The importance of culture, communication and flexibility when navigating challenging times in cannabis space

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Image of Chris Hagedorn(Editor’s note: This story is part of a recurring series of commentaries from professionals connected to the cannabis industry. Chris Hagedorn is general manager of Hawthorne Gardening Co., a subsidiary of Scott Miracle-Gro.)

It’s an understatement to say that most everyone has found themselves in uncharted waters professionally and personally recently.

I’ve faced a ton of crazy emotions ranging from uncertainty to frustration and fear. But, at the same time, I find myself feeling hopefulness and pride.

First and foremost, while we have always known this, it’s now clear to those outside our industry just how essential we are to the people who count on us.

Demand is up, new state cannabis programs have come online and many more states have declared us an essential business. We have a greater purpose.

And that leads me to this: There’s never been a more interesting time to lead a business.

My optimism is driven by the fact that we’ve created a blueprint to navigate very challenging times.

And I want to share foundational pieces of that blueprint with you. It revolves around a strong company culture, open communication with employees and customers and a business model that includes flexibility and the ability to pivot when necessary.

Company Culture

Culture is just as important as planning – if not more so – in getting through a crisis.

I remember as a kid hearing my grandfather, Horace Hagedorn, co-founder of our parent company Scotts Miracle-Gro, talk about the importance of family, trust and companies just doing the right thing.

I watched him and then my father, Jim Hagedorn, the current CEO, shape our organization. Now, I have children, and it’s important they see how deeply family values run in our business.

Our company-as-family culture has guided us in making critical decisions in the most uncertain of situations.

We committed to keeping our people safe, employed and making our workplaces the second-safest place to be after our own homes.

We began making changes well before stay-at-home orders were imminent and were one of the first U.S. companies to transition office staff to remote work.

But as a manufacturer and distributor in an essential industry, the majority of our people kept working in our facilities and the field.

We limited occupancy, staggered shifts and put up protective barriers.

We continue to sanitize equipment regularly and enable social distancing and hand-washing. Through the peak period of the pandemic, we instituted premium pay at rates up to 50% for many of our associates

I know not all companies are multigenerational family businesses.

But the point is, aligning decisions with your culture in times of stress and in the best interest of your people will strengthen your bond with them 10 times over.

Open, two-way communication

Communication – and lots of it – builds strong ties with your staff and customers, paying benefits long after a crisis has passed.

We’ve let people know what to expect in real time.

For example, when two employees at one of our distribution facilities tested positive for COVID-19 (they have since recovered), we communicated this across the company and to our customers.

We shared the steps we took to address the situation – temporary closure of the facility, a deep cleaning and phased reopening while we monitored the health of all workers.

As a result, our associates understood how seriously we take their health and safety and were reassured by our ability to quickly respond.

Our customers knew they could feel safe accepting deliveries from us.

More broadly, our associates and customers know we trust them with information about our business, know we value their ideas and input and know why we’re making changes.

It’s a conversation we can carry forward and use to build our business even further.

Flexibility and resiliency

The winners in our industry’s next phase of growth will have flexibility and resiliency built into their businesses.

Those characteristics are always important. I also think they are something leaders in the industry know well.

Few industries have had to be as adaptable given the unique structural and regulatory challenges we’ve faced in the cannabis industry.

At the end of the day, we’ve seen that it’s not just about having backup suppliers or alternative distribution channels but also about staying close to customers, listening to employees and being willing and able to act.

For us, that has meant everything from helping customers manage a spike in demand for home hydroponic gardening supplies to letting a group of employees run with their idea to convert a production line to make face shields for health-care workers without disrupting supply commitments.

In broader terms, it’s about setting up systems so you can:

  1. Always be there for customers and associates.
  2. Be as responsive as possible to their needs – whether those evolve or change seemingly overnight.

It is what will enable our companies to sustain their connection to customers and employees even as we expand.

We have a saying that permeates our organization: “Flexibility is the key to airpower.”

It has come to represent the attitude to meet the needs of those that rely on us – inside and outside of the company.

While all of us are being tested today like never before, I see opportunities to come out even stronger.

The previous installment of this series is available here.

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