Establishing a Hierarchy

Wearing multiple hats has become fashionable for the cannabis industry, but installing a proper management structure can improve organization, communication and efficiency

The specific roles and responsibilities of employees will develop naturally over time, but a well-established hierarchy can keep a business organized and prevent communications from getting muddled.

Structure is key to allowing a company to grow out of the vicious cycle of simply putting out one fire after another. The act of creating an org chart may seem like taking some of the fun out of cannabis, but work isn’t supposed to be fun — the cannabis industry just happens to be a rare exception.

There’s no set structure a retail store must follow when organizing a management hierarchy, and the role of one manager might vary widely from one company to the next. But even the smallest retail operators can benefit greatly by developing job descriptions that create accountability and give each team member an integral role in the company’s success.

The following article is from the March 2018 issue of Marijuana Venture, © 2018 Marijuana Venture.

Uncle Ike’s in Seattle.

Organic Organization

Depending on the size of the operation, many businesses have people specifically handling individual responsibilities, like sales, marketing, buying, customer service and human resources. In cannabis, many of those roles can be performed by the same person.

But even within a small company, a business should begin developing the framework of a management structure as soon as it hires its first employee. While there are a multitude of ways to structure a company, organizational experts agree the only wrong way is to take no action at all. Beyond determining “who does what,” the first step toward organizing a hierarchy should begin with processes.

“Rather than slapping a title on somebody, it might be advantageous for organizations to think a little bit more about process development and then the position naturally evolves,” says Orlando Vidali, president of Arcana Inc., a Colorado-based consulting firm. “If I am hiring this person, then this person is going to this station and if these things are happening, then this is the way we engage with the customer. If you flow that out, you can workshop a lot of that to figure out which person is best suited to what (job).”

The easiest way to create an organizational chart is to place the owner in a box at the top and then work down. Below the owner should be department managers and specialized positions; below that should be senior employees, followed by junior employees.

There are several formal structures for organizing a business, such as the functional, divisional and matrix models, but according to Patricia M. Buhler, a business professor at Goldey-Beacom College and author of numerous books on human resource management, maintaining flexibility can be an important consideration.

In an article titled, “Changing Organizational Structures and Their Impact on Managers,” Buhler wrote that the best way to structure a business facing rapid changes is by first looking to meet the needs of the present while remaining comfortable with restructuring the company as needed.

That is to say, this is not a “one-hit-and-quit” process.

One of Washington’s top performing stores, Clear Choice Cannabis, schedules on-site managers to streamline operations.

How to Motivate Employees

By Chris Widener

One of the challenges of running a business is keeping employees motivated to do their jobs efficiently and happily. This can be difficult, but with a few good ideas and some discipline as the leader, it can be done.

The famed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say there are three main ways to motivate people in general, and employees specifically. They are fear, incentives and growth. Let’s take a look at each one.

Fear: This is not a good motivator. Number one, it isn’t right, and number two, it doesn’t work well in the long run and isn’t good for the overall health of an organization. Yet, there are still people who use it. They make blatant or veiled threats in order to get people to work. There is a better way. Fear comes from coercion and is predicated on a negative outcome. This doesn’t motivate anyone.

Incentives: Leadership author John Maxwell says, “What gets rewarded, gets done.” This is the technique that says, “If you do this, then you will get this.” The problem Ziglar sees, and I concur, is that people will be led this way for a while, and it will surely be profitable and productive. But eventually, most people come to the end of being driven by incentive. And the difficulty, especially for a small business, is that there is a cap on the value of incentives that a business can afford. We must realize that most people are innately driven by something even deeper.

Growth: Do you ever wonder how the personal growth industry has gotten so huge? It’s because it scratches an itch that lies within each person. Every person has within them a desire to get better, at least in one area of their life. Obviously, some are more in tune with that desire than others, but each person has it and it can be a great motivating factor.

First, here is how it doesn’t work. You don’t say “If you do this, then I will give you a personal growth opportunity.” That is still incentive.

Here’s how it does work: Make it a core value of your business or organization that management will give regular opportunities for personal and professional growth to all members of the staff.

I say both personal and professional growth intentionally. There will always be the opportunity and need for professional growth. Employees expect that, but they may or may not appreciate it.

However, personal growth opportunities, given with no strings attached, will be appreciated and rewarded with ultra-motivated employees. Here are some simple ideas:

– A library stocked with books and audios that help them in their personal growth

– A gift subscription to

– Any kind of development seminar that will benefit the employee

– Days off to pursue personal development opportunities

– Taking the whole company to serve the homeless

I’m sure with some more thought you can come up with ideas specifically for your employees. Invest in your employee’s personal growth and they will reward you with high motivation. Ultimately, you want to purposefully create a culture of success that is rewarding for people to come and work in each day.

Chris Widener is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of 17 books. He is a consultant to small and mid-size businesses and a personal coach to business leaders. Find out more about him at

Who’s the Boss?

The reasoning behind establishing a hierarchy for employees can best be summed by political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who said, “It is not wisdom but Authority that makes a law.”

Every employee should be able to identify their immediate supervisor. From an organizational chart perspective, each box should be vertically linked to a box above them. This should extend from the entry-level positions all the way to the CEO or owner of the business. Ideally, the chart should resemble a pyramid.

Regardless of nomenclature, the top position in the hierarchy should have two major roles within the company: overseeing all aspects of the company and reporting to investors.

“If the owner isn’t actively engaged, you need to have someone at the top that is really the person that the buck stops at,” Vidali says. “Somebody has to be the one where there is clear delineation from the top.”

Below the owner should be the next level of upper management. The exact titles can vary from C-level positions to assistant manager or shift supervisor. A three-person retail operation likely won’t need a marketing director or a human resources department, but those roles should still be delegated clearly.

The pyramid structure of a chart should be realistic; if a single box has an enormous number of employees connecting to it, action needs to be taken to mediate that person’s responsibilities.

Kristina Green.

Such was the case of Kristina Green at Clear Choice Cannabis in Tacoma, Washington, consistently one of the top-performing retailers in the state. Green’s organizational chart started as a plateau where 50 employees would all report to a single person

As chief operations officer, Green says her first task was to create a larger management structure for the company.

“When I stepped in, I tried to run the COO position as a store manager. I had leads and sales staff, but I needed something in between me and those 50 employees, so we hired an assistant manager and a store manager,” Green says.

By creating middle-management positions, the new managers were able to support the sales staff during business hours, allowing for quicker resolutions on the sales floor and streamlining communication channels. It also provides the potential for employee advancement.

Vidali says cannabis retailers “have grown so quickly that everybody wears way too many hats and that hierarchy is exceptionally loose. In most cases there really isn’t a set pathway at this stage for someone to come in and move through the hierarchy.”

At Clear Choice, Green posts new positions internally for current employees to see and then conducts internal interviews with team members to find the right person for the position. 

Green says that strategy reinforces the company’s culture, softens the modern trend of employees bouncing from company to company for monetary gains and helps to cement the roles of each position as they develop organically.

While new businesses will see roles of employees evolve organically, cannabis retailers should be prepared to make organizational changes as needed.

Formulaic Formations

Roger D’Aprix, an author, communications consultant and occasional scoring consultant for Fortune’s 500 list, wrote in the article “Reinventing the Strategic Communicator” that business owners should ensure every employee knows the answers to the following six questions: What is my job? How am I doing? Does anyone care? How are we doing? What are our vision, mission and values? How can I help?

Business owners need to first develop the identity of the company; then, the questions should answer themselves, D’Aprix writes.

“The hierarchy (at retail cannabis stores) in a lot of ways is entirely flipped, so the store managers and budtenders feed market information back up to the owners and the owners look at them as the trusted resource,” Vidali says. “But it should fall on upper management to really set the standard.”

Vidali says consumers entering a retail store should see the hierarchy going upward in the same way they do at other retail stores. For the sake of simplicity, Vidali says there should be entry-level personnel who can detail the current specials and assist normal commerce, then there should be senior-level associates who can get into the details of a wider selection of products.

“You should have junior-level and senior-level budtenders with some sort of denomination in there because the average budtender is asked to do way too much in terms of understanding 300 different SKUs on the shelves,” he says. “You should be able to escalate in case a sales associate can’t answer a question, then they can refer to another person on site.”

However, while flexibility remains key even for traditional retailers, it’s even more critical in the cannabis space, in which rules and regulations are in a continuous state of flux and businesses are rapidly learning about their customers in the era of legal marijuana.

“The reality of the industry right now can look very different in two or three years as consumer behavior shifts,” Vidali says.



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