Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Illusion of Great Expectation ??

I wrote recently of the truly enervating discussion Weaver Street Market Co-operative owners had with respect to Goal 2 ("Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods") of WSM's proposed 2020 Vision.

I meant what I said. The conversation was useful, inspiring and energizing. Until the backsliding began, engineered by the General Manager (Ruffin Slater) and his WSM corporate office management team, and those of the WSM Board whoe sole purpose seems to be to rubber stamp.

The first sign of this backtracking became apparent after most of we owners had left the discussion, and the Board continued the conversation in their regular Board Meeting.

I don't insist that my ideas are always the best. Far from it. But one of the suggestions which I had put forward seemed to resonate with most of the owners present. Placing the owners of WSM in the driving seat of the whole 2020 Vision process by establishing a Board Committe of owners, with special responsibility to oversee the design of, development of, implementation of and monitoring progress with the finally agreed 2020 Vision.

Even the Board Chair, worker-owner Curt Brinkmeyer, with whom I do not always agree, seemed excited by the idea. Those present saw this as a new opportunity meaningfully to re-engage with owners on a general level, and give them democratic control of our future on a specific level.

No sooner had we owners left than some on the Board began to minimize the suggestion, wondering aloud about scope, task and jurisdiction of any such Board Committee. Er. All of which seem to me to be very simply answered by the requirement that owners of a co-op are supposed democratically to decide what common needs the co-op serves, and how. A concept the simplicity of which and the necessity for which always seems to elude the WSM corporate office management team and the WSM Board, who regularly forget that they are servants, not masters.

Anyway, I was told of this backsliding by one owner who stuck around. I tried not to think about it. Hoped it would all pan out differently. Until I saw the write-up of the Goal 2 Discussion on the WSM web-site.

Look, the write-up appears to be very thorough and inclusive of owners, until you pay greater attention to the details. Let's follow the trail on just the idea about a Board Committee.

First, when we eventually find mention of this idea (after reams of write-up about Ruffin and his 45 minute presentation), we see that the Board Committee is now being reduced to no more than a clearing house for owners to volunteer their services. Much like volunteering to bag groceries at the moment in Carrboro. Completely gone is any suggestion that owners will be driving the 2020 Vision process from here on in. No. Now we are reduced merely to bagging the corporate office's plans.

Curt had mentioned to me that one of the prime areas in which he saw eminent need for such a Board Committee was to design and then implement ways of monitoring progress with 2020 Vision.

Well, right at the beginning of the write-up of the Goal 2 Discussion, where Ruffin is waxing lyrical about all of his ideas, we see that he/his corporate office management team/Chac (the Mayan God of Rain and Lightning, who seemed curiously absent on December 21 ... but I digress)/whoever have already decided for we owners what metrics will be used to determine progress with Goal 2, and they all relate primarily to sales.

So? Well, you don't need a Board Committee of owners to monitor sales. And Ruffin knows that. But. Reminding ourselves of another of my ideas (or just peruse some of the other suggestions that other owners made), you do need the more lateral, anecdotal monitoring of owners to determine, for example, if WSM is meeting expectations with the stated suggestion of using all of WSM's stores to be living educational laboratories for local product. And Ruffin knows that, too.

The 'so' element is that any Goal 2 suggestions that might lend themselves to anecdotal monitoring by owners are being sidetracked. And the means of that monitoring, a Board Committee, putting owners in charge of an important aspect of THEIR co-op, namely what WSM will look like in ten years' time, is being downgraded, and replaced by metrics that require only Ruffin and his financial team to undertake the monitoring.

Bloody sigh.

What can we do? Well. Turn up at the next owners discussion meeting (Goal 3 - Build three new stores), to be held before the WSM Board Meeting, at 6.15 pm, on February 13, 2013, and ask what is going to happen to the proposed 2020 Board Committee of owners.

In the meantime, a shining beacon of self-empowerment in our co-op is this week reported in the employee Market Messenger. Some workers in the WSM Food House have formed a Sustainability Committee. They are planting fruit bushes, and have implemented their own recycling program.

We haven't even got to the Goal 4 Discussion on zero waste/zero net energy use by WSM, and workers in our Food House are taking the initiative on their own. Demonstrating what we stakeholders in our co-op can achieve when we are given the opportunity to empower ourselves to achieve our own objectives in our own co-op. Without interference from nanny corporate office. Well done. And thank you.