Dreaming Big Together through Strategic Conversations

Chico Natural Foods
Chico, California

Chico Natural Foods is a mid-sized food co-op in Chico, Calif., and as the board looked to address the process of how to grow ethically and sustainably into the future, they had a tall order. They wanted to be sure the board, staff and owners wanted the same things, they wanted to be proactive, responsive board leaders, and above all they wanted to “dream big” as board president Olivia Peters-Lazaro put it. Dreaming big included having the participation of all stakeholders—owners, staff and board—to do the visioning. Realizing that in order to be fully present as listeners and participants, the board needed to work with a professional to help them organize the process.

First thing they invited everyone (board, owners, staff) to a “no-holds-barred dreaming big” session. “We took care to make sure the information was distilled afterward,” said Peters-Lazaro. That’s how they came up with six strategic plan areas for focusing their vision. These included:

  • Being a living cooperative that valued human capital and mutualism
  • Having conversations and collaborations with key networks for the goal of inclusion
  • Growing their co-op facilities and services
  • Prospering financially
  • Offering proactive leadership
  • Moving toward greater sustainability

The visioning process also provided a feedback loop to owners when a second forum was held and management presented to participants how the vision that had been discussed could be implemented. “People really liked it,” said Peters-Lazaro and that fueled more conversations with board and staff to pull from key themes and create a new vision statement for the co-op. “It was a huge challenge,” said Peters-Lazaro, “But one big benefit is what we have to show for it, including a summary document for members. It’s a really great way to give us a true big-picture snapshot of where we are going as a cooperative.”

Because of the collaborative approach to the strategic conversations, and the management’s direct response to the visioning, it has given the board a strong sense of alignment with owners. “It was very powerful to include the members and have them see the results of their participation,” she said. Peters-Lazaro noted that there are challenges getting members engaged, but she thinks that that having a dialogue about that “boosts everything up on all fronts.” She believes it’s the essence of real cooperation. “Why are co-ops so great? Because of what we’re doing, asking members to contribute to our strategic plan.”


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By |October 2nd, 2013|Categories: Connections|

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