How to Discipline a Budtender

Managing people may be the most difficult aspect of being a leader in any organization, not just cannabis businesses. Great dispensary managers provide their teams with clear goals, tasks, and expectations and follow up consistently rather than waiting for a problem to boil over. Using checklists and having strong training programs will help guide employee’s on how to perform their jobs successfully, but how do you handle it when someone isn’t getting it? Or worse, someone directly violates company policy or a cannabis regulation? Keep reading for recommendations on how to discipline dispensary associates who may find themselves in a variety of situations. 
The goal of disciplinary action should be to promote growth and quality work. Managers need to enforce rules fairly and follow established protocols. Using discipline to show favoritism or exert power will only result in behavioral issues, low morale, and high turnover. Dispensary managers need to have strong leadership skills. Higher-level leaders need to invest in and provide management training to make sure dispensaries run well, and managers don’t introduce liabilities with their actions. 
In addition to management training, communication with the team may prevent a host of infractions. Use standard operating procedures, the employee handbook, and job descriptions to clearly convey, in writing, how to do the job and then reinforce it by discussing those documents, demonstrating those procedures, and encouraging new employees to ask questions.  During my years in dispensary leadership, I made it a point to constantly call out regulations, company policies, and the organization’s mission statement as often as possible. For example, while checking IDs at the front desk, I would quiz my staff on what types are accepting by dispensaries in the state of CO. Or if I was sharing an employee shoutout in a company newsletter, I’d incorporate how their action reflected one of the organization’s operating priorities. If leadership has drunk the Kool-Aid regarding compliance, culture, and performance hopefully, it will rub off on the rest of the team. 
When a simple mistake happens, address it quickly and privately. This may be something like how an employee answers the phone. If they didn’t follow the proper procedure, pull them aside, saying hey, you’re doing great, and I heard you answer that caller’s questions well, but we have a script for answering the phone, and here’s why we set it up that way. As often as possible and as is appropriate for the employee’s role, provide the reason why. Then document the conversation. For something like this, I like to send a quick “keep up the good work” email at the end of the day where I thank the employee for their hard work and for taking the time to chat with me. I also include a reference to the document that addresses the policy or procedure so that they have it handy in the future. It’s a positive and causal message but covers your ass in case the employee fails to correct the matter. 
If an employee repeats an infraction or violates a policy related to safety, security, privacy, or something equally serious, not include theft, violence, harassment, or regulatory compliance, then it’s time for a sit-down. Again, communication is key. Ask the employee if they know why their actions are a concern? Do they know what the proper policy or procedure is? Where can they find the information or whom can they ask if they are confused in the future? Depending on how the employee responds, proper action can then be determined. Disciplinary action may range from documenting the conversation and providing retraining up to issuing a performance improvement plan. You may discover a true lack of training and understanding exists department-wide. This is known to happen when members of the leadership team begin to hand off certain aspects of training to managers and supervisors. It can end up kind of like a game of telephone; every degree of separation from the one who established the vision means a bit of information is lost. Regardless of the course of action taken, be clear and specific, and document the entire matter. 
Employees who fail to comply with their performance improvement plan or commit a serious infraction require serious disciplinary actions. Failure to resolve issues addressed with a performance improvement plan reflects a poor fit between the employee and the organization. Therefore it is in everyone’s best interest to let the employee go to pursue other opportunities.  A serious infraction may include theft, violence, harassment, or non-compliance with a regulation affecting public health and safety. In the case such a matter is alleged,  an investigation must take place utilizing witness interviews, security footage, and any other resources available to establish what happened. If the evidence establishes that an egregious violation of company policy or regulation has occurred, termination is the appropriate course of action. In addition, you may be required to notify law enforcement and the cannabis regulatory agency for your state. Dismissals should be conducted with a witness, and the parties should be familiar with the organization’s security response plan in case the situation escalates, and the individual must be removed from the premises. Utilization of an employee departure checklist is encouraged to ensure all required documents are provided to the terminated employee and that all credentials are collected and deactivated. 
To recap, the key ways to manage discipline at the dispensary are:

  1. Conduct Manager training
  2. Set clear expectations
  3. Communicate and reinforce correct behavior
  4. Investigate if, how, and why an infraction may have occurred
  5. Use supportive improvement plans
  6. Document everything
  7. Have an employee departure checklist and a security response plan

Employees that are guided and encouraged by their managers are more likely to do the right thing and will feel comfortable asking for help when in doubt, thereby reducing the need for disciplinary action. Utilizing progressive discipline, as described above, fosters the growth and trust necessary to promote employee improvements. Again, communication and clear operating procedures can reduce the stress of disciplining dispensary associates and yield positive results. Managers need to be confident; addressing mistakes can feel confrontational, but good leaders focus those conversations on making their team better.

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