ARL Healthcare has grown its Massachusetts team from just over a dozen people to about 150 employees in a year.
Photo courtesy of MariMed

At Massachusetts-based ARL Healthcare, a wholly owned, licensed subsidiary of multistate operator MariMed, cultivation team members start their careers trimming cannabis, one of the most important roles at the facility, says MariMed Chief Operating Officer Tim Shaw.

“That’s the last line of defense of your presentation of this product [before] going to the consumer,” Shaw says. “So, if we do a bad job in trimming, it’s going to show and reflect the brand and what our company stands for. It’s one of the most important jobs, and it’s difficult.”

Leaders communicate this to employees when they start, instilling a sense of pride for the vital step in the production process at the moment they get hired. Reminding the team that what they do matters and how much leaders appreciate their work is a key component of their company culture built on innate motivation and promotions.

While some people thrive in trimming, others do not. Shaw and the other leaders don’t consider that a reflection of the individual, however.

“It’s not because they are bad employees, it’s just not their thing,” Shaw says. “And it’s up to us managers to help them find their thing.”

Managers do that by encouraging employees to work in different departments throughout the facility, trying their hands at trimming, packaging, edibles production, drying and more. Having staff cycle through various roles and knowing what the day-to-day job is like for their colleagues is the backbone of the company culture and how they build camaraderie organically.

“As people move around in the building and work in different departments, I think people understand what it’s like to [do that job],” says Ryan Crandall, senior vice president of sales and chief product officer. “It’s like the grass is always greener analogy. People understand a lot about other people’s roles, and with that comes respect and understanding.”

This breadth of experience and training also comes into play when one department is behind; someone who works in another area can shift gears quickly and help another team, Shaw says. The executive team steps in, too.

“It’s family. It’s boutique. It’s everybody being each other’s crutch, everybody leaving ego at the door ... everyone from the CEO down is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get right in there, weigh up eighths,” Shaw says. “It brings a higher level of buy-in that we are all working towards a common goal. I think it shows in the product. I think it shows in the morale ....”

Most employees are full-time, with a starting salary of $14 to $20 per hour, depending on experience and the roles and responsibilities of the job, Shaw says. (That is higher than the state’s minimum wage, which is $13.50.) The company pays 50% to 74% of health care premiums, which include medical, dental, vision and life insurance. The benefits kick in 90 days after hire. Employees also receive seven paid holidays and 10 days of PTO.

Employees receive on-the-job training and review the company’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). No formal training programs nor merit-based rewards are given. Incentives come in the form of appreciation and advancement.

“The leaders here really do lead by example and are present, and the workers see it,” Crandall says.

Leadership positions are available within individual teams, giving people opportunities to grow and manage various aspects of cultivation, an important offering to motivate staff, Shaw says. This extends outside of the New Bedford, Mass., facility as well. New hires beginning their careers at other MariMed facilities shadow the New Bedford team, and the New Bedford team is sometimes asked to travel to recently opened facilities to help with training.

These results represent averages from all companies that applied and are not results from individual companies.

“When [employees] get to the new facility, they’re hitting the ground running,” Shaw says. “There’s a confidence level there that we can really start to thrive from the beginning.”

When ARL Healthcare had its first harvest about a year ago, it had just 16 employees. It has grown to nearly 150, which includes distribution and dispensary staff. Hiring that quickly has been a challenge in some cases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had plenty of folks that seem to be great and were no-call, no-shows right before they even went through the onboarding process,” Shaw says. The company once offered facility tours to prospective staff before they started, but now those have moved to virtual experiences. “If you do get past the initial phone interview and get a chance to tour the facility, which is the second part of onboarding, it was pretty powerful when people got to walk the facility and just see the success and see people’s attitude and the overall joy of working there that it was contagious.”

The pandemic has prevented the company from hosting get-togethers, but nearly every Friday, the kitchen team that produces edibles had been planning and preparing meals for all employees in the facility, Crandall says. Meals included burgers, hot dogs, steak, chicken, and platters of sides that the team could enjoy in the courtyard when it was warm outside. The cold weather has paused these efforts, Shaw says, but Crandall adds that the impact is long-lasting.

“Although people are socially distant eating, people are all bringing in different things to make, and they’ve created a menu ahead of time, something they really take pride in,” Crandall says. “They feed the whole facility, and that’s something that, again, drops walls, regardless of what department you’re in. People are just so happy that they’re taken care of.”

Michelle Simakis is Editor of Cannabis Business Times.