Retained executive search has been the focus of my career for the past 20 years, which has included thousands of hires for hundreds of companies in all corners of the world in industries such as medical devices, in-vitro diagnostics, pharma, biotech and food and (adult) beverage consumer packaged goods companies. As a long-time practitioner of a relationship-oriented approach to marrying talent with career opportunities, it’s important that both parties make well-informed decisions about entering into a professional relationship.
This process includes a fully transparent evaluation process with a focus on education to ensure the talent is as clear as possible on what they’re signing up for, and to ensure hiring companies have a full picture of that individual’s professional, financial and personal motivators.
My industry transition to cannabis in 2017 gave me the opportunity to apply the experience I’ve gained with large, established market leaders as well as startups in various industries. It also forced me to truly understand what works and what does not work from a talent acquisition standpoint.
With most cannabis businesses in startup mode (and a lot of talent recruited from outside the cannabis industry), here are a few recommended hiring practices that address what most startups struggle with:
– Define newly created roles: Role confusion in startups is prevalent and results in high turnover. Be careful and purposeful when creating a new role, defining how success will be measured in that role and then ensuring the success of the role. Vetting skills and experience is critical, but also think about hiring holistically. It’s important that critical early hires possess the aptitude to learn and grow because they will wear many hats at first and need to be able to scale as the company grows. Push your interview questions beyond just skills assessment.
– Continually evolve leadership: Leaders must keep their fingers on the pulse of the business’ growth needs, especially when it comes to human capital. Knowing when it’s right to create a new role for the executive team and/or upgrade the talent in key leadership roles is important. The talent that got you from A to B is not always the right talent to get you to C and beyond.
Also, your leadership team should expand appropriately so that key leaders can continuously deepen their lanes of focus rather than be forced to exist for too long in a multi-role conundrum. This helps ensure they have the time (or energy) to deliver the excellent results you hired them for and will take the business to new heights.
– Be honest about company culture: Effectively and honestly communicating your company culture throughout your recruiting efforts is paramount. Candid conversations upfront with talent about your company culture, or lack thereof, will go a long way toward ensuring you hire the right “fit.” Culture is everything. Be proud of what you’ve built, or at least honest about it. That transparency will save everyone a lot of grief in the long run. Get clear on who you want to be and the culture you want to build.
– Do your homework on compensation: Tackle the compensation conundrum early and revisit it often. Determining the best package for your new (executive) hires should be done with deep market intel, coupled with thoughtfulness about what fits financially over the long-term for your business. For example, are you more willing to part with cash or equity to land your desired talent?
There’s a lot of talk about cash-strapped cannabis businesses paying too low on the salary scale, and not enough talk about the dangers of paying too much. Consider offering less cash to ensure you’re winning talent for the “right” motivations, which will also leave you more room for salary increases and more capital to invest in your business.
– Be realistic: Raising the talent bar to build a high-performance team is a great consideration. It’s one thing to say you want to build an organization of top talent, but it’s another to believe you can make the right effort and offer the right scenario to attract that talent. Be confident and optimistic about the success of your business, but also be careful of the “champagne taste vs. beer budget” struggle or you’ll be stuck spinning your wheels.
– Add a culture champion: As soon as you feel the time is right for the investment, hire a strong human resources/human capital leader to guide you through your hiring. Too many in the cannabis economy view an HR leader as a paper-pusher whose existence should solely be to ensure the company stays out of trouble. Your HR/HC leader should be capable of that and so much more. They should be a champion and defender of your culture and they should keep you informed of the quantifiable details about the cost of a bad hire far outweighing the upfront investment of a good hire.
– Cannabis isn’t a cakewalk: Ensure your talent truly believe, with all the relevant facts, that the cannabis economy is right for them. There are a lot of “watch-outs” to cover here due to where the industry is, such as the negative stigma that may get placed on them, any immigration or citizenship concerns, federal pension payout concerns, motivations for entering the industry, etc.
Your new executive hire is likely to accept less cash compensation in return for doing more “grunt work” and equity in the organization. This is not a sustainable option for some. Discuss with the candidates the (perceived) risks with their climb back down the proverbial corporate ladder as well as the tradeoff of doing more meaningful work versus getting paid more. Then, extend an offer after your hiring team has decided it’s a “hell yeah” or walk away from that individual if not.
– Slow it down: Hiring a senior leader is a huge investment. Make sure you get it right. One bad hire can bring down your entire cannabis business. Don’t forget the all-important vetting of soft skills, such as adaptability, passion, collaborative, self-starter, trailblazer, visionary, etc.
– Cultivate the candidate relationships: Conversely, streamline your hiring process with the candidates’ experience in mind. Candidates are people and people have emotions. A job search can become an emotional experience. Be respectful and responsive and don’t leave candidates hanging unnecessarily. Recruiting should be considered a corporate brand-building exercise. Candidates, as well as their friends and family, are consumers (and investors) that you want to please.
– Look beyond friends and family: Hire the people you know the same way you hire strangers. Cannabis businesses are chock full of nepotism, because it makes sense to hire people you trust in this very tricky space; however, that trust cannot trump hiring the most qualified person.
Bryan Passman is the founder and CEO of Hunter + Esquire, a full-service cannabis recruitment firm. He has more than two decades of executive search experience and has enjoyed a 100% rate of acceptance of executive hires with cannabis clients and greater than 90% stick rate on those hires since 2017. For more information, visit hunteresquire.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.