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Fixing Poor Dispensary Employee Engagement

Although HR practitioners and experts talk almost nonstop about how to build and maintain engagement, the hard truth is your dispensary workforce probably isn’t feeling the love.

According to Gallup, just 33 percent (33%) of American workers are engaged in their jobs. Fifty-two percent (52%) say they’re “just showing up,” and 17 percent (17%) describe themselves as “actively disengaged.” Such numbers have real consequences for your business. Gallup’s research has also shown that engaged workers contribute measurably to the organization:

  • They’re 18 percent more productive
  • 37 percent less prone to absenteeism
  • Generate earnings that are 18 percent higher

If you discover that engagement is low, you need to develop a plan for building it back up. But before you start, there’s a lot of prep work to do. After all, engagement is about how people feel, so understanding the workforce’s mindset is critical.


Understand What’s Happening and Why

Where do we start?

The first step is to learn why dispensary employees feel disengaged. The most effective way to do that is to ask in direct conversations with a wide range of dispensary employees. In these conversations, be empathetic and resist the temptation to defend or explain problems that come up. Your role is to nondefensively and respectfully receive the input that will ultimately form the basis of your solution.

Also, conduct an anonymous survey that gives the entire cannabis workforce an opportunity to chime in. Focus your questions on the dispensary organization’s leadership, career development opportunities, company pride and how everyone views their working relationships. Focus groups and town hall meetings can help clarify issues the survey may uncover.

Finally, get a handle on more objective issues by tracking workforce-related key performance indicators by conducting benchmarks against other employers in the area. Diving deep – by both listening and studying data – is key to addressing engagement issues.

That’s because you can’t solve problems unless you really understand them and when faced with engagement troubles, many companies jump straight into searching for a single root cause. They might ask, “Was it because of our recent organizational change? Is it because our CEO has been traveling a lot lately?

Stop that line of thinking and get out there and listen before you diagnose.

Keep Your Promises

As you gather feedback, make sure HR and the cannabis dispensary leadership is on the same page about what you’re going to do with it. Don’t even bother to ask employees what’s preventing them from feeling more engaged…if you don’t intend to publicly do something with what you learn.

You’ll do more harm to your dispensary culture and employees’ engagement levels if your inquiries don’t result in visible changes in the workplace. If topics come up that are impossible to act on, clearly and honestly explaining why HR can’t take action.

This is particularly important because practitioners are often criticized for being reactive rather than proactive, so you want to “transition” from being human resources and administration to organizational development (OD). The OD process: assess, get feedback, diagnose issues, prescribe solutions, then do it all again.

Be quick to address basic operational flaws and by reviewing and revising a number of organizational policies you are able to improve areas like payroll so that errors became rare. Look for “quick wins for middle management” by providing training on topics such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings.

The emphasis on action is a good step to take. Once leaders get feedback data, they sometimes go into ‘analysis paralysis‘ and can’t decide on a focus area, which results in spinning wheels. The best thing to do is select one (1) or two (2) areas you think will have the biggest impact on engagement and act on them.


Communicate at All Levels

Transparency is at the heart of any plan to attack disengagement because it shows the dispensary workforce respect, whether you’re honestly explaining why a decision was made or demonstrating that executives and HR hold themselves and others accountable. This is key to a great culture.

Culture is really a living, breathing organism, and if you cut off certain parts from others – well, you know what will happen next. While experts agree that engagement begins at the top, but it is the middle managers and supervisors are the most-impactful factors in determining engagement levels in a cannabis dispensary.

The quality of dispensary employees’ relationships with their immediate supervisors overwhelmingly determines the level of engagement and can account for as much as 70 percent (70%) of our engagement score. Gallup’s research, however, shows that dispensary managers don’t spend enough time communicating with their direct reports.

For example, 53 percent of employees don’t have a clear understanding of how their role contributes to their company’s objectives, and 54 percent believe their colleagues appreciate them more than their supervisors or company executives do. That lack of communication weakens the relationship and as communication improves, more dispensary workers came to understand the growth opportunities available to them.


Have a Plan and Track Your Progress

When it comes to increasing engagement, exactly what HR does and how it does it will vary from one cannabis dispensary to other dispensaries and, if you decide to bring one in, from consultant to consultant.

However, engagement professionals have some tips to consider as you develop your plan:

  • Culture is driven from the top down, so senior leaders must be involved in any plan’s implementation by directing initiatives and making sure to communicate with them. The leadership team should also meet regularly to review the plan’s progress.
  • Set specific goals and assign responsibility for each one. Determine ahead of time how progress will be measured, then track results on an ongoing basis.
  • Rewards are an important part of most engagement programs, to develop an approach that aligns with the interests of your workforce and recognizes the effort employees need to put in at each step.
  • You need a budget. Ask yourself what’s possible with the money you have and what you want to achieve. Plan for how your expenses will change based on positive or negative outcomes.
  • This never ends. Everyone has to accept this is iterative. What employees value one year may not be true the next year, and you have to keep up with the workforce’s concerns.

Improving engagement was about fixing processes and building relationships with both staff and managers across the cannabis dispensary. With the back office functioning smoothly, middle managers communicating effectively, and a program in place to teach employees how other functions operate, the team is more cohesive, and engagement vastly improved.

Let us know what you think.