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A Path to Success

by Alex Gyori
July 2013

As BFC’s workforce grew in number over the years, effective participation in our business became increasingly more challenging. It was the move to the new Co-op facility that revealed how far we had strayed from our ideal. Undaunted, we have embarked on a journey back upstream.
In search of a better way to run the business, 130 of us—most of our staff and all managers—assembled in groups of 20 to 30 last April at the Quality Inn for a series of intensive workshops about Open Book Management (OBM), a method being used with great success by more than 20 food co-ops throughout the U.S. The program was conducted by ZingTrain, a training resource based in Ann Arbor, MI.  Funded by a $22,000 grant from the Vermont Department of Labor, two trainers ran lively, engaging sessions to help us learn a new way to think about our business. Based upon Jack Stack’s The Great Game of Business, this technique is driven by a desire for positive change, expressed here in five succinct phrases:  1. Create the future we want; 2. Increase people’s sense of empowerment; 3. Create a more ethically sound workplace; 4. Anticipate instead of react; and 5. Allow everyone to make a positive difference.

The approach is quite simple, actually. As Ari Weinzweig, one of the two founders of ZingTrain, puts it, “There are three steps to great finance: know and teach the rules of finance; keep score regularly; share the success."

Know and teach the rules

There are only ten rules. We studied them in the training sessions, and will teach the rules to everyone who comes to work at the Co-op.  Here are several of them: Begin with a plan; building value is essential; a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow; we speak the same language; success starts with each of us.

BFC’s finance manager, Bruce, has already started teaching “Finance 101,” a one-hour session open to everyone about reading and understanding financial reports. A growing number of employees have already enjoyed the experience.  

Keep score regularly
On Wednesdays at 1:15 pm, everyone who can—staff and managers—gets together in our community room to look at the results of the previous week’s activity.  We call these gatherings “huddles.” Oodles of numbers appear on a grid drawn on a 4’ x 8’ white board.  Each square contains some data: the plan, the updated forecast, and the actual result. Weekly results are written in by “line owners,” a different person for each line, management or non-management.  In the course of the one-hour session each line owner presents his or her number, explains how it was derived and why it is important; then conversation ensues as the group celebrates success or weighs remedies when results fall short.

Share the success
As we build success, we reap the benefits.  At first it may only be to share the satisfaction of “success with reduced stress,” but eventually the benefits will flow through the whole organization in the form of extra remuneration for staff and patronage dividends for shareholders
The early effect of this new approach, only six huddles old, is encouraging.  There are more planned and spontaneous conversations among staff and managers about what the numbers mean and how to do better.  Heretofore latent creativity is revealed in tweaks and adjustments and increased attention to detail.  Simply put— and it has to be evident to shoppers as well— there are more smiles on our faces!

 Brattleboro Food Co-op is an amazing resource in our community.  There are challenges, to be sure, but we will never take our eyes off the goal, to do the best job we can.  We’ve opened the book to a great future!