Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The WSM Employee Action Plan 2011

Well. It's not what I set out in my own suggested Action Plan. And it could definitely do with a little more punch - see my letter below. But you know. For all that. The draft Employee Action Plan, produced by the corporate office of Weaver Street Market Co-operative to address worker grievances, is not half bad.

It's more about setting up pathways of communication and accountability, than actually addressing concerns. But it's a start. Now. A few things have been missed out, and a couple of others need further defining. So. Of course. A letter to the General Manager. But a nice letter. Well. For me:

"Dear Ruffin and Deborah,

I have now had an opportunity to read through the proposed WSM Employee Action Plan. My first reaction is that it offers a very real opportunity to address the grievances raised in the WSM Employee Survey, provided what is suggested is genuine.

That said, I would add that there are one or two important matters missing. But here's the rub. It all comes down to pathways of communication. If you are sincere about opening the pathways of communication, as you appear to be in the Action Plan, then all of those matters can be addressed by employees down the line.

Genuineness of communication will be measured in three ways, in my opinion:

1) The extent to which communication is two-way. None of what you suggest will improve anything if all you allow is communication downward. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that what the Employee Survey was saying, among other things, is that employees are not as happy as they could be because there is not enough communication allowed upwards. We want, we need to be more involved in decision-making. To be allowed input. And to know that our input has had effect. It's not just a question of what would be nice. It's basic Business 101. Employees are more invested in implementing decisions they've been involved in making. More than this, it is required co-op policy under the Board's 'Treatment of Staff.' Which brings me to No. 2.

2) Communication includes accountability - downwards. Just as all of the communication is now downwards, all of the accountability is upwards. This is neither sensible, nor co-operative. Managers and support staff should be just as accountable to those they serve as we employees are to our managers for the jobs we perform. In a co-op, all are equal. We may hold titles, that imbue us with a job description. But different job descriptions do not engender a different status. At the end of the day, when it is time to communicate about our co-op, how it is performing, and to hold people accountable, that communication should be equal. Which brings me to No. 3.

3) Communication (indeed, the Action Plan as a whole) should be about all three of our bottom lines: financial, social and environmental. Again, if this Action Plan is merely another excuse for managers to enforce financial performance, it will fail. We are not just about selling groceries. We are not just about making money. We are about our Mission Statement. We are about our co-op policies. And it is the responsibility of all in our co-op equally to ensure that we meet all three of our bottom lines, not just the financial one. Specifically, it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that, among other goals, our customers achieve a shopping experience that is fulfilling for them, not just for our financial bottom line. And that all employees enjoy a fulfilling work experience, not just one that satisfies managers and our financial bottom line. If this does not form the context of the increased communication set out in the Employee Action Plan, then we are wasting our time.

Ok. What is missing?

A) Financial Context -- The Employee Survey does not just say that we employees want more communication. The 52 pages of closely-typed commentary set out in statistically significant detail our concerns that we are overworked, overstressed, underpaid, under-equipped and under-supported with the tools we need to serve our customers, and the incentives that should form a part of your wanting us to perform better.

The Employee Action Plan you propose does not directly address these grievances. Why? I'm guessing because that requires money.

We do not need to be rocket scientists to know that the goal you set (not us, you) for us this past year (the 15% sales increase) has not been achieved. We do not need to be rocket scientists to know (notwithstanding the pap in the owner newsletter) that money is still tight. But you do not need to be rocket scientists to understand that you need us happy and fulfilled if we are to produce the results that you want. And that will take money.

The Employee Action Plan should be addressing how we workers can discuss how that money can be made available.

Nowhere in the Employee Action Plan is there any suggestion there will be discussion of our financial state, the gameplan, how to make money available, financial goals for 2012. Now again, if the improved communication you seem to be promoting allows for that, then ... hmm ... ok. But not if managers suppress such discussion in meetings, or say they do not have the appropriate information or personnel available. Um. Let's make sure the appropriate information and personnel are available, ok?

B) Worker-Ownership -- It is no good saying that incentive for financial performance exists for all workers through worker-ownership, if over half of our workers can not afford the $500 induction fee. It is no good saying that the opportunity for input to co-op goal-setting exists through the Election of Worker Directors, if over half of our workers can not afford the $500 necessary to buy a vote.

This point was made expressly clear in the Employee Survey. Could the Employee Action Plan please include the suggestion that worker-ownership will immediately be reduced to, say, $200? Ruffin, you told me there was no good financial reason for keeping worker-ownership so high. You all say you are grateful to us workers for our efforts. Prove it. With this long overdue gesture, and with this whole Employee Action Plan.

Now. To the Action Plan, section by section:

Communications - Departments


All I would repeat are my points above about what can be discussed, communication upwards and accountability downwards.

It is no good one of us raising in a Department Meeting what we are doing within the context of our financial state, if a manager turns around and says, can't discuss that here.

It is no good one of us saying that we are spending too much time focusing on finance and not enough on whether workers are fulfilled in what they are doing (and that is something workers should determine, not you), if a manager turns around and says, um, I have bosses and they won't allow me to allow you to discuss that.

The change in attitude and culture must first take place at the top. You seemed to agree with this at the last SV Unit Meeting. You were all hopping about, talking about improved financial literacy within our co-op. And when I raised the same points I mention here, that a co-op, our co-op is about more than just financial performance, we have a triple bottom line, and we should want to improve co-operative literacy also, you all stood there, nodding your heads vigorously.

Please now turn those nods into action.

Tell your managers that their performance will be judged as much on their compliance with the Mission Statement, co-op policy, and the entirety of the triple bottom line, as it will on achieving financial goals. That they will be perceived to have failed their job description if their employees are unhappy, even if those financial goals have been met.

Communications -- Unit and Co-op Level

Ditto to all of the above.

Again, this is not just communication down. And it is not just financial communication.

I re-iterate, I believe we could improve the Market Messenger, and make it more relevant to employees, and allow them to feel more invested and involved, if we formed an editorial committee of representatives from all Units, and then gave that committee free publishing rights to one page of the Market Messenger.

Subject to exclusion of pornography, what could possibly scare you about such openness (er, a co-operative value to which we subscribe)? Other than the truth?

I would like to see a firm commitment to holding an Annual Meeting of all Co-op Employees, where the primary agenda item would be Q&A with the co-op's senior management.

Equipment Maintenance

Nothing to say, if this actually happens, but thank you.



Consistent Department Standards And Accountability

The Administrative Office is a Department. And it should be accountable to all in the co-op.

Indeed, following on from the enunciation that we are all equal in our co-op, we just have different jobs, we are all equally accountable to each other in our co-op.

The problem is that, at the moment, there is no way for accountability downwards to be enforced.

So. Let's see if we can find a way, starting at the beginning.

Yes, let's set out a clear and consistent job description for all positions. But let's arrange it so that we may all agree on those job descriptions. All of them.

Post them. Have a folder in each Unit, setting out what are the agreed job descriptions and responsibilities of every employee, from the GM down to ... me.

It will come as no surprise to you that I will want to see included in every manager's and support staff member's job description the fact that they are responsible for compliance with the Mission Statement, the triple bottom line, co-op policy and specifically 'Treatment of Staff.'

But how to hold accountable?

Well. First, by holding regular Co-op, Unit and Department Meetings, where it is made clear that discussion of ALL job descriptions, responsibilities and performance will be allowed.

But here's another possibility. By turning the Annual 360 Degree exercise into a rolling Employee Survey. Where we are specifically invited to comment on the performance, not just of our fellow employees, and our immediate manager, but also our Unit Manager, the support staff, the GM, the co-op as a whole, etc.

Let's talk specific examples. We have not achieved your goal of a 15% sales increase. I could discuss the pitfalls of setting unattainable goals. And I probably will in due course. But very definitely, there needs to be an open discussion about whether or not the goal was not met because the much-touted Category Management was a complete disaster, and why.

This raises a point both general and specific. The Administrative Office staff regularly ply us with goals and means and gameplans and the like. But we never, as a co-op, in meetings, out in the open, review the same, discuss whether or not they were properly implemented, and who is to be held accountable. Why not? You do it for me twice a year.

Specifically. Who was responsible for Category Management of the food we produce? And why, at the end of the year, is the food no better, the labeling worse, and the packaging, an obstacle course? I don't want a written answer. I want open discussion and accountability.

And this is just an example. I think we should have the same for lots of other areas of activity we never discuss, like overall financial performance - for starters.

Systems and Processes

I'm not sure what this means. I am going to assume it is a catch-all. And that it will address co-operative, as well as strictly financial, matters.

The only thing I would say in that regard is that, the Intranet is all fine and well. But is there any reason we can not now adopt the Online Forum that was created three years ago, for worker and consumer use, for more general discussion?

Understanding And Achieving Co-op Goals

Make co-op goals more meaningful for workers and consumers, too.

Do this by including them in the formulation of these co-op goals.

Make sure these goals address all three of our bottom lines, along with our Mission Statement and co-op policy.

Then, change this heading to read: "Setting, Understanding and Achieving Co-op Goals."

And then, you'd have my more willing support.

We exist to meet the common needs of our consumers, owners and workers. If we learn anything from all that we are doing by way of surveys at the moment, I hope it is that the only people who can know what are those common needs are consumers, owners and workers.

Don't just ask them what they what, what we want, let us decide for ourselves what we want. That is the co-operative way.

The people who know best if a shopping experience was fulfilling are the consumer and the person who served them. Ask them how it went. Not some third party, unprofessional Mystery Mercenary.

The person who knows best if his or her work experience is fulfilling is that worker. Ask him or her. Listen to what they say. Let them decide how it can be improved. Don't override it. And supplant it with something you read out of a book, or cooked up in the Administrative Offices.

Do this, and the Employee Survey/Action Plan process will mean something. You will make your workers happier. And they will make you happier, when, feeling more invested and involved, they (we) help all of us to achieve all three of our bottom lines.

All the best,