Policy Governance

The greater co-op community has embraced a tool that can help a food co-op define roles for their directors and managers. It's called Policy Governance. It is a set of boundaries by which a co-op staff and directors can optimize their work together, delineating when and how they stay out of each other's ways and when they could cooperate for maximum effect. It clarifies responsibilities.

The key to policy governance is to focus the board's responsibilities into three areas: setting long term ends (or outcomes) and organizational limits; holding the general manager accountable for organizational performance within those ends and limits; and, creating an active dialog with the member/owners about updating the ends of the organization. Ends policies are supposed to answer the questions: what changes, for which people or need, at what cost?

Since it is not enough just to write policies and hope for the best, the Board checks to make sure that the written policies are being followed in actual practice by receiving Monitoring Reports. These reports generally cover two aspects: forbidden practices and very desirable outcomes. Since we have lots of policies to review, the Board divides up Monitoring Reports so that we review our policies at least once annually.

All About Underwear

by Julie Cross
"Underwear" is the term my dear sister-in-law uses to refer to all the boring but essential parts of the house: plumbing, roof, basement drainage. It's dull, useful stuff that most people don't want to look at unless they own it. In Co-op terms, "underwear" is a pretty good way to refer to the policies that the Directors have been working on to govern the Co-op. They are, for the most part, invisible to our members, yet crucial to everything else we do at the store. The Directors have recently spent a substantial amount of time working on the Co-op's policies (that is, after all, the job we were elected to do). Now the time has come to show our underwear to the members that elected us, and (hopefully) get a little fashion feedback.

Policy Governance is a weird but useful method of getting your underwear in order. I won't (I promise) try to recapitulate months of Board work into 600 words, but the quick explanation seems useful: Under Policy Governance, the Board determines what change the organization will make in the world (the "Mission") then focuses the Mission in terms of "what good, for whom, at what cost" (the "Ends") and finally sets the broadest appropriate limits for how we should achieve our Ends and thus our Mission (the "Policies").

That sounds pretty simple, and, like all simple things, it was amazingly hard to accomplish. Setting aside the traditional difficulty of getting any eleven co-operators to agree on anything, it's a difficult proposition to translate the Co-op, which means so many things to so many people, into a short sentence. (Did I mention the short sentence thing? One of the guiding principles of Policy Governance is to say things briefly and in English rather than Corporate.) I'm pleased, proud and vaguely astonished that our Board managed the task. With a drum roll, please, the proposed new mission statement of the Davis Food Co-op:

We build community with food and cooperative principles.
Some people are going to like this statement right away. Some people are going to question the concept of their grocery store building community, some people are going to get stuck on the word "food", and some people are going to spend hours worrying about the choice of "with". We hope, though, that everyone will at least give the statement a chance to work. In the Spring election, we will ask for your feedback, as member-owners, on this Mission Statement.

Based on this Mission, the Directors have worked to develop Ends Policies that support and expand our mission. [...]

A language note for the picky among us: in writing the ... Ends, the "correct" language for Policy Governance is to make flat statements about how things should be as if they already are that way. In doing that we acknowledge that we're not perfect yet, but that we think we can be. (If that bothers you, wait until you see the Limitation Policies, which are all written in the negative!)

Growing our Co-op is never easy: at some level, all of us would like the things we love to remain unchanged. That's not really a possibility for any living thing, and your Co-op is definitely alive and kicking! If you'd like to actively help grow the Co-op, whether by comment or direct participation, contact any Director electronically -- or by snail mail c/o the Co-op (620 G Street, Davis CA 95616).

This article was written in December 2002, but remains a good reflection of current practices.

DFC Membership: When responsibility meets opportunity

by Jon Li and Doug Walter

For years, our co-op has operated on a set of organizational principles called "policy governance". We are at point where it's worth it for a member/owner of the Davis Food Co-op to understand how policy governance works.

The key to policy governance is to focus the board's responsibilities into 3 areas: setting long term ends and organizational limits; holding the general manager accountable for organizational performance within those ends and limits; and, creating an active dialog with the member/owners about updating the ends of the organization. Ends policies are supposed to answer the question: what changes, for which people or need, at what cost?

Directors also set policies that govern what they themselves do ("Board Leadership" policies), how they interact with the General Manager ("Board-Management" policies), and limits on the actions of the General Manager ("Boundary" policies). Directors get feedback on how well policies are working in reports from management which they review, and in various forms of linkage with members. Management reports are a very familiar form of feedback for this store, as you might have learned from reading columns written by General Managers in this newsletter over the years.

Most members, though, aren't used to talking to their Directors. We haven't always set up questions, surveys, or forums that have made it seem easy or convenient to give feedback, or shown how opinions on particular subjects will change the store for the better. In part, that's because it isn't simple to accomplish! But we think we're learning, and it helps that many other co-ops are going through a similar process as part of using policy governance.

Other food co-ops with different sizes, histories, and communities are still working to answer "what changes for what need at what cost?" They're often grappling with questions of growth, facilities, directions and vision. What vision do our members have, to set us in a direction to deal with a time when our sales growth begins to strain our facilities. That could be a matter of only several years, so the time to start planning is upon us.

Our co-op has an ongoing discussion about our ends. Member/owners have several ways to participate in the discussion, by attending one of our meetings, or writing a note in the suggestion box, or sending an e-mail or a note one of the Directors (see below).

For more information about policy governance, refer to: www.carvergovernance.com/model.htm.
For more information about your Co-op's process to develop ends policies, contact the Co-op Directors.

This article was written in November 2002, but remains a good reflection of current practices.