Monday, November 17, 2014

Including Employees In Decision-Making - Response From HR Manager

We make progress. By stages. The WSM HR Manager has replied to my Formal Complaint that WSM management are in breach of WSM Board Policy for not allowing WSM employees to participate in decision-making.

Bottom line. She concedes that the Policy and its application (or non-application) needs reviewing. After that, her response is a bit of a mixed bag.

I can't copy her response, because the WSM corporate office no longer send me digital information. For reasons which ought to be self-evident! I can, however, copy my reply to her. The campaign continues!:

"Board Policy – Treatment of Staff states: “The General Manager may not … for paid staff, cause or allow a decision-making standard that is not transparent or does not allow for opportunity [for paid WSM employees] to participate in decisions or shape the guidelines for decisions.” 

In 2007, a consultation exercise was undertaken which defined those areas where WSM management are duty bound to conduct a process that includes employees in the making of decisions. Those areas are: Personnel Policy, Workplace Environment, Pay and Benefits, and Department Strategy/Focus.


I refer to the response from the WSM Human Resources Manager to my original Formal Complaint. I reply following her progression.

Date for Pay Raises:

I repeat the above Board Policy for clarity. The HR Manager first refers to my request for the 2014 employee pay raise to be backdated to the first pay day in September, stating that this was the norm for the previous three years (with which she agrees), and that WSM management are in breach of WSM Board Policy for not including WSM employees in the decision not to follow the protocol of the previous three years (with which she disagrees).

The HR Manager offers reasons why the decision to backdate only to the second pay date in September was made by WSM management. The reasons are immaterial. The point is that, in contravention of the above WSM Board Policy, employees were not allowed the opportunity to participate in this decision. Therefore, the decision was made in breach of WSM Board Policy.

The HR Manager states that there are ample opportunities for employees to engage in feedback on other decisions. Feedback is not participation in decisions, unless the final decision demonstrably includes the feedback. Moreover, on this occasion there was not even the opportunity for feedback. And the above Board Policy does not say you get a Get Out Of Jail Free card if you allow participation in some decisions, but not others.

The HR Manager continues by saying, “… it is neither reasonable nor practical to go through a lengthy process for each [financial adjustment].” Which is precisely why the consultation exercise mentioned above occurred in 2007. Fully to define when the “lengthy process” should occur. One of the areas was Pay and Benefits. This was a decision about Pay and Benefits. It may be annoying to consult employees. But that does not detract from the fact that it is WSM Board Policy so to do.

I continue to maintain that the decision on back pay was made in breach of the above WSM Board Policy. However, I am a realist. I do not expect WSM management to change its mind. I am much more concerned with the other two, substantially more important, issues that I raised in my Formal Complaint.

Budget Process:

I referred in my Formal Complaint to the requirement to allow WSM employees the opportunity to participate in the decisions that will set the next WSM Budget. The HR Manager refers to her and the General Manager reviewing my request for more clarity on decision-making. She says that will likely start within the next three months.

My concern is that (1) she makes no reference to the Budget Process in her response to my Complaint, and (2) the WSM Budget Process may have concluded within the next three months.

I, therefore, wish confirmation from the HR Manager, as I requested in my original Complaint, that the General Manager will immediately communicate with WSM employees how he will be allowing WSM employees to shape the process by which those employees will be allowed to participate in the decisions setting the next WSM Budget, so that he and WSM management are in compliance with the above WSM Board Policy.

Participation in Decision-Making:

I am grateful that the HR Manager concedes that there is need for more clarity on WSM decision-making.

However, she says that the answer is for her and the General Manager to review such decision-making in their annual review of WSM Employee Policy.

The Policy in question is not WSM Employee Policy. It is WSM Board Policy. Only the Board may review the Policy.

That Board Policy was produced as a consequence of consultation with the co-op at large. I do not expect the Board to review it without the widest possible consultation with the co-op, not least its employees.

The consultation exercise of 2007 was overseen by WSM management, not the Board. It produced clarity on the what of the Board Policy, rather than the how.

I have now suggested a similar consultation exercise to clarify that how. In other words, how the Board Policy can be implemented on a regular basis, so as to meet the requirements of Board Policy, in a manner which interferes with the day-to-day operations of WSM as little as possible.

What such an exercise would amount to is WSM employees shaping the guidelines for implementing the Board Policy allowing them to participate in decision-making. And this is correct. For it is what that Board Policy demands. That WSM employees shape the guidelines; not just management.

So. The HR Manager and the General Manager may not review Board Policy. But they can begin the process of reviewing the results of the 2007 consultation exercise. However. They may not conduct that review on their own. In order to be in compliance with WSM Board Policy, they must craft a process of review that allows WSM employees to shape the guidelines for inclusion in decision-making. That is a huge difference, and I believe it goes to the heart of WSM management’s misunderstanding of this Board Policy.

It is not enough that WSM management make best efforts to include employees in providing some feedback on the occasional decision.

It is the requirement of WSM Board Policy that WSM management allow WSM employees the opportunity to participate in decision-making. Period.

An exercise was held in 2007 in compliance with Board Policy, namely to allow WSM employees to shape the guidelines for decision-making.

If WSM management wish to review the results of that exercise, they must ask WSM employees for their permission to review and change the results of that 2007 consultation exercise. WSM management may not review unilaterally.

If WSM management do craft a process to allow WSM employees to shape new or clarified guidelines for their inclusion in decision-making, then such a process, to be in compliance with Board Policy, must allow WSM employees to shape those guidelines. Not to offer feedback. Not to comment. But actually themselves to shape those guidelines. WSM management present the process, get input, implement the input. Period. Otherwise, WSM management is in breach of this Board Policy.

We all appear to agree that there should be clarity on decision-making. So, in accordance with all the above-stated, and with what the HR Manager said in her response to my Formal Complaint, I look forward to the General Manager announcing, “within the next three months,” the process for allowing WSM employees to shape the guidelines to implement the WSM Board Policy demanding that WSM employees be allowed to participate in decision-making."

[As usual, these are my opinions, no-one else's, not Charlie Chaplin's, not Santa's, I do believe in Santa, I don't care what your ten year old kid says, he lives at the North Pole, Santa, not your ten year old kid, I also believe in co-op's, I believe in WSM, I don't believe we should build more stores though, because then we're a chain store, not a community co-op, but that is only my view, unless we build one at the North Pole, in which case, first dibs on Hot Bar cook.]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is WSM Already A Worker-Consumer Collective?

I link to an article by Co-op Cathy of the Co-operative Development Institute, not because it mentions Weaver Street Market Co-operative, but because what it says about WSM's management structure is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong.

Which, in some measure, is understandable, since not even WSM's management understand what structural guidelines they are supposed to be following. Hence, my current campaign in that regard.

But, before I turn to what WSM's management structure ought to be, under existing but little known existing WSM co-op policy, let's have a quick gander at what this article says about other co-ops which include an element of worker-ownership (remember, WSM is a hybrid consumer-worker co-op), and whether they have a management structure which is preferable even to what WSM's ought to be.

Bottom line, the examples mentioned revel in the glorious financial and social success of non-hierarchical, collective decision-making by workers within the workplace itself. Could this work in WSM? Absolutely.

Following the pattern referred to in the article, there would be a Board of Consumer-Owner and Worker-Owner Directors, which would set strategic goals and then monitor them. Pretty much as we have now. Except the Directors would actually do this, as opposed to merely rubber-stamping General Manager decisions. Heck hem.

A meeting of senior management (which we have at the moment, once a week) would then apply the strategy to all units of the co-op, and set budgets for unit contributions. That would, of course, be subject to each of the participants at the senior meeting properly representing the views of the units which they manage, views gathered at unit meetings at which the employees of the units would study and comment upon the senior management's intended application of strategy (still with me?).

Each senior manager would then take the consensually-agreed plans back to their respective units, and, in conjunction with the relevant departments, determine each department's contribution. Departments would then determine how to meet their departmental contribution goal.

The process would then reverse upwards. As departments decided how to meet their goals, managers would then be responsible for implementation. Ditto unit managers, senior managers, up to the General Manager, who would report back to the Board of Directors.

Could this work? Yes. Would it be time-consuming? Well, it would involve more than the one unit meeting a year we have at the moment. But it would save an awful lot of time already spent in explaining hierarchical decisions made non-collegially. Swings and roundabouts.

Is it likely to happen? Not a chance. It would require a revolution. That would only be triggered by the ordinary workers among the 192 current worker-owners (out of a workforce of about 250) choosing to vote for a Worker-Owner Director Candidate who espoused belief in a democratic workplace. We had such a Candidate in the Election just held in October. That democratic Candidate commanded merely 19 votes. The management-backed Candidate drew 55 votes. Go figure.

Which brings us back to my point, we don't need a revolution; we already have a co-op policy which affords all employees (not just worker-owners) the right to be involved in the decisions that affect their workplace.

It's all in the blog post to which I linked above. I link to it again. As you can see, I am now engaged in a process which will (hopefully without too much argument) result in a structure that permits employee participation in such decision-making on a regular and more formal basis.

In the meantime, I have written to Co-op Cathy to let her know that, again in my opinion, she missed this important part of our co-op policy.

[And I make clear to Co-op Cathy, and anyone else reading this post, in compliance with WSM Employee Policy, that I am a worker-owner with WSM, these are my views, and I speak for no-one but me.]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Remembrance, Hugh Simmonds CBE and the Book

Twenty-six years ago, my best mate died after being rendered deniable by a Prime Minister for whom he was engaged in a clandestine operation. I remember, even if they choose not to.

The picture is of the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire, located in London's St. Paul's Cathedral. My mate had previously been recommended to appointment as both civilian (services to politics and public service) and military (services to intelligence) Commander of the Most Noble Order of the British Empire (CBE) by the same people who later denied him.

Next June, I will find myself fortunate enough to have the book published commercially. My hope is that this time next year his family may finally be able to attend a Remembrance service without having to hide their shame, a shame their government should never have abandoned them to feel alone.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pay Raises and Budget - Formal Complaint and Proposals

Right. No reply to my last e-mail to the Weaver Street Market Co-operative powers, asking for the annual pay raise to be back-dated to the beginning of September, and no response to my suggestions for creating a structure to allow employees regular inclusion in important decision-making, in accordance with WSM Board Policy. So. Formal Complaint, under WSM Employee Policy Section 5.J, with proposals for redress:

"WSM Board Policy – Treatment of Staff states: “The WSM General Manager may not … for [WSM] paid staff, cause or allow a decision-making standard that is not transparent or does not allow for opportunity [for paid WSM employees] to participate in decisions or shape the guidelines for decisions.”

In 2007, a consultation exercise was undertaken which defined those areas where WSM management are duty bound to conduct a process that includes employees in the making of decisions. Those areas are: Personnel Policy, Workplace Environment, Pay and Benefits, and Department Strategy/Focus.

Section 5.J of WSM Employee Policy sets out how any employee can complain that management have made a decision without including them in the decision-making process.

I am making a complaint under that Section, namely that the General Manager is in breach of Board Policy – Treatment of Staff, in that he is allowing decisions to be made that fall within the parameters of the decisions agreed in 2007 without allowing employees the opportunity to participate in those decisions or shape the guidelines for those decisions.

I first raised this issue some 18 months ago. I have written regularly to the General Manager and met with him once. His response was that this Board Policy related only to ‘egregious’ decisions. The world egregious does not appear in the policy wording. The policy relates to all those decisions referred to in the 2007 document.

While it is true that employees have been allowed some undefined feedback on some decisions in the past 18 months, there has been no regularity nor structure, important decisions which fall within the parameters of the 2007 document have been made without the opportunity for employees to participate, and employees have still not been allowed to shape the guidelines for decisions in which they should be allowed to participate.

It is the purpose of this complaint/proposal specifically to seek redress on a couple of issues where employees should have been or should be allowed to participate, and to request that a process be commenced no later than 2015 to allow employees to shape the guidelines for their future participation in decision-making in line with Board Policy and the 2007 document.

The specific issues:

1) In each of the past three years, pay raises for employees were back-dated to the first pay day in September. That has not been the case this year. That decision was made without reference to employees, in breach of co-op policy. I wish that situation to be redressed by having the next available Market Messenger accompanied by a ballot, permitting employees to vote on whether pay should remain back-dated to September 21, or should now be back-dated to the first pay day in September, votes to be collected in an envelope in each unit, to be returned by the unit manager to the Human Resources Manager, the vote to be binding.

2) I engaged in a specific exchange with the General Manager on the issue of allowing employees to participate in the decision to set the size of the annual worker-owner dividend, a matter specifically referred to in the 2007 document. A rather restricted opportunity was offered to employees to provide feedback on the worker-owner dividend for 2014. The reason for the restriction was that the size of the worker-owner dividend is, ultimately, pre-determined by the size of the profit, which, in turn, is pre-determined by all of the decisions taken during the setting of the budget. The only way properly to allow employees to participate in the decision to set the size of the worker-owner dividend, and therefore for the General Manager to be in compliance with Board Policy when setting the budget, is to allow employees the opportunity to participate in the making of the decisions which underpin the setting of the budget. I therefore request that, in order to be in compliance with Board Policy, at the earliest opportunity, the General Manager set out for employees his proposal to allow employees to shape the guidelines for permitting employees to participate in the setting of all budgets going forward.

As for bringing the General Manager into compliance with that part of Board Policy which requires that he allow employees to participate in shaping the guidelines for including employees in decision-making, so that such inclusion is regularized, not haphazard, and is in compliance with Board Policy, I request that the General Manager, before the end of 2015, commence a process to allow employees to shape such guidelines.

I have previously suggested that the latter could be achieved either by engaging in a similar process to the one in 2007, with the consultation exercise this time addressing how rather than what, or by a task force to consider the same, or by some combination of the two.

If the General Manager does not respond in the terms of this complaint/proposal, I will wish the matter to be addressed by the WSM Board of Directors, as is my right under Employee Policy 5.J, and I will wish notice of this, together with the opportunity to address the Board personally.

If the Board do not comply with their own Board Policy, I will address this matter to the NC Secretary of State, and ask the same to review WSM’s accreditation under NC General Statute 54 as a co-operative.

Geoffrey Gilson
November 5, 2014"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Myth -v- Fact (2): Guy Fawkes

So. Guy Fawkes Day. Another wonderful opportunity to debunk a popular urban myth. I don't know which bright spark, writing what exciting comic book or screenplay, and then inspiring who knows who, in who knows what radical political movement, decided that Guy Fawkes was a good role model for political anarchy, freedom, whatever, but people, you need to do your homework.

Guy Fawkes was a member of a Catholic gang, seeking to blow up a Protestant Parliament, in order to bring about the restoration of a Catholic monarch, who would be able to rule absolutely, without reference to the people.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Myth -v- Fact (1): Magna Carta

I love the fact that our belief in myths so often overwhelms our accurate analysis of history.

Magna Carta did not give rights to 'the people.' It established rights for knights and the clergy, the corporate robber barons of their day, and protected their right to hold in feudal servitude the vast majority of the people, without interference from a king, seeking to steal 'the knight's fee' for his own taxes.

Imagine a nation of strict hierarchical layers. Where there are a few, genuinely 'freemen.' But the vast majority of the people exist only by paying 'a knight's fee,' and being in the unpaid service of their local lord of the manor or bishop.

After years of their king, the top-ranking feudal warlord, taking the cream of 'the knights fee,' the lords and bishops rebelled, and demanded the Magna Carta to protect their right to hold the people in servitude, without having to lose the primary benefit through tax to an arbitrary king.

In fact, since we are talking about the equivalent of corporate robber barons and the church of its day winning rights from an arbitrary central government against the interests of the people, why so difficult to imagine? Just look at the United States today.

Would we really be celebrating the Magna Carta quite so joyously if we realized it would be like our celebrating a Proclamation from Abraham Lincoln, not to emancipate the slaves, but instead to confirm their fealty to white Southern overlords?

Meanwhile, dispelling the Guy Fawkes myth this coming Wednesday ...