How CBLD Helps Boards Become Better Employers

How CBLD Helps Boards Become Better Employers

  |  April 20, 2022

Co-op boards are unique bodies. They are democratically elected volunteers who are the legal stewards for incorporated businesses. They are deliberative bodies that have an extensive list of things to accomplish each year and need to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. They are accountable to the membership that elects them, but they are also employers.

With all of these roles and responsibilities to manage, attempting to serve on a co-op board without a support system and knowledge sharing in place would be impossible. Although many have heard the axiom, “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op,” there is actually a tremendous amount of insight that boards can share with one another. If a co-op board is facing a challenge, it’s very likely that someone on another board just overcame something similar.

Cooperation among cooperatives is more than just a golden principle that all strive to achieve, it’s actually an organizational imperative that makes good use of collective time and resources. Columinate’s Cooperative Board Leadership Development program (CBLD) is built precisely to offer co-op boards the tools to make informed decisions and gain efficiency. CBLD consultants have years of experience working with co-ops and are experts in a range of business-specific areas.

Understanding Their Role As Directors

The role of boards as employers is especially unique for many people volunteering to help run their local food co-op. Getting advice from professionals is key. Columinate consultant and governance coach Hether Frayer offered some insights into what boards can get from CBLD.

“The CBLD program helps boards become better employers by helping them understand their role as directors,” says Frayer. “Clarity around roles helps everyone to stay in their lanes. CBLD also supports boards in using a governance framework (Policy Governance) that provides a structure to both empower their general manager [GM] and hold them accountable.”

Hether adds that it can be tempting for board members to want to get involved in operational matters. “There are times when those lines are not completely clear. For example, the board’s job of owner linkage can blur with operational outreach and marketing efforts.”

The board’s employer role is sometimes about support as much as it is about evaluation.

“I’ve seen boards thinking more about how they can support their GMs. GM jobs have become even more demanding with the added influence of pandemic-related supply chain shortages, employee turnover, and more. A simple act of showing appreciation for all of the work that GMs do and concern when they seem burnt out can go a long way.”

Partners and Mentors

Michael Healy is a Columinate consultant specializing in governance and leadership development. He sees CBLD consultants as both partners and mentors helping boards find the knowledge and resources they need.

“Boards have lots of roles—strategic leader, member representative, or co-op ambassador—and each role requires skills and attention. CBLD consultants can help boards understand that being an employer is a particular role with particular responsibilities,” says Healy. “We can offer examples of successful practices from other boards and co-ops, along with resources in the library, that help the board do this part of their work.”

Knowledge Sharing

Working collectively is part of the DNA as cooperators, but the fact there is a world outside an individual co-op is important. All cooperators can apply the collective spirit that they bring to their own community and create an even stronger cooperative economy by sharing knowledge and resources with one another.

There are also opportunities for boards to learn from one another.

On April 24, Columinate will host a virtual Board President’s Roundtable, as part of the CBLD program. Attendees can expect the opportunity to discuss the successes and challenges of their co-op and receive advice from their peers. There is also an upcoming Financial Training for Directors series in May for those looking for guidance on monitoring a co-op’s financial health. Learn more about CBLD here.

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