A Core of Hope

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

I just returned from a national co-op meeting that included a presentation by Ari Weinzweig, one of the founders of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI, from whom we have adopted a few business practices, including customer service training and open book management. He’s been thinking a lot about how we take actions based on our beliefs, a lesson that is all around us lately. Further, he thinks that focusing on positive beliefs engenders positive action, and that there is a chain reaction to this approach.

I was listening to Ari and thinking about the grief that our organization has been working through lately. It is very difficult to consider the death of beloved staff in positive terms. The challenges that we face in our society based on the effects of hopelessness and addiction are so very many that discouragement is easy. And yet, I look around at our staff, so many of whom are so very committed to this workplace and their colleagues within, and realize that our small community within a community—a virtual family, really—provides so much caring and happiness, day in and day out. You, the customers, have felt it; I get tremendous feedback about the feel of our store, the improvement in service, the little ways that this person and that person went above and beyond to serve you. Our staff feels it from each other, the “internal” customer service that we talk about, in supporting each other to make little things easier in the moment. And when we suffer a great loss to our team, that interpersonal support is what helps us get through the days and weeks thereafter. Seeing some of you at a gathering honoring one of our recent losses was extremely moving to me.

Especially during hard times, making the trip to the grocery store just a bit more joyful is a worthwhile endeavor. In this age of electronic connection, where items are a click away and no interaction is necessary to meet our needs, our store experience is critical. After all, we struggle through traffic, awful intersections, and uncomfortable encounters in order to come into the Co-op to shop for our food. And yet, once there, the idea is that the vitality of the products, the smiles of the staff, the inevitable conversation with a long-lost friend in the bulk aisle—these are the things that create joy in our lives. Sure, time and effort are involved. But if we are doing things well, that investment is well worth it, from week to week. We might inspire you to try a new produce item or a new pizza crust, or we might entice you to have a delicious prepared-food option for your immediate meal. But in all of those solutions, our hope is that we engage you in some small happy moment, one that reminds you of the pleasure of social interaction in small, relevant doses. What are the results of these positive interactions for you? Whether it’s a smile remembering an interaction as you chop your veggies, or a meaningful conversation with a friend, we need these so very much to counter the pain and suffering that we feel, see, and hear about all around us.

As Ari says, hope matters. For our staff, hope includes a good livelihood, a great set of co-workers, the promise of learning something new, and advancing a career. The work that the Co-op does in concert with our community partners is also something that is important to our staff. And to you as well, I should think. Why invest in a business if we don’t hope to make a difference in our community and in our food system? And similarly, why struggle through the deep pain of addiction if there is no hope for the future, whether for those in the jaws of the illness or for those who love them? Yes indeed, hope matters. In our cooperative, we have to understand that we hold some responsibility for making a difference, in so many small ways, in each other’s lives. We recently surveyed our staff, and were generally very pleased with the feedback that we received on our progress as a good place to work. We still have much work to do, however, and one issue is to look for ways to advance staff in an organization that is pretty flat, structurally. A goal is to look for ways to expand our staff’s knowledge about our business, our industry, giving them more confidence and skills, even when we are not immediately able to advance them organizationally. We have many long-term employees, and that is a good thing; so we need to be more creative in our development of ourselves, feeding our hope.

Appreciation is a building block of hope, and we try to appreciate each other at Co-op huddles and meetings. We also get lots of appreciation from you, periodically, and that is a wonderful thing. I want you to know that our staff appreciates you. One theme in our staff survey was the quality of relationships that staff had with customers, especially the regulars who stop to chat, to care, to remember things in their lives. So thank you, for your engagement in our Co-op, you who are such a big part of what we do and why we do it.

Thank you for your caring.

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager