• Taylor H.

Why Managing Change Will Make or Break Your Cannabusiness

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

change man·age·ment


  1. the management of change and development within a business or similar organization.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that change is constant. In the cannabis industry, change is a special, supernova-like combination of constant + rapid.  Whether it’s consumer preferences, labeling requirements, testing requirements, acquisitions, best practices, the weekly deals at favored dispensaries — you name it, it’s changing, and it’s changing fast.

Though cannabis business owners and operators know that change is happening rapidly, it is not always managed well.  The mismanagement of change is felt by internal team members and consumers alike.  How could it possibly be that one of the most prominent and defining characteristics of an entire industry is commonly mismanaged by the leaders in the industry?

Taylor is a Business Support Strategist at The J. Whitney Group, a cannabis business consulting firm.  She offers the following insights.

Common Reasons for Mismanaged Change in Cannabis Businesses

  • Cannabis business owners and operators are so busy trying to keep the business running that they rarely find time for the B-school activities such as on-going team training, thoroughly designed hiring practices, or developing and implementing change management strategies.

  • Cannabis business owners and operators don’t realize that there are strategies especially designed for managing change.  So, they spend unnecessary time trying to reinvent the wheel. 

  • Cannabis business owners and operators can be so disconnected from the daily operations of their business(es) that they don’t see the real impact that unmanaged change is having on their people and their bottom line.

  • Cannabis business owners and operators are so consumed by pushing forward for rapid growth that they forget to look around to make sure that the foundation they are standing on is solid.

When evaluating the top reasons for mismanaged change among cannabis businesses, it boils down to brains and calendars filled to the max.  “It’s not that the owners and operators are not intelligent enough to manage change well, it’s simply that they don’t have the head space,” said Taylor. “It is a common issue for owners and operators of businesses in any industry, then you add the high-risk environment of the cannabis space and it’s an even more intense game.”  It’s not just in our industry: A study of 286 organizations found that “thirty-one percent of CEOs were fired for poor change management.”

The quality of the cannabis industry down the line will be largely influenced by organizations figuring out how to manage change better.  When change management processes are not put in place from the beginning and then diligently adhered to throughout a cannabis company’s growth, operators and management teams wind up being forced into reactive, rather than proactive, roles.  Reactive leaders, result in reactive employees, which result in inconsistently serviced consumers, and inconsistently practiced processes and procedures. 

Managers can have difficulty identifying examples of mismanaged change or rapid-fire management occurring within their organization because the changes can seem small and somewhat routine: suddenly changing processes without warning (or full communication) to the team, suddenly changing operating hours and therefore changing shift schedules, suddenly swapping one manager out for the next, suddenly switching ownership, etc.  

5 warning signs of fledgling change management

1. Attempting to Implement Change Without Buy-In

 Many leaders will attempt to make a change without first garnering the buy-in of the middle managers who will implement the change. Without management and employee buy-in, the change   effort will not have the passion behind it required to motivate employees to adjust and commit.

2. Being Seduced By Activity

Cannabis business owners can get seduced by how much their team is working, and how many “things” are going on. Remember, being busy is not the goal — seeing results is the goal.

3. Separating Change Management from Project Management

New project planning needs to integrate a plan to support the change the project will necessitate. 

4. Communication as Implementation

Simply announcing that something is changing does not mean that from that point forward, it actually has changed! Pair Communication efforts with an action plan for change implementation.  The plan should treat people like people by teaching them about the change, letting them in on why the change is happening, explaining how the change will affect them, and how the change is good for the organization as a whole.

5. Leading Change with Checklists

Leading a change effort with a checklist tells you that things have been done, but not that change   has actually been made.  Put measurement in place to periodically gauge whether or not the change effort is successful.

Change is natural in a nascent industry such as the cannabis industry.  The fact that change is natural must not be used as a crutch.   Successful change management has been accomplished by lesser, and greater, enterprises.  Whether the change is large or small, and whether it comes from internal sources or external, cannabis businesses are capable of managing change like champions. Those who build up their change management muscle will be higher performers and stronger competitors in the long run.

In “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” John P. Kotter discusses primary actions which lead to successful change efforts.

5 ways to manage change in your cannabis businesses

1. Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition

 Form a coalition of team members who will be in charge of championing the change throughout the organization.  Get them motivated, hyped and super familiar with the change effort so they can be the ones to get their colleagues (your employees) on board.

2. Create and Communicate the Vision

Describe how the change will impact the business in a big•-picture way.  Then, create strategies for creating that impact. Once the vision is well developed, use every vehicle possible to communicate    the vision and strategies to the entire team.  Your guiding coalition (from step 1) can set the example by modeling the new behaviors required for successful change implementation.

3. Empower Others to Act on The Vision

Change or remove systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision.  For example, if you want to speed up sales transactions, but you have an outdated and unorganized inventory system which is slowing employees down, you won’t get very far without revamping that inventory system.

4.  Planning for and Creating Short Term Wins

Plan for short term improvements and celebrate those improvements.  For example: “Wow!  We changed our intake process and we have successfully and accurately input 50 new client records using the new process.  Way to go team!  Now our client data is of higher quality and we can develop stronger long-term relationships with the clients who visit our dispensary.”

5. Institutionalizing Changed Approaches

Clearly articulate the connection between the change and corporate success as the organization sees results over time.  This can be operationally, culturally, financially — wherever the results can be seen. 

Be the change you wish to see in the industry.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

© 2019 by The J. Whitney Group.

All Regional Laws Apply to The JWG Services

Cannabis Business Consulting
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