits for committee action, refer a bill or portions of a bill to multiple committees and determine the sequence in which they are to be considered. The Speaker may also convene an ad hoc committee to consider a bill, and “make such other provision as may be considered appropriate.” As can be gleaned, the Speakership holds substantial procedural powers, and is in fact the only congressional leadership position created by the Constitution. The Senate’s counterpart, the majority leader, has in comparison less discretion in moving along legislative business.

At the next step, both the House and Senate grant each committee the authority to make their own rules on how they are to consider bills. Once referred, committee chairs generally decide to further refer a bill to a subcommittee, hold hearings, subpoena evidence and witnesses, call ‘markup’ sessions to propose and debate amendments, and finally to schedule a vote to report bills back to the chamber floor. If a committee chair wishes to kill a bill, these procedural powers provide wide, though not absolute, authority to do so. Jockeying for a chairmanship is therefore big game in the life of a legislator. Ultimately, members are nominated and elected to their respective committees and chairs according to the rules of their parties’ caucus or conference, and upon a vote of approval on the floor. Seniority is only one factor in these votes, and so because nothing is predetermined, these intraparty contests can explain a great deal about member behavior.

With that background to help triangulate Capitol Hill politics, we should now be better equipped to look into the cannabis bills pending before the 115th Congress, the committees to which they have been referred, and their procedural status. Stay tuned for the next article in this series when we will begin our bill-by-bill review.