Hearing Voices

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

We are asking you to take some extra time this month to give us feedback. Not a lot of time, mind you, and although we have already heard from many of you about recent changes, this will be a more holistic survey that we conduct every couple of years to check in on your view of the entire range of Co-op activity. The results of our survey certainly inform us about things, but also get aggregated with surveys from co-ops across the country, tabulated by our national co-op association, National Co-op Grocers, to reflect areas to which we as a sector should pay attention. So please, get online and weigh in on your Co-op. We offer you a computer in the store, at Shareholder Services, to enter your responses as well, if that works better for you. We always listen to your voice, and try to thoughtfully move forward.

We have noticed that we are meeting people’s needs a wee bit better this year, judging from our sales numbers. This is gratifying for all of us, as you can imagine. We certainly have a few curmudgeons among us, but most of our staff enjoys the energy and the goodwill that they receive when you are pleased with your shopping experience. It’s a beautiful reciprocal cycle from which we all benefit.

I recently attended a CDS Consulting Co-op workshop for boards and GMs focused on paying attention to and maximizing this relationship. As your representatives, your Board of Directors has responsibilities in guiding this enterprise and ensuring that our manifestations of their and their predecessors’ vision both reflects the needs of our members and our community, and ensures its viability. They are empowered by you to pay attention, ask questions, and discuss how we are doing and how we will face the future. You, as shareholder members of our cooperative, have responsibilities. You elect these people to pay attention on your behalf. This is not like any other type of business: other businesses may be interested in customer feedback, but nowhere do you get asked to vote every year for representatives, give regular direct feedback through a survey, or give direct feedback in person to staff and board members who make themselves available throughout the year to hear your opinions. This is a very important Co-op difference. Certainly sometimes decisions are made that are not to your liking, and we honor and respect your right and responsibility to tell us. In those instances, if we make a decision you don’t like, rest assured that it is due to other information, pressures, or opinions that were ultimately more convincing. This does not mean you should decide that your input is not valuable, nor does it mean that you should take your toys and go home, so to speak. We need you to stay engaged and involved, and to see things play out. You may come to accept changes, even sometimes grudgingly like them. Or you may grieve the loss of something, as we do throughout our daily life, as our world constantly changes. Regardless, your Co-op needs your voice.

Speaking of hearing voices, we also poll our staff every year. Every two years in January, we survey our entire staff to gather accurate data on satisfaction, and in the off-year, we poll a random sampling of staff. We use a third-party survey provider who designs the questions with us, and then administers the survey with codes so that all staff except the GM can give anonymous feedback. A few random interviews are scheduled late in the process to flesh out some of the areas of questions, and then the entire survey is analyzed and presented to our management team and staff. Some of the survey measures attributes for the GM’s monitoring report to the Board of Directors focused on the organization’s relationship to employees. This survey tool also gives staff a significant voice in improvements in our workplace. We have been able to address a number of improvements at the departmental level and storewide over the last two years since the first complete survey was done in my tenure as GM, and I am anxious to continue our progress. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that progress and change always takes longer than we would like, but we are committed to improvement.

So thank you for making your voice heard—whether you are a customer, a shareholder member, a staff member, or all of those things at once. We pledge to continue to listen, loud and clear.

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager