By Michele Meulendyk
When we think about a Board of Directors, it can be easy to imagine the cutthroat suits of our television shows and movies.
Yet, your Co-op Board is neither cutthroat nor suited. Your Board is made up of your fellow shareholders. We are neighbors, retirees, staff members, activists, business owners, teachers, farmers, and office/retail workers. Those who choose to run for a Board seat offer their time and individual expertise in service to shareholders. The Board, as a whole, acts as a governing intermediary between shareholders and the General Manager (GM).
You may wonder how these random individuals, who may have no management, financial, or grocery knowledge, figure out how to lead a successful business like the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
Fortunately, we don’t have to learn all the ins and outs of retail grocery, but we do need to have consistent, clear, and reasonable guidelines. This allows us to direct and monitor the performance of the GM, as well as the health and success of the store.
These guidelines are known as Policy Governance.
Each year, the Board meets for a one-day working retreat to connect, learn, and set the tone for the coming year. Last year, our focus centered on facing environmental challenges and the growing pressure of income disparity in our community. This resulted in clarifying the Co-op’s commitment, on these fronts, to our shareholders and community.
At this year’s retreat, we brought our focus home, to Policy Governance. While governance can take many forms, Policy Governance is about collaboration, empowerment, and leadership. Our policies, which change and evolve, allow us to direct the GM toward ethical and responsible business practices. These policies also provide the Board with a framework with which to monitor both GM and Board performance.
When I began my Board service a couple of years ago, this all seemed like a pile of word spaghetti. There was more language about what couldn’t be done than what ought to be done. It felt loose and open and I wondered, “How do we manage a store like this?” As I’ve learned more about this system, I’ve come to see it as a scaffolding that defines the Board’s expectations, while allowing the GM to use their own experience and expertise in making operational decisions.
Some of our work this year will include doing a deep dive into the policies that govern the Board itself, which clarify our roles and responsibilities to you, our shareholders. This process serves to ground us, as we evolve, so that we can continue to govern well and guide our beloved Co-op into the future.
In closing, I’d like to welcome the newest addition to our Board, staff member Evan Silber, and our new General Manager, Anthony Santorelli, who were both able to join us at this year’s retreat.
Are you interested in Board service> Learn more here.
Want to learn more about Policy Governance? Click here.
To check out our Bylaws take a peek here.