Cultivation Business Strategies: Treating Employees Like Stars

, Cultivation Business Strategies: Treating Employees Like Stars

An Arizona medical marijuana company creates a corporate culture that values and retains top talent

By Joseph Peña

Recruiting high-performing, enthusiastic employees is a vital part of a retail strategy – and retaining top talent is just as critical. That’s where crafting a strong corporate culture can give your cannabis business an advantage over others and boost employee satisfaction and retention.

That strategy has worked for The Giving Tree Wellness Center, a vertically integrated medical marijuana business with two dispensaries and a production facility in Arizona.

There’s low single-digit turnover among The Giving Tree’s cultivators and patient consultants. In 2016, employees helped The Giving Tree land a spot on The Phoenix Business Journal’s list of Best Places to Work in the city.

The Giving Tree’s mission – “Improving the health and happiness of all through innovative cannabis products and experiences” – extends to its employees. Their well-being and happiness are prioritized through training and educational opportunities, regular and transparent communication, generous benefits and compensation and involvement in community events.

The company’s mission also resonates with employees, said Lilach Mazor Power, who co-founded the business in 2013 and is its managing director.

“If they believe in the same vision, they won’t feel like they’re working for someone else’s idea,” she said. “It’s something they’ll want to be a part of, and you’ll get where you’re going faster.”

Power shared the following tips for cultivating a corporate culture that values – and keeps – its employees.

Provide Training, Education

Employee training and development boosts employee retention, clues employees in to industry trends and makes them better ambassadors for your brand.

Each quarter, Power invites cannabis experts to tour The Giving Tree’s facilities and share a presentation with employees. For example, last year an Israeli cannabis company shared a presentation with 40 employees on advancements in new technology and cannabis research in Israel.

“Our employees love the company, but they also love the industry,” Power said. “They are passionate about it and love learning about what’s happening locally and globally.”

The Giving Tree also cross-trains employees. Cultivation, post-harvest and extraction managers, for example, share presentations on production processes with patient consultants.

“We want our team to understand what is happening in other departments and how hard every person works to make sure our product and services match our standards,” Power said.

The company’s owners started The Giving Tree University, a training opportunity for employees who interact regularly with customers to spend half a day in every department to meet colleagues and better understand processes in different parts of the business.

“Everyone should have that information,” Power said. “It’s good to share knowledge. I don’t have a secret sauce. My secret sauce is my team.”

Keep Employees in the Loop

Regular, transparent communication with employees is important, Power said. In quarterly newsletter communications to employees, she shares sales and patient numbers.

In the competitive cannabis industry, some business owners worry about sharing numbers and having that information leaked, but employees appreciate transparency, Power said. They like to know that business is steady and growing.

The quarterly newsletters are also used to share guest speaking and conference schedules, policy updates, fun facts about new employees, work anniversaries and an outline of events for the next 90 days, she said.

Invest in Their Futures

Benefits and compensation are important to showing employees that you value their contributions to your business, Power said.

The Giving Tree offers employees health insurance, a 3% matching 401(k) contribution and profit-sharing.

For employees, Power emphasizes the importance of saving for retirement.

“Our job is to make sure their future is secure, so we match 3% in their 401(k)s – if you’re not putting money away, you’re losing money,” Power said. “We want them to think about their futures.”

At the end of the year, the company’s retirement plan managers deposit a percentage of The Giving Tree’s annual profits into employees’ retirement accounts based on their hours worked and employment history.

“We are where we are because of them,” Power said. “They help us build it, they deserve it.”

Create a Culture of Giving Back

Giving back to the community is also an important way Power connects her team to The Giving Tree’s vision and to each other.

Fundraising and creating shared goals is an important part of the company’s culture.

“In any company, having the right people makes all the difference,” Power said. “You have to have people who are interested in making a difference in the company and in the community. We made sure that the people who work for us enjoy it and love it and feel like they’re a part of something bigger.”

In 2017, The Giving Tree’s employees raised more than $21,000 for Phoenix charities. They were the top fundraising team for the Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis walk, raised more than $9,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K and raised more than $1,000 for a Phoenix domestic abuse shelter.

The Giving Tree also worked with three other women-owned dispensaries to launch the Confident Woman campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence, as well as a Confident Woman indica pre-roll, with 50% of product proceeds benefitting a local domestic abuse shelter.

“I want people to work for The Giving Tree because they want to be a part of what we do and they believe in what we do, not because they’re just looking for a job,” Power said. “And I think that’s what we’ve created here.”