The Ebbs & Flows of Change in the Cannabis Industry

Sean Arnold
May 25, 2021

Change has always been a constant in life. It comes in many different forms and can impact every aspect of human existence. For many of us, the last 16 months have presented more change and disruption than we probably ever expected to see in our lifetime. No one knows for sure what the future holds, but one thing is certain, change will outlive us all. Our ability to accept and manage change, whether personal or professional, is a fundamental element to our existence and our success.

This fundamental ability has never been more essential than it is in the cannabis industry. If you’re going to be successful in commercial cannabis, you need to consistently adapt to change. Furthermore, you’ll need to coach and inspire your team to do the same. The cannabis industry, much like that of tech, evolves at breakneck speeds which means change is happening all around you. From research and development to retail storefronts and the regulations that touch everything in between, change is rampant in cannabis, for better or for worse. With this in mind, how you and your team manage change can make the difference between success and failure.

In general, the change within the industry has momentum towards safer, more consistent, higher quality products, with greater transparency into what’s going into products and how products are being made. The catalyst for change could be scientific discoveries, health and safety initiatives, consumer preferences, or increased competition within the market. Some of these changes, such as consumer preferences, gradually change over time with little or no announcement. Others, such as regulatory change, go through a legal process and are followed by multiple announcements and a timeline for the change implementation. That’s not to say these changes are any easier to accept, there’s just more awareness once they’ve been put in motion.   

Recognizing change is the first step in effectively managing it. From there, it’s important to identify all areas of the business that will be impacted and develop a plan to address the change(s) within your company. This stage may require the assistance of professionals with more experience in the area of the proposed reform. The last thing you want to do is make unnecessary changes or changes that are inappropriate for their intended purpose. Getting a second opinion is not nearly as costly as having to implement corrective action to fix a poorly thought-out or executed plan. Keep in mind the actions and language used by owners and executives at this stage can be influential on how well a team will adapt. By being proactive, positive, and “bought-in” on the proposed changes, you’ll increase the odds for a successful transition. However, if owners, executives, and management carry a pessimistic and negative view of the proposed changes, the chances for a successful transition will significantly diminish.  

Personalities and psychology are also prevalent players in the quest for change and some team members will need more support than others. This is important to recognize sooner than later and even the top brass are not immune to the potential of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the process. Furthermore, today’s workforce is diverse and dynamic with professionals being driven by different aspirations. What motivates one group of employees may not motivate another, so finding a common cause to rally the team around is critical. It can be helpful in these situations to spend time explaining to employees their relation to the cause and effect matrix within the new system and the value of their respective contributions. Managing the team and exercising discipline on employee deliverables during a transition is key to sustaining the new system.   

Maintaining flexibility in your operations while keeping a pulse on industry trends and patterns will prepare you to handle whatever changes head your way. The industry is still very young and from this, we know the market along with its many players will continue to evolve as the legal landscape shifts below our feet. While we may not be able to predict where the industry will end up, we’re confident an organized plan, paired with discipline and patience, will be your ticket to managing change and achieving sustainability within your cannabis business.