To What Ends?

  | Board of Directors, News from the Board of Directors

To What Ends?

By Calvin Dame 

The Co-op Board of Directors operates through an organizational management model known as Policy Governance. Policy Governance reorients the work of a Board of Directors and clarifies the role of a General Manager in such a way that General Manager is empowered to manage, and the skill and time of the Board of Directors is directed to its responsibilities for oversight, evaluation, and long-term planning.

What this looks like in practice is this: a Board member, or a Co-op Shareholder, might be unhappy with, say, the variety of turnips on offer and think the Board member should direct the General Manager to see that the selection is expanded. Well, no. The General Manager is hired to run the store, and all decisions for running the store are hers, or in this case, his. And not just turnips — all decisions for managing the store reside with the General Manager and his staff.

So, under Policy Governance, what does the Board do? First and foremost, the Board of Directors acts on behalf of the stakeholders, in this case, Co-op shareholders. On behalf of shareholders, the Board hires, supports, and oversees the General Manager. The  Board has a responsibility to see that the finances are in order, that the Co-op is being well managed, and that the Ends Policies are being served.

So, Ends. Under Policy Government, the Ends describes what we are about and what the Co-op is about. The Ends Policies, which the Board of Directors sets, as they are currently written, say that the Co-op exists to provide:

  1. Reasonably priced goods with an emphasis on healthy, locally grown, organic, and fairly traded goods;
  2. A welcoming community marketplace;
  3. A workplace community where cooperative values are modeled;
  4. A regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impact;
  5. A sustainable local economy;
  6. Relevant information about food and related products, the environment, and the Cooperative Values and Principles;
  7. Reasonable access to participation in the cooperative.

Beyond the Ends, this governance model includes policies that provide the means and limitations for pursuing our ends, clarify the Board and Management relations, and provide guidance for the work of the Board. Operations are reviewed on an ongoing basis against the goals and limitations of the Ends and Policies.

On first encounter, this form of leadership can seem needlessly confusing and unnecessarily complicated. But, at its best, Policy Governance frees up managers to manage and empowers the Board to lead.

So, back to the Ends. Ends policies state the purposes of the Brattleboro Food Co-op: What we are trying to accomplish, for whom, and at what cost. Under Policy Governance, it falls to the Board of Directors, acting on behalf of the shareholders regularly or when occasions arise, to revise the Ends to best serve the shareholders, the Co-op, and our community.  

A conversation is now underway among the Directors and our General Manager, Lee, and soon with shareholders, to assess our current Ends in light of changes underway due to climate change and income disparity.  

What are we doing well?

What changes might we envision?

Do our present Ends serve us as we move into the future?