Visionary leadership, reinvention in the greenhouse industry

30-06-2020    14:42   |    Greenhouse Grower

We reached out to the leadership of various controlled environment growing operations to ask for their thoughts on what is needed in industry leadership during these unprecedented times dealing with a global pandemic and its aftermath. Bob Jones Jr., Co-owner and CEO of the Chef’s Garden, which grows vegetables “slowly and gently in full accord with nature,” and Gary Mangum, Co-owner of ForwardGro, a medicinal cannabis operation in Maryland, had this advice to share.

Q: As we progress into the start of the recovery phase from the COVID-19 crisis, what type of strong leadership is needed to help growing operations get back to work and thrive despite any setbacks they may have encountered?

Bob Jones Jr./Chef’s Garden: My answer to this question is similar to what it would have been had you asked me prior to this virus situation. Visionary, calm, encouraging, and thoughtful. Now, I am not claiming to be providing all those traits to my team in the current situation, but that’s not what you asked me. I believe this is the type of servant leadership that is needed in any business under any circumstance.

Dave Ramsey likened operating a small business to working in a mission field. Your people will have real-life situations happen to them, and those situations will provide an opportunity to counsel them and provide sage life advice to help them through tough times that we all face in life. I have been fortunate to have developed a network of support professionals in our community that I can refer my team to when a need arises. We work with folks in our community that specialize in financial, addiction, health, marriage, and parenting issues. I know carrots and lettuce and have never professed to be a counselor, but I do know that life happens to all of us. In this current COVID-19 crisis, I have come to have a greater appreciation for those of my team who suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is real and exasperated under unusual times of stress, like we find ourselves in today. I believe that having an understanding of and an appreciation for these types of issues is becoming more necessary in business today.

Gary Mangum/ForwardGro: As the COVID cases in Maryland grew, we weren’t sure of the level that the industry would be allowed to continue sales and operations. The unknown caused anxiety, and it was important to have strong leadership that could keep tabs on what the Governor was implementing and be able to keep our employees apprised. Fortunately, our Governor and politicians recognized the importance of our industry in producing high-quality medicine and kept dispensaries open.

Our sales have been strong throughout the pandemic, and we’ve retained all our employees. Our managers have been able to keep strong lines of communication open with all employees so that everyone felt safe and knew they could discuss any concerns. As a company that makes medicine, we have stringent health and safety protocols in place anyway, so implementing CDC protocols mostly just reinforced what we were already doing. Since operations have been running continuously during the pandemic, there is not really a “get back to work.”


Photo Courtesy of Greenhouse Grower

Q: How can leaders help their team envision the destination at the end of the recovery phase?

Jones: It is always important to help our teams envision a future state. This is an old concept of strategic planning, current state, future state, and the pathway that will lead you from the first to the second to the third. There have been several studies that show the positive effects of goal setting and envisioning a future state that is a powerful teaching tool. We talk often about how important “knowing what good looks like” is. I have also heard that good is the enemy of great. Not underestimating the power of group thinking and problem solving is critical in business in good times and even more important when things aren’t going well. When we are all looking for ways to do things more efficiently with better results, no one of us is as smart as all of us.

Mangum: The team is energized by the fact that we’re making medicine and meeting a need. It’s the best medicine we’ve ever produced. Our leadership and broad team have a cohesive vision around our business plans.

Q: Is now a good time for leaders to seize the opportunity to energize their teams through a reinvention of the organization?

Jones: This current situation has provided, and in some cases demanded, many of us in horticulture an opportunity to look at how we do things. In our situation, our revenue was previously based solely on sales to restaurants. For obvious reasons, those sales disintegrated in early March. That left us with the option of shutting the doors. No farmer wants to even consider that as an option and pivoting to a totally different sales model. We are now selling in the home-delivery market. Previously, we had found ourselves too busy to invest the time and money to delve into that space. In March, we had the time. Our collective vision became one of “we better figure this home-delivery thing out quickly and, as well, be prepared for a time when the restaurants re-open and then have both markets to work with.” We surely would not have tackled this new market without the COVID-19 situation forcing our hand. Hopefully, when we come out the other side of this, we will have higher sales in total as a result. Yes, this is the perfect time to reinvent ourselves in many ways.

Mangum: For any companies that have had to sit the past months out, it is a great opportunity to relaunch. For us, it is a chance to recognize that we have a solid team and great managers, and we are producing consistent, reliable medicine. It did not come easy, and there were definite growing pains. We know there will be other setbacks and challenges, but we’re excited right now with where we are, and where we’re going, and that we have the right team in place.

Source and Photo Courtesy of Greenhouse Grower

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