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Growth in trust: scaling up without burning out

Rick Roth
Vice President, Ontario

Rick Roth, VP Ontario, outlines five key lessons the cannabis sector should look to adopt in light of recent media scrutiny.

Over the past few weeks, the cannabis industry has been subjected to a near-daily barrage of media scrutiny. Almost in tandem, CEO departures, regulatory infractions and allegations of fraud have impacted individual company share prices and chipped away at the credibility of the entire sector.

As the fledgling industry moves swiftly to operationalize the sector’s multi billion-dollar potential, it is now crucial for Canada’s 199 license holders to establish internal protocols that enable their organizations to withstand increased examination from media, regulators and shareholders alike.

These past few weeks has forced the industry to reckon with lessons in responsible corporate governance, and how it adapts going forward will predict its future success.  Here are five key lessons the sector should look to adopt.


1. Sunshine is the best disinfectant

65% of CEOs say their company has experienced a crisis in the past three years. Further, 73% believe they will face at least one crisis in the next three years. Whether honest or misinterpreted, mistakes happen when companies move quickly and find themselves in unchartered waters. The difference between success and failure is often found in an organization’s ability to transparently communicate with interested and affected parties.

Legal teams will naturally be reticent to share any information without a fulsome investigation and a comprehensive airing of the facts, but the court of public opinion can seldom be relenting.  If mistakes have been made, a three-week story with new details dripped out every day will only prolong your reputational recovery.


2. Honesty is always the best policy

Few, if any, will be instinctively dishonest. But all too often we manage tricky situations by cherry-picking facts to paint a rosier picture.  You should always assume the truth will see the light of day.  In order to maintain control of the situation, you need to be the one who tells that story.

If you aren’t, the fallout of your crisis will be far greater to where your brand and credibility will become the question.

Being honest and upfront may cause some short-term pain but might be your only opportunity of long-term gain.


3. Talk with your customers, shareholders and employees – and do it often.

Your customers, shareholders and employees all read the news – especially if the news pertains to you.  If you aren’t telling them your story, others will do it for you. Conscious or not, it will frame every social interaction they have going forward.

During times of discomfort, our natural reaction is to just be still.

When you’re managing an issue, you need to push past this instinct and talk to your customers and shareholders.  Assure them you understand the gravity of the situation and your commitment to making things right.  Your long-term viability will depend on this.

Your employees are your most loyal and dedicated stakeholder.  They are also your best advocate because they have the most to lose.  If you aren’t speaking to them, you aren’t preparing them to advocate on your behalf, and instead, hearsay and conjecture will take over.


4. Empathy is an endearing human trait

We all make mistakes.  It bears repeating that we’re imperfect by design. The more we admit to these imperfections, the more we connect with one another and better understand our responses. Managing an issue is no different.

In fact, it is an endearing quality when a company admits to their mistakes, commits to learning from their shortcomings and goes forward acting in the best interest of their customer.


5. Have a plan, because ‘confidence is king’

Confidence is often a tough attribute to portray when you’re knee-deep in an issue and the bad days continue to stack-up.

The only way you can project confidence is when you are prepared.

Companies large and small should always do audits of where their weak points are and strive to improve them before they become front page news. This practice will give you and your shareholders all the confidence they need to weather choppy waters.


Rick Roth is a Vice President with Global Public Affairs and has previously held senior communications and public affairs positions with Federal and Provincial Governments as well as a major Canadian Bank.


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