He Managed Crises At Fortune 500 Companies. This Is How His Cannabis Company Is Handling The Pandemic.
Some essential crisis management lessons from General Electric and Albertsons.
In every industry I’ve been in as a senior manager with Fortune 500 companies, tackling crises was just part of my job.
During my time in General Electric’s business development division, I helped overcome the chilling effect of 9/11 on global markets by developing innovative partnership strategies. With national grocery chain Albertsons, I helped steer a massive restructuring effort involving 600 stores and several distribution centers. We were contending with numerous natural disasters — from wildfires in the West to countless hurricanes along the Gulf Coast — that affected the supply chain and store operations. But we never lost sight of our goal to take care of our team members and customers which strengthened our core business, and sales grew six-fold to more than $60 billion.
Managing a crisis means many things in business leadership, but there’s one underlying truth: Crises are inevitable; they will test you. To overcome them, you must ensure your team believes in your plan. Keeping everyone on the same page with clear, concise guidance is essential for navigating through the unknown.
My experience in managing cannabis industry crises is no different.
As CEO of Colorado-based Schwazze (which launched in April 2020 as a rebrand of Medicine Man Technologies Inc.), I am working to create a customer-focused, seed-to-sale platform of cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers — all in the shadow of the pandemic. But we’re steadily moving forward.
Here is my playbook for coming out on top amid a crisis.
1. Deal with the facts
Overcoming crises requires clear-headed tenacity and keeping the company’s mission at the forefront of all decisions.
Earlier this year, as we worked toward launching our new corporate brand and closing on our first acquisition, we began to hear reports about an alarming new virus. As states started to react by initiating lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, we adapted our plans and focused on our crisis-management plan.
I hammered home a couple of key messages: We had to stay calm, not get too high or too low, and deal with the facts. This was not the time for letting gossip and individual worries proliferate. I wanted to make sure everyone was working from a common truth.
Among our first objectives was getting the right people in the right place by identifying additional roles and responsibilities. Because our executive operations had shifted to working remotely practically overnight, I also implemented a new schedule, starting each day with hour-long conference calls with my team.
2. Prioritize communications and contingency plans
The leadership team's new primary responsibilities were monitoring changes in federal, state, and local regulations, developing contingency plans and safety protocols, and establishing clear communications company-wide. One of the first issues we responded to was the historic news that cannabis would be considered an essential business in many states.
Based on my time at Albertsons, which employed hundreds of thousands of people, I knew it was critical to reassure our employees and retail, manufacturing, and cultivation partners. We established contingency plans for handling supply-chain disruptions, particularly with safety equipment and sanitation needs, and restoring and ramping up operations when stay-at-home orders were lifted.
To ensure team members were informed and up to date about safety protocols, we boosted our employee outreach communication about the company’s safety measures and sanitation procedures. We continued to follow up with location managers about messaging to customers about safety and making sure everyone could get the protective equipment they needed.
3. Empower team members
The quick turnabout with emergency regulations for the industry necessitated further contingency planning, with an eye on empowerment. Our executive team worked with industry peers to inform government officials and regulators about how industry businesses were operating safely. This ensured we could continue to keep our doors open.
Throughout the pandemic contingency planning, we were laser-focused on making sure we took care of our employees, our communities, and our customers. We established an online marketplace to support our strategic partners.
As the executive team put together comprehensive plans for eventually reopening offices in the field and headquarters, we were able to double down on the company’s new brand launch and close our first acquisition.
Thanks to clear communication and teamwork, we have worked through each COVID-19 crisis with confidence, and we will continue to do so going forward.