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By Matt Walstatter

One of the things we’re most proud of at Pure Green, my dispensary in Portland, Oregon, is our employee retention. When we celebrated our third anniversary last month, we still had four out of six original employees.

But a few days later, we said goodbye to Travis, our inventory manager, who moved on to run his own company making cannabis tinctures and capsules. We have had employee turnover in a number of positions, but managing inventory is among the most important roles in a retail cannabis facility. So this felt like a much more significant transition than some of the others.

During our first two years of operations, I ran inventory myself before passing the baton to Travis. As our very first hire, Travis helped us to come up with the name Pure Green and build out the store before opening. Before serving as inventory manager, he was a budtender, assistant manager, and floor manager. He trained for the position of inventory manager for years (whether he realized it or not) and was steeped in the Pure Green culture. After all, he helped create it.

To replace Travis, we decided to hire outside the company. That meant the new hire would have a great deal of less time to learn the job than Travis had. Since I work closely with the inventory manager, the prospect of a newer, less experienced individual in that role terrified me.

We spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for this transition, in order to make sure it went as smooth as possible. What follows are some insights from our process, along with some lessons learned.

Be Prepared and Think Ahead

We were extremely fortunate that this was not an abrupt transition. Travis gave us a few months notice, which made the process much easier and less stressful. But that’s fairly rare; usually these transitions happen much more suddenly, often with as little as two weeks notice.

Have a plan in place in case you learn you will be losing a key team member on short notice. Identify the employees that are most important to your company and think about what you would do if any of them quit abruptly. Who will replace them? Will you advance someone internally or hire from outside? How will you find candidates?

I keep a mental list of people inside my company who I might be able to promote. Where possible, I train and groom them so that they will be as ready as they can when asked to step into a new role. This also allows me to see how they handle certain situations before I offer them greater responsibility.

I also keep track of people outside my company that I think would be a good fit for Pure Green. When an opening arises, I can also reach out to one of them.

Despite all of that, it is rare that you have a job opening that you can immediately fill with a known individual. This means advertising the position and interviewing prospective hires. Having an up to date job description will make this process much easier. It also helps to think in advance about where you will advertise to find candidates.

Interviews: Ask the Right Questions

When interviewing, we have found it helpful to ask practical questions that speak to product knowledge, in addition to hearing about a candidate’s background, education and experience. In our budtender interview, we ask questions like the following:

A customer wants to split a half ounce three ways. She wants an indica, a sativa and something that tastes good. Using this menu (we provide our Leafly menu), what strains would you recommend? How many grams of each would you give her to split the half ounce three ways?

These types of questions enhance our insight into what the candidate knows about cannabis. For an inventory manager, you may show her a pound, ask her to identify the strain, tell you whether it was grown indoor or outdoor, and what she thinks a fair price would be. You could also show her products with an improper cure or a bad trim job to see if she spots the issue.

Training on the Job

Once you hire someone, you must train them to do the job. Presumably they have the baseline knowledge and skills, so what you’re really teaching them is your specific policies, procedures, and culture.

Coming up with a training plan on two weeks notice while trying to find and hire a candidate for a key position can be a real challenge, especially since you probably have a few other responsibilities to manage. Having a training plan or program in place will alleviate a great deal of pressure.

Make sure that you have an operations manual that is kept up-to-date. This will be the framework upon which you build your training program. A solid operations manual will clearly outline what each person needs to know in order to do their job. Training is a lot easier if you already know exactly what you need to teach.

Have as much overlap as possible between the current employee and new hire. After all, the best person to train a new inventory manager is usually the old inventory manager. This is true for most positions. This won’t always be possible, so have a backup plan to know who will train the new hire if the outgoing individual cannot.

You will notice bumps in any transition, so be prepared. An owner or manager will often have increased responsibilities when replacing a key team member. You’ll find some things that used to happen now only happen if you do them yourself or assign someone to do it; teach them how, then manage and supervise the process.

Dealing With Work Changes

If you have hired well, disruption will be minimized and things will return to normal over time. It is inevitable that you will run into these types of issues as your new hire learns the ropes and your existing staff adjusts to the new dynamics.

Change is scary, especially when it affects a key aspect of your operations. It’s hard enough to run a business, especially a cannabis business, even on the best days. Hiring a new team member to fill a crucial role amplifies and increases all of those challenges.

But change is also inevitable. It is how we grow, progress and ultimately succeed. So much of life involves managing and mitigating this type of fear, finding ways to persevere and succeed when it gets scary. By having a plan in place for these transitions, you will never be blindsided. You may surprised to learn a staffer is leaving, but you will be ready.