Three Ways to Build a Team That Stands the Test of Time

    Frencis Perret Gentil Jr. and Chloe Blaskiewicz

    Cultivation owners need to put together a team that is cohesive from the top down if they want to build a successful business that can weather the fluctuations of the market. A Director of Cultivation (“DOC”) with an educational background in horticulture, cannabis experience, and the right personality is a triple threat that will prove to be the biggest asset to any cultivation operation. New facilities would benefit most from cultivation employees without cannabis experience and existing facilities should promote from within the ranks, but all cultivation employees must have the stamina to follow a structured routine on a day-to-day basis. Most importantly, the owners and DOC need to take care of employees, which includes creating a cohesive culture built on teamwork and accountability in order to run efficiently and minimize turnover. 

    1. Early in the application process, invest in a qualified Director of Cultivation that has the education, experience, and personality to run a successful operation. 

    Cannabis cultivation owners without personal experience in the industry should begin looking for a DOC very early in the process of applying for a license. The DOC can guide owners through the process and help them build a better financial model. DOCs provide insight into how the facility will be operated and calculate the key metrics, resulting in a model that will more accurately reflect the prospective business. 

    Education is a vital, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of a qualified DOC candidate. While most institutions of higher education do not yet provide curricula for cannabis sciences (yet), a background in sciences more generally – whether agronomy, botany, horticulture– is necessary to provide a solid foundation for a DOC. As an owner, having a DOC with at least a bachelor’s degree in horticulture demonstrates that they have a deeper understanding of a cultivation operation and can analyze discrepancies or deficiencies from a scientific perspective. 

    The importance of education cannot be understated, but it merely provides a foundation on which to build knowledge through experience. A qualified candidate would have at least four years of experience as a Lead Cultivator before becoming DOC of a cannabis operation. Working under an experienced DOC in cannabis provides invaluable mentorship and an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and skills that can only be acquired by working in the field. A DOC with this type of background is qualified to operate a facility efficiently and meet the initial return on investment as stated in the financial model.

    “A DOC with an educational background in horticulture, cannabis experience, and the right personality is a triple threat that will prove to be the biggest asset to any cultivation operation.”

    The personality of the DOC is another quality that can prove to be a decisive factor in the success of the operation. Unlike other types of cannabis businesses, cultivation is a job that never stops because the plants are living organisms and need careful and consistent care. The best DOCs at some of the largest and most successful operations all have borderline obsessive tendencies that cause them to take a more proactive management approach. The job is also physically and mentally demanding, so the best candidates will be able to keep the same level of energy for long stretches of time. A DOC should also be driven, so that the business can continue to grow and expand as processes are refined rather than being content or complacent. During the interview process, owners should look for a DOC that has the energy and the mentality to take on a large-scale operation in addition to the educational background and experience. 

    Owners should treat hiring the DOC as making a careful investment into the success of the business. Some may not want to invest heavily into a person so crucial to the operation, but then again, the DOC is in charge of producing millions of dollars in work product annually. Cannabis cultivation is already a risky endeavor and investing more money in a qualified DOC can help to mitigate more of the risk early in the process. Instead of focusing on finding a DOC that fits the arbitrary number budgeted for that salaried role, owners will be better off seeking candidates that meet all of the criteria –education, experience, and personality-and invest more if the result will be having a strong DOC heading the operation. 

    1. Hire the cultivation team strategically with the long-term goals in mind. 

    Unlike the DOC who must have a horticulture degree, the remaining members of the cultivation team need not have such a focused educational background. Candidates that have at least two years of educational experience after high school are ideal because that background shows stamina and dedication to getting the job done. Cultivation employees will be performing and recording routine tasks in a regimented environment, and people without some type of higher educational experience often have more difficulty acclimating to the requirements of the job. 

    When staffing a new facility, usually the best option is to hire cultivation employees that do not have prior cannabis experience. A DOC will be able to instill good habits in the employees, whereas employees with cannabis experience will have a more difficult time unlearning bad habits learned in other facilities that are run differently. The inexperienced employee will only have one reference point and will be more faithful to the taught routine. Strict routine is the key to running an efficient operation and producing the highest-quality product, so starting with a clean slate of employees new to cannabis can provide some peace of mind to the DOC overseeing the entire operation.

    For a new DOC coming into an established cultivation facility, it is imperative to keep the team in place because they know the facility’s routine. Bringing in a new group of people at once will slow down the output until the routine has been established, which could be a costly delay. Instead, the incoming DOC should identify and promote employees that are going above and beyond. When other employees see that it is possible to move up in the organization, they will work harder and with more diligence and instilling that type of motivation in employees will result in an operation that runs smoothly and efficiently.

    1. Establish a company culture where the owner and DOC take care of employees. 

    Taking care of employees is a key piece of running a successful operation because the job is labor-intensive and time-sensitive. There is no such thing as a 9 to 5 job in cultivation because the plants need to be monitored constantly. Many people operate under the false assumption that getting the facility up and running is the hardest part, but operating efficiently is the only way to last a long time in this industry. The success of the operation hinges on the employees that run the entire facility by performing the routine tasks. Employees will not know the routine in operations where there is high employee turnover, and by the time they do figure it out, they are burned out are more susceptible to turnover. Running an efficient cultivation operation long-term requires the owner to take care of both the DOC and employees and creating a cohesive culture with clear communication between everyone involved. 

    “Many people operate under the false assumption that getting the facility up and running is the hardest part, but operating efficiently is the only way to last a long time in this industry.”

    When a new facility is opening and a team is in place, the DOC needs to be very clear with setting expectations for the team. An experienced DOC will understand the ups and downs of operating a facility and will be able to communicate with cultivation employees about the workflow and growing pains. The first four to six months of operations will require long hours to get everything set up and setting the expectation that everyone will need to work late for a few months will mentally prepare employees for the task ahead. The DOC may want to compensate for the longer work hours by letting employees know that they can come in late some days or take longer breaks, but that they will need to stay as late as it takes on a day-to-day basis to get the job done. Setting clear expectations and being transparent from day one means that there are no surprises and employees know what is coming and can be prepared, which reduces the opportunity to burnout and turnover. 

    The DOC should lead from the front to establish a culture of teamwork and accountability. To garner respect from employees, the DOC needs to demonstrate from the start that he is one with the team, by teaching by doing the task with them as opposed to telling them what to do. The role of DOC means that he knows how to operate the entire facility and how to do each and every job, so if the DOC indicates to employees that he is capable willing to get his hands dirty as well, the employees will have more respect for him. The DOC can show employees that the job is as simple as learning a routine that needs to be performed consistently with no less effort than the day before. The expectation that employees help each other complete the required tasks fosters a team environment where no one task goes home until all tasks are completed. Along those same lines, accountability to self and others is necessary for efficient operation and preventing burnout. Each employee should be responsible for properly completing their part of the routine, but other team members should speak up when something is not being done correctly to guarantee process adherence. A team accustomed to accountability instills confidence that the routines will be followed even when supervision is lax so that the DOC can take time away from the facility, knowing that employees will faithfully follow the routine. Cultivation is a representation of the team. Good communication, work ethic, and mutual respect will result in high-quality, efficient yields with a team that can stand the test of time. 

    Three ways to build a team that stands the test of time 1

    Frencis Perret-Gentil brings a decade of cultivation operations experience to problem-solving and mitigating expenses to build compliant and efficient cultivation facilities.

    Putting his background in plant sciences from the University of Hawaii and his former role as a school teacher to work, he patiently explains processes, educates on cultivation state-specific regulations, and recommends the best sustainable practices, nutrient profiles, automation systems, and schematics for flower rooms and lighting.

    Frencis started out as a horticulturist for a hydroponic tomato production farm in Oahu, Hawaii and went on to become lead grower and director of cultivation for numerous cannabis facilities before joining Canna Advisors. He has extensive knowledge of inventory program management, THC/pesticide/mold/spore testing, hydroponic SOPs and regimes, advanced propagation methodologies, and genetic development and crossbreeding.

    When he’s not educating and providing innovative solutions to cultivation operational challenges, Frencis can be found growing his own cannabis (which comes highly recommended by fellow Canna colleagues!), working toward his dream of one day owning a home on the Big Island of Hawaii, and surfing whenever he gets a chance.


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