By Tony C. Dreibus
Hiring qualified employees is paramount to the success of any business. But finding a high-level executive, top-notch master grower or even a budtender in a nascent industry that revolves around a federally illegal drug can be especially difficult.
Aside from bringing on talent, marijuana companies run into numerous obstacles when it comes to staffing – from human resources issues to challenges involving consumption policies and compensation.
David Muret and Kara Bradford, who started Seattle-based Viridian Staffing in 2013, recently spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about some of the staffing and human resources challenges business owners need to overcome to remain viable in the cannabis industry.
What qualities should a business owner look for in candidates for executive positions within the cannabis industry?
Muret: For a lot of these positions, the qualities that make a good candidate in this industry are the exact same things that make a good candidate in any other industry. It’s important if they’re motivated by something more than just the money – it definitely makes a difference in terms of performance.
We have bias toward people who share that passion and commitment (for the industry). We find they make a better fit, usually. A lot of it is culture: There are some operations that are more laid back, like a small family, and the personal traits of the person matter as much as the skill set.
What salary trends are you seeing? Do cannabis companies pay what their peers in other industries pay?
Bradford: A lot of executives (in other industries) are making $250,000-plus, and that’s just a base and doesn’t include incentives and everything else. A lot of these cannabis companies are just getting started so they may not be able to pay.
So what does a small cannabis company need to do to attract top-level talent?
Bradford: Developing the methods to get a candidate to accept requires a strategic partnership (involving the company, the candidate and the recruiter). It’s unique for each candidate.
Attracting top-level talent for startup money is always going to be tricky. A great way for companies to attract talent at all levels though is to provide a work atmosphere that people would want to work in and be a part of. Culture will be important to any candidate regardless if you’re a data entry clerk or the CFO.
What is one mistake many cannabis business owners are committing with regards to staffing?
Muret: A lot of them don’t know how to document employee performance. Some come to us and say, “We want to let this person go,” but we look at the reviews (of their job performance) up to this point and say “That may be tough.”
At the very least, you run the risk of being on the hook for unemployment. One of the things we try to educate our clients on is the cost of employee turnover. Having (disruptions) in workflows may be more costly than hiring a decent recruiting firm, but a lot of them aren’t big enough at this point and think this isn’t as big a concern as the legal or accounting side.
How should a cannabis company – and particularly one focused on medical marijuana, where some employees take it for medication – address consumption?
Bradford: It’s working with (companies and employees) to understand what the policy is. Whenever I’m talking to candidates I don’t need to know what their consumption is but I tell them, “this is the type of work environment.”
If the company is comfortable with that person having medicine on-site, it’s not something I need to know, but I want to make candidates aware to make sure the company is the right fit for them. You want the candidate to be happy as well or you’re going to run into a turnover issue. Having a good employee handbook with clear policies is important.
Do you see more cannabis companies using staffing firms as the industry grows?
Muret: It was nice in Washington that we got to plant our flag first and build goodwill and name recognition, but it has been a costly decision. We have seen one would-be competitor that doesn’t come from a staffing background go belly up here in Washington, so there’s already blood on the floor.
There has been an uptick. We do see business increase month over month, not a tsunami by any means, but enough that we can say we didn’t make a mistake in doing this. Hopefully it will continue on that trajectory.
Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at [email protected]