It is well documented that cannabis is itself a very resilient plant. Even in high stress environments like extreme temperatures, mold, or pests, many cannabis strains have demonstrated a surprising ability to bounce back.
But how resilient is the actual cannabis industry in Canada? The industry, among many others, has faced unprecedented stress over the past year. But unlike more established categories (and its well entrenched cousin, the illegal/legacy pot industry) – legal cannabis has not had much time, nor the experience, to build some reliance for itself.
Deloitte has recently published its report titled “Building The Resilient Organization.” In it, the authors share the five attributes common to an organization that exhibits strong resilience:
Let’s see how well the cannabis industry might fare against these attributes.
Was any company, or government for that matter, truly and properly prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic? None really come to mind; however, preparedness also means the ability to act quickly after the pandemic hit. In this regard, some businesses pivoted more quickly than others. With the limitations imposed by governments on non-essential businesses, brick & mortar cannabis retailers faced significant disruption to their ability to sell their products. Those cannabis retailers with a robust and cannabis dispensary-specific e-commerce platform (such as that offered by dutchie), combined with the ability to quickly offer delivery and/or curbside pick-up, would have fared much better than those unprepared and with an over-dependence on in-store sales.
The cannabis industry, given legalization in Canada occurred less than three years ago, is still early in its existence and has seen more than its fair share of disruption in its time. Even before the pandemic hit, the ability for cannabis organizations to raise money was significantly impaired, making it difficult to balance long term priorities with the short term need to ‘keep the lights on.’ Perhaps this experience prepared some players in the industry for the disruption that came with the pandemic.
Probably the most obvious of the characteristics of resiliency is the ability of an organization (and its people) to be flexible and adjust to changing circumstances and disruption to their business. Truth is, change and disruption have been a constant in this category since even before October 2018 deregulation. There has been massive spending and growth, followed by a similarly massive cut in spending and people. Plus, a regulatory environment that continues to change and evolve as well. This industry has become, based upon its short history, one that attracts people who are adaptable and has created cultures that promotes flexibility and adaptability. To be sure, the pandemic forced many people to change their routines and how they performed their jobs – and we saw many examples of this from cannabis companies.
Collaboration inside and outside the organization is critical to create resiliency. Collaborative teams can speed up decision making, and collaboration plays a role in breaking down silos. Cannabis companies, as discussed previously, had been experiencing disruption from home-grown issues (cash flow, lack of profitability, hyper-growth, liquidity) and regulatory constraints well before the pandemic. We’ve since seen many examples, not only in cannabis, of how different teams have come together for the greater good of the organization as the pandemic has significantly impacted their businesses.
A by-product of the pandemic will be the ongoing need for technology to enable collaboration from a distributed workforce.
Trust builds relationships and through strong relationships, especially between leaders and employees, it makes an organization more resilient. Unfortunately, the home-grown issues that preceded the pandemic have created a lack of trust inside many cannabis organizations. The industry has seen massive layoffs and a large number of retail investors experienced significant losses, due not in small part to the greed and hubris of the (original) business leaders, most who left the industry with their pockets full of green. Trust is built during normal times, but it’s tested during the hard times.
Not unlike many other organizations, cannabis companies have a responsibility to a broader set of stakeholders beyond shareholders. Customers, employees, vendors, local communities and the environment are all stakeholders that must be considered. How prevalent are employee initiatives such as diversity, equity & inclusion training, mental health support and protection of employees from physical harm? Does the company honour commitments to protect the environment? Imagine the resilience of a company that supports all their stakeholders.
Another 420 has come and gone in what was a very challenging year for all stakeholders. If the pandemic has taught us anything, its that significant disruptions can and will occur in the future. The cannabis industry experienced real issues even before the pandemic, and that may have provided the industry with some built-in resilience, especially with regards to preparation and adaptability. The industry however has some work to do around trust and responsibility.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.