The first analogy Tamarah Saif uses to describe her work with Charlotte’s Web (CW) is “building a house.” The company’s vice president of human resources says, “We are building a house that does not look like anyone else’s.” In fact, Charlotte’s Web’s ongoing goal is to offer the highest quality products while acting as a pioneer in the emerging CBD space. Saif assures that the foundation of the house is sound with regard to the talent the company has attracted. But to achieve its goal long-term, Saif acknowledges that the company must also have employee support processes and programs in place.
The cutting-edge, Boulder-based company broke metaphorical ground because of a true desire to help—a mission that resonates with Saif, who also is a certified holistic health coach. “I’ve always been interested in alternative approaches to health and wellness,” she says. Saif was drawn to CW after hearing the story of its founders, the Stanleys, seven brothers who worked tirelessly to ensure access to an alternative, quality, natural product. This story is one she makes sure all new hires understand, too. “We are mission-driven with a passion for how we support the daily lives of people,” she says.
With her comanaged HR and admin team, Saif expands that passion to care and support for employees. “We are not a small company anymore,” she says, noting emerging tasks she must address to continue building CW’s home.
Like many rapid-growth startups, CW did not have a fully staffed HR team and so, when Saif arrived to create one, her first task was a kind of home assessment. “This is the second organization I’ve been to with rapid growth. I knew that it might not have processes and programs in place,” Saif says. While a robust benefits portfolio was in place, Saif saw other opportunities that would help her fulfill a vision of becoming an industry leader from an HR perspective.
“How can we provide support to employees that they don’t even know they need or want?”
Saif has overseen implementation of parental leave, wellness rewards, medical plans that cover infertility treatment, pet insurance, and a plethora of other voluntary benefits. She seeks to answer the question “How can we provide support to employees that they don’t even know they need or want?”
Alongside these changes, Saif has witnessed an expanded product line and exponential employee growth, with CW skyrocketing from approximately one hundred eighty to three hundred employees in 2019. This means that processes cannot be as manual as before. Saif onboarded months after CW went public, so her work also involved communicating to employees about the nuances of a newly public company. “Folks need to understand that we must be respectful of our shareholders and deliver to them,” she says, knowing such changes bring challenges. “We have gone from a start-up to a stand-up but with the same mission.”
With extensive research into market data and a deep dive into every role in the organization, Saif developed a comprehensive compensation structure. While she sees the value in implementing pay structures, merit increases (introduced in 2020 for the first time), and clear job descriptions for everyone’s sake, she also looks at the bigger picture. “Compensation isn’t usually why people leave an organization, but they mention it significantly more when they are not happy,” she says. “Paying fairly cuts down on noise so we can look at what is really happening.”
To address potential underlying managerial concerns that can affect any organization, Saif piloted a baseline curriculum around communication, conflict management, and delegation for managers. The two-hour interactive sessions, with individually scheduled practices between, have gotten positive reviews and other managers ask, “When do we get to participate?” Luckily, by the end of 2020, Saif plans to roll out training for all managers.
While developing employer relations and compliance, partnerships with department heads, and specialized roles, Saif also keeps a focus on recruitment. She looks to add to CW’s team, which is built with specified skill sets drawn from the consumer packaged goods world to identify best practices for the relatively new industry of CBD products.
“We get inquiries every day about career opportunities,” says Saif, and she wants to make sure that CW’s employer brand perspective is on target. To that end, CW had a massive social media push in 2019, increasing LinkedIn followers from 1,200 to more than 10,000 and raising Glassdoor ratings from 3.1 to 4.0. “Even with all our growth, the way our employees review our company has improved,” she says, knowing well that that is not true for all companies.
In real life, Saif has improved processes for recruiting and creating a positive candidate experience. “People are sometimes held back because of lingering stigma around the industry.” Saif sees this shifting, especially after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp—what CBD is extracted from—and declassified it. CBD now falls under the purview of FDA and USDA policy and regulation. “Access is the focus. Staying FDA compliant is very important to preserve and protect access,” she says, adhering to her original interest in the company as a provider of alternative approaches to health and wellness.
In building this unique house, Saif strongly credits the support of her strong, dedicated team. “Every leader needs a team that believes in what they are doing and will support each other during high growth,” she says. Saif likens her experience navigating the CBD industry to snowboarding. “When you are on a run, there is a lot of energy and you know to expect obstacles and learn to avoid them,” she says. “This is like being on a black diamond run. It’s been a ride. But we are now equipped for whatever comes up.”
Fight the Fear
Despite admitting to having a small bout of stage fright, Tamarah Saif does a lot of public speaking on HR topics. “You must get out of your comfort zone to grow,” she says. Once she’s up on the stage and warmed up, however, she feels unstoppable. “The great thing is camaraderie, audience engagement, people writing down notes, people getting useful information,” she says. “I feel so energized.”