Case Study: Monitoring as a Dynamic Force

Case Study: Monitoring as a Dynamic Force

Columinate | 30-09-2006

Just Food Co-op - Exterior

Just Food
Northfield, Minn.
Founded: 2004
Number of Members: 1,400
Equity Investment:$125 per household
Number of Staff: 45 employees
Retail Square Feet:4,200 retail

Stuart Reid’s monitoring reports to the board at Just Food might not literally spring off the page, but when his monitoring reports are done well, it’s much more than navel gazing. Reid said that a conjunction occurs that has created a dynamic force through which the activities of the co-op are strictly expressed and duly carried out on behalf of the members.

As Reid was writing his first set of interpretations, he was also concurrently doing the business planning for Just Food. “When I pulled the two together I saw how I could directly address the ends policies through my work.” He believed that the co-op’s business plan wouldn’t have been as strong and focused without considering its link to board policy.

“The policies are a living document. It’s not just something you pick up when there’s an argument,” he said. Through training and practice both he and his board have made the monitoring process at Just Food an important tool in their approach to governance and accountability to the members. Reid believes it’s a critical part of the planning process of the co-op, especially as a startup venture.

Writing monitoring reports and interpreting board policies had been challenging, Reid admitted, as he learned how to do it well, but he said it was very worth the effort. “I realized I had been doing monitoring reports that were not up to snuff,” he said about his early efforts, but through the CBLD program he got input on how to improve them. In his first year he said he “cherry picked some” from other co-ops and wrote others from scratch. “The ownership of writing them yourself is valuable, and it justifies the time and energy you put into them,” he said. “The benefits of doing this are that the expectations are very clear. The board and general manager knows how they’ll work together.”

He said that going into his second year writing monitoring reports and interpreting policy is much easier because he’s not starting from scratch. That doesn’t mean that their significance is not top of mind. Reid said, “Every time I go through this it really refocuses me on my job…why we are here and what we want to accomplish.”

Ron Griffith, president of the Just Foods board said that since their policies are also newly created, the monitoring reports and interpretation of policy from the general manager are also invaluable feedback on the board’s attempt to be sure they clearly articulated what they want. “As we’ve received monitoring reports we get feedback on what the general manager is doing and the expression of our real intention.”

Like anything, this process involves time, trust and resources, but the benefit to boards from Griffith’s perspective is that it focuses the work of the board on the future and what they want the co-op to be, not the co-op’s operational capacity, which is the general manager’s job.

“The general manager has to make interpretations of policy in confidence. It’s the board’s job to make them clear enough.” He said if there is something at issue they may either revise their policy to deal with it or accept the manager’s interpretation of it. He perceives this is part and parcel of the process of laying the groundwork for a bedrock system of member accountability.

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