Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash.


I kicked off the farming season last week and began prepping for the year alongside an amazing team. The stakes are high for cannabis farms and other businesses here in Humboldt, and for many of us, this year is the most important of our careers. Team performance will play a deciding factor in who continues in business and who closes their doors.

In the cannabis industry specifically, legalization has fragmented the attention of owners. They can no longer focus primarily on growing and sales. Owners must now navigate compliance, Human Resources, labor laws, marketing in a highly competitive space, environmental protection/remediation and a host of other business issues.

As many farm owners have spent less time in the dirt and more time on these other matters, quality and performance have suffered in some cases. Farms, much like other industries, now have an increased reliance on the performance of their teams. For this reason and in light of challenging market conditions, team building is of paramount importance.

Whether a cannabis business or any other here in Humboldt, attracting and retaining quality people is critical. This column will share my thoughts on the issue and hopefully help you create the team your business needs to thrive.

Honoring and Valuing Employees as Humans

Employees are more than a number or a means to an end. Showing employees you value and appreciate them is critical. Getting to know them as people, creating an atmosphere where they can come to you with life issues, expressing thanks and gratitude and simply spending time with your people creates relationship and a sense of community, while drastically improving commitment, loyalty and performance.

Employees who feel honored and valued tend to go the extra mile as they derive more personal and professional satisfaction from their careers. While maintaining some professional distance from employees can be advisable, treating them with basic human values like dignity, respect and compassion will create a positive work environment that people can excel in. Through seeking to understand and direct employees, rather than dictate to them, relationship can be built and your workforce can thrive.

Provide Adequate Training

Equipping your employees with the training and tools to succeed is also critical to the success of your operation. Even within the same industry, processes and operating procedures can vary significantly between companies. Taking the time to thoroughly and meticulously train employees in your process is of paramount importance.

In cannabis, like in other industries, experienced employees often have existing ideas and an existing approach with regard to workflow. That approach may or may not coincide or jive well with your operational plan, so ensuring all parties are on the same page will help prevent problems, miscommunication and dissatisfaction. Training should also account for the individual learning style of your employees. Some people are visual learners, some are auditory, and others learn best with a hands-on approach. Creating a training protocol incorporating this understanding is more inclusive and will help optimize results.

Accountability and Communication

Whether on the pot farm or in a corporate setting, accountability and communication are vital for your business. Accountability is about being trusted and reliable. Do management and employees do what they are asked and what they say they will do? With greater business complexity and with more delegation of tasks, accountability for all team members becomes increasingly important. If one individual fails to tow the line, negative ramifications for the company can be extreme.

Similarly, open, caring and direct communication within a company is a must. When communication breaks down or is lacking, problems can occur and workflow can suffer. Morale can slip, as can employee performance. Without continuous dialog within your company, opportunities for growth, development, deeper relationship and performance improvements are hampered.

Opportunities for Advancement

Providing opportunities for advancement, or upward mobility among your workforce is another great way to build a high-performance team. When employees know and understand that hard work, commitment, dedication and mastery of skills can lead to more responsibility and higher compensation, they tend to outperform.

While many companies hire management-level positions through human resources or placement agencies, promoting from within can be a more productive strategy. In cannabis, like in other industries, promoting individuals with a strong work ethic, a love and a deep understanding of the company can lead to better results than hiring a strong resume from the outside. As we are seeing in cannabis, folks who were strong executives in other industries have not generally shown the same aptitude in the cannabis space.

Inspiration, Purpose and Meaning

Inspiring employees and providing them a real sense of purpose and meaning can help supercharge the results of your team. Regardless of industry, sharing your mission and vision with employees and empowering them to live those out each and every day creates a sense of ownership and increases job satisfaction.

In my line of work, creating an artisanal, competition-level product that saves and improves lives gives me the motivation to push hard day after day. I find that sharing this with teammates creates the passion, focus and drive necessary to differentiate ourselves in a crowded space. Love and enthusiasm are infectious, as are toxicity and burnout. Employees key in on the energy of management and ownership, so being an inspirational, vibrant member of the team is a must. When owners share their love, passion and values with employees, and rub elbows with them on projects, relationships deepen and performance improves.


Fair compensation and, where appropriate, a performance-based bonus system will solidify your team and keep employees happily and gainfully engaged with your company and its projects. When employees see the fruits of their labor transition into a year-end bonus, for example, they are excited to roll into the new year with you and will be less likely to shop jobs.

A well compensated team will display greater loyalty and will be far more willing to go the extra mile for you and the fulfillment of your company’s mission. Conversely, teams who grumble about being undercompensated rarely perform at the highest level.

In cannabis, like in other industries, an engaged, motivated workforce will work harder, take more ownership and radically improve the success of your operation. As the cannabis industry and Humboldt’s economy face near-term uncertainty, now more than ever, is time to honor and value your people. Coming together, working toward shared objectives and striving to be our best each day can help our businesses survive lean times and be well-positioned to capitalize on brighter days ahead.

When times are tough, communication, accountability, community and mutual respect are more important than ever. As we face what looks to be a challenging year, we need to come together, support one another and remember that love, friendship and empathy are powerful motivators. Like it or not, challenging economic times separate winners from losers. Organizations with a clear focus, strong teams, sound business processes and amazing products will survive. Others will not.

I love my lifelong community dearly and am rooting for us all. Let’s go Humboldt!!


Jesse Duncan is a lifelong Humboldt County resident, a father of six, a retired financial advisor, and a full-time commercial cannabis grower. He is also the creator of NorCal Financial and Cannabis Consulting, a no-cost platform that helps small farmers improve their cultivation, business, and financial skills. Please check out his blog at, his Instagram at jesse_duncann, and connect with him on Linkedin.