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Getting High…Potential: Cultivating Leadership Lessons from a Cannabis Farm

I recently spent the day with a group of female executives, founders, authors, and board members at a leadership retreat hosted by Allison Siegel, CEO of Culta - a cannabis production company. My inner nerd was enthralled to see the IoT technology and data modeling associated with growing organic, medical-grade plants. But while the science of the facility was fascinating, the real excitement was in seeing how a very different type of company gets its staff high… ha ha, not like that!... as in elevating leaders’ full potential. We spent our day with Culta’s high-potential (Hi-Po) female leaders who demonstrated essential lessons for cultivating not just plants, but management and leadership talent in a corporate environment way different from any I’ve been in before. From trimming through marketing, the qualities that defined Hi-Po were diverse yet cohesive.

Leading Ladies from DC Power of the Pack

I was honored to be toured through the facility by the head trimmer who plays a key role in ensuring that each bud is pruned with minimal damage or waste. The work requires fine motor skills and good eyesight, which can be both mentally and physically challenging. In this shift work environment, she leads with her strong ability to motivate staff, infuse fun, and ensure quality.

The head of extraction walked us through the lab where she leads with an experimental mindset, keenly attuned to replicate success and problem solve when ingredients don't cooperate. Whereas the trimmer at Culta talked about the music, fun, and importance of staff enjoyment, the extraction leaders emphasized giving staff an opportunity to experiment and push chemist boundaries.

The human resource leader explained how she attracts talent into an organization that has to operate under highly regulated and complex policy including financial constraints. To retain trusted staff, she works with executives to create internal development opportunities that hone staff’s interdisciplinary skills. She is adept at vetting people to mitigate potential employee-substance risks, all while demonstrating creativity in acquiring talent from more traditional employers.

Some may say the product markets itself, but the challenges the marketing leader shared include differentiating a product that most don’t really understand or for which have preconceived notions. Designing the product’s packaging, she noted, has to include an encyclopedia’s worth of required verbiage - all of which is state-governed and changes frequently. As Culta’s Hi-Po marketing leader,she has to elevate the brand among converged medical and recreational consumers requiring a unique balance of scientific and creative communications plus design skills.

All of Hi-Po Culta leaders in these roles are critical for the company’s success. They not only excel at their job, but do so by combining their unique leadership traits with a forward-looking mindset as to where the cannabis industry is going and deep understanding of their operational complexities.

Outdoor grow at Culta

So what lessons got ‘baked’ into my learnings?

Hi-Po cohorts should not be cookie cutters of a leadership persona.

More often than not in professional and tech services companies with which I’ve worked, Hi-Pos fit a mold crafted to look like the existing leadership team. Culta Hi-Pos represent the full lifecycle of the product and business. Their diverse skills and strengths make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. If you are establishing a program to grow talent, consider how you engage all your functions, potentially from the most back office to the most customer facing. The more leader cohorts represent the breadth of your business, the more likely you’ll gain a breadth of insights as to where there are opportunities and risks to accelerate success.

Hi-Po value is in how they work together, not shine on their own.

Just because trimming collects a lot of buds doesn’t mean the company will be guaranteed a lot of extracted product. Similarly, a product that doesn’t meet regulatory standards in its packaging risks will not be allowed on dispensary shelves. Simply put, one team’s success is not indicative of the company’s. From the fields to the lab, the cannabis production process is a good reminder that a leadership pipeline needs to be diverse and collaborative. As you develop leaders, ask yourself how you’re emphasizing collaboration, teamwork, and enterprise-based growth mindset. Are you incentivising individual or corporate success?

If you are looking to grow your organization and empower your Hi-Pos, consider these insight ‘munchies.’ NBG Strategy Consulting is here to assist in developing your growth strategy and ensuring that your Hi-Pos are prepared to implement it. Note, no products were tested or sampled in the making of these insights.

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