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Frontpage Slideshow | Copyright © 2006-2010 JoomlaWorks, a business unit of Nuevvo Webware Ltd.
Thoughts on Cooperative Governance PDF Print E-mail

Guest Board of Directors
by Mark Goehring, CDS CC
November 2014

Mark Goehring is team leader for the Cooperative Board Leadership Development (CBLD) program created to provide boards across the country with consultation, training and facilitation. Mark has been involved in co-op governance since the late 1990’s, including a tenure as Brattleboro Food Co-op’s board president.

Mark’s approach in his consulting work emphasizes education and empowerment, and creating tools for boards to enact a clear and strong vision. “It is important to me to be of service to boards. I am proud we offer a program that gives ongoing support to assist boards reaching their full potential. I am energized by strategic conversations that establish the deep value of co-ops in many communities,” he said.
I had the opportunity this summer to present the CDS Consulting Co-op’s Cooperative Governance Model to the International Policy Governance Association. It made me reflect on the amazing growth in cooperative governance over the years. As a former BFC board chair and as a consultant to food co-ops across the country, I’ve had a unique opportunity to watch the change. My visit to the IPGA reminded me that a good governance system supports good decisions and fosters strong communication.

We have seen at BFC that when leaders bring together shared values representing member interests, they create an amazing cooperative. Back in 2004, I presented the BFC board’s work at the Consumer Cooperative Management Association Conference. I shared my sense that over the ten years, 1994-2003, since Policy Governance was introduced to BFC, our board had come together with a sincere commitment to effective governance, organizational learning, and maintaining intentionality over time. I have no doubt that this same commitment lives on today.
Not to say we haven’t taken our knocks, as a community, as a Co-op, as management, as staff, as neighbors, and as friends.
And it’s in the tough times—the challenging times—when values, expectations, and agreements become all the more valuable to groups of people working together for common good. What have we already said about this? Whose job is it? How do we think about what’s happening within the context of pre-established criteria and expectations? What do we think about those agreements? Do they still hold up? How and when do we check to see if our expectations are being met? While board policies might seem weird to the casual reader, they essentially answer these basic governance questions. They are not set in stone but rather inspire thoughtful reflection, both of the policy expectations themselves and what’s going on in the Co-op and the world beyond.

BFC’s board is beginning to view its work in the framework of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance, Imagine four pillars (Teaming, Accountable Empowerment, Democracy, and Strategic Leadership) upholding the success of the cooperative and rooted in the cooperative principles and values, where everyone in the Co-op has a role in its governance.

Four Pillars Definitions
Teaming: working together to achieve common purpose
Accountable Empowerment: empowering people and holding them accountable for the power granted
Strategic Leadership: articulating the cooperative’s direction/purpose and setting the organization up for movement.
Democracy: sustaining a culture in which people choose meaningful ways to participate.

Within this model, Policy Governance remains an essential tool that answers the basic governance questions I listed above. While the board doesn't do the work of management and staff, its voice and actions as trustees of the organization certainly influences how people come to understand the shared vision of the organization and makes important contributions to the organizational culture.

By writing its expectations down in the form of policy, for twenty years our Co-op board has made its process and agreements transparent for all to see.

Wonder how the board sees its role? Q IV 1. “The Board shall approach its task with a style that emphasizes strategic leadership, and long term impacts (Ends) rather than administrative detail, and a clear distinction between Board and General Manager duties.”   

Concerned about relationships between board and shareholders? Q IV 1.1.2 “The board shall... be accountable to shareholders and the community for competently, conscientiously, and effectively carrying out its duties.”

Or about staff? Q II 3.1 “The general manager shall not treat staff in any way that is unfair, unsafe, unclear, or inconsistent with the cooperative values and principles.”  

A governance system is only a tool, but we can judge the effectiveness of it by the success of the organization it serves. How do we measure the success of a cooperative?

We can look at the success of the association—the quality of the community we share. The fabric of our community has been strained in recent years, and yet our Co-op is still here, and our community has endured.

We can also look at the success of the enterprise to see what has been created by our shared investment. Brattleboro Food Co-op has over 6,000 active owners, 160 employees, a 14,580-square-foot natural foods market and deli with over $18 million in sales annually. We’ve had our challenges, yet the Co-op is now located on the ground floor of a four-story building with Co-op offices, a commissary kitchen, a cooking classroom, and 24 apartments.  

The success of our Co-op is all about the quality of our relationships. I extend my appreciation to everyone who has served in leadership roles over forty years, to the current board and management for providing leadership during challenging times, to the staff who makes it all come together every day, and to all our members and shoppers who contribute to its success. My appreciation of what’s been created here only grows.

The Board of Directors won't be tabling in November or December.
Look for the new schedule early next year, or join us at the BFC Shareholder Forum on Sunday, November 16, 5-7 pm.