It’s possible to accomplish even more by consciously drawing on the people around you by actively developing their capacity to do more. As a leader, you will be that much more effective. By developing your management team and tiers of management in your co-op, you’ll create the ultimate human resource tool that can accomplish truly great things.
When food co-ops enter into an expansion phase or development of an additional location, it’s a given people will be called upon to do more. “As stores get bigger or take on second locations, people in middle management have to be ready to be effective in a larger context. This won’t be as hard if there’s a consistent learning process,” said Mel Braverman, operations consultant for CDS. Management needs to be sure it isn’t promoting people who are not ready, or giving them added responsibility without training or authority to implement.
Of course, not everyone wants to or is capable of leadership capacity, and that’s ok, said Braverman, but “offering everyone the opportunity to see the bigger picture is a healthy approach for any store.”
Braverman said the focus of a good management development program is to ultimately create “mentors and leaders as opposed to just managers.” He discussed what components should be in place to do this:
- Business literacy training
- Authority to achieve stated goals
- Communication systems
- Incentive programs
In order to carry out an ambitious expansion project, Michelle Schry, general manager of People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse, Wisc. knew it was imperative to develop her management team’s capacity. They completed a major expansion last fall—adding 18,000 square feet of retail, new offices, a deli kitchen and restaurant. Schry said she spent two-and-a-half years preparing her management team and staff to manage the transition.
Along with hiring consultants and acquiring technical expertise, Schry said a management book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins, became another source of guidance for her. “What I learned most from that book was that I needed to look at who the people were in what positions, and figure out the best use of their talents,” she said.
Like anything worthwhile, this was easier said than done. A lot of the management team at People’s Food Co-op had been with the organization a long time, and ways of thinking and doing business had become entrenched. She wanted to move the group beyond “a stuck point” of individualistic approaches to greater collaboration.
By working on management development through programs like CoCoFiSt and CoCoGap, sending people to the Consumer Cooperative Managers Association (CCMA) conference, having managers create personal development plans and participate in quarterly management retreats, Schry fostered a level of inter-dependence and teamwork among department managers. The experiences people had working together allowed them to be more comfortable with change, and subsequently move the whole organization toward a culture of change.
“ Managers need ongoing development. Just because you’ve been promoted in your job doesn’t mean you know it all,” said Shry. “The training budget is an investment we believed would pay off.”
When Larrane Hartridge became general manager at New Leaf Market in Tallahassee, Fla. in 1997 she also inherited a staff with a lot of long-term employees, some of whom were not carrying their weight. Her initial goals were to raise the professionalism of the team and co-op staff, and her approach from the get-go has been to improve systems for communication. Before Hartridge became general manager of the co-op, she worked at a Canadian financial institution and brought with her a strong understanding of the value of management and communication training.
Hartridge said training has always been a focus in her work with her management team, but now that she’s established a strong team poised to expand the co-op, she’s been working more specifically on communication skill development. This includes all-staff attention to customer service, as well as department managers learning to communicate with a number of constituencies.
“ It’s important for everyone to understand the big picture,” Hartridge said, especially when you’re preparing to expand. “This information needs to be filtered down through all departments.”
Hartridge also encouraged her managers to take a leadership role in communicating the goals of the organization to a number of audiences, developing their presentation skills. “Our management team did a presentation to the board and at our annual meeting. They told people what they are doing to prepare for the expansion and what they envision for service levels in the new store.”
“ Doing this raised the bar for the middle managers,” Hartridge said. “They are taking a leadership role in this expansion and promoting of the goals of co-op.”
New Leaf Market’s communication doesn’t stop at the doors of the co-op either. They are working to promote the co-op as not only a good place to shop and join, but a good place to work, because they’ll be needing more staff soon. “We go out into the community all the time,” Hartridge said.
Peg Nolan, CDS’ marketing and membership development specialist, noted that this approach to staff development and co-op outreach is congruent with the overall goals of cooperation. “The whole idea of cooperation is to be connected to our members. To do this, there has to be a commitment to training on all levels, be it staff or members. That’s how we build a future together.”