Friday, July 3, 2015

Co-op Plan Event: The Exchange

Forget blast and damn. We've moved onto sh*t. Sigh. Exchange with the General Manager of the Weaver Street Market Co-operative, in response to my e-mail about the co-op policy which demands that WSM employees be involved in WSM decision-making. Why is this so difficult?:


"Hi Geoff,

Thanks for your email. It may be the the Market Messenger article is not descriptive enough, but I think that the Co-op Plan event is going to be a great opportunity to share what is happening, to get employee input to improve what is happening, and to build alignment and excitement so that WSM can have an even bigger impact. I think it is going to be interesting, fun, and interactive. It's designed to address as many parts of WSM as possible from particular products to the overall mission. It's designed to be modular so that different parts can happen with different groups including consumer owners over time. I hope that it sparks all of us to contribute, critique, and engage more. I hope that participants leave saying that it's the best yet and that we should do it again soon. At the same time, I'm sure that since that it is a new event there will be lot's of room for improvement, and I very much want participants who come to each session to share ideas about how to make the next ones better.



"Dear Ruffin,

Short version: no.

Longer version: sigh.

If WSM policy was a clean slate on the issue of involving stakeholders in the process of decision-making, a blank page, then I would say of Co-op Plan Event, and your last e-mail, bravo.

But WSM policy is not a blank page with respect to involving employees in decision-making. If you think it is, then say so. But what I see is a Board Policy, re-iterated on the first page of every Employee Policy Handbook (so you obviously want employees to know about it), a Board Policy called 'Treatment of Staff,' which 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 to participate in decisions and shape the guidelines for decisions."

Maybe you take the view that there are some co-op policies that do not need to be complied with. If so, please say so, because there are a couple of co-op policies I'd be happy to ignore.

Maybe you think co-op policies do not apply to senior management. If so, please say so. Because I'd be happy to discuss that principle with you in front of the Board.

It can't be that you don't think that this co-op policy is important, because in 2007, you very specifically held a full consultation exercise with all employees about precisely which decisions should be covered by this policy, and you then produced a document that sets out what those decision areas are. If you need a copy of that document to refresh your memory, I can supply it.

It can't seriously be that you think you are not in breach of this policy, because there have been a whole host of decisions, specifically in the past couple of years, that were taken without employee input, many of which are enunciated in my formal complaints to you.

Maybe there is some confusion between us over what is meant by "allow for opportunity to participate in decisions"? Hmm. I don't think so. In that 2007 document, you say the following: "If an upcoming decision falls into one of these categories, a decision-making grid will be published in the market messenger ... " I do not think a Co-op Plan Event, with food-tasting, tours and an 'informal conversation' you hope will spark some sort of undefined interest in the future, somewhere, somehow, could be mistaken for a quantifiable, definitive decision-making grid.

I am unable to make my next point by way of reference to something you have said, but I know that I saw it in a Market Messenger this past year. It is this point. In order to be in compliance with this co-op policy, it is not enough to have some sort of vague input process that has some vague reference to a co-op issue. There has to be a specific issue, upon which employees have been properly informed, and upon which their views are formally sought (hence talk of grid), all of this before the decision is taken, so that employees can witness that their input has had demonstrable impact upon the decision taken. Otherwise, we are not involved. We are merely massaged.

I get no sense that Co-op Plan Event, for all the obvious hard work that is being put in, is other than a massive massage session. This is not complying with the co-op policy in question.

To revert to the beginning of my e-mail. If WSM policy was a clean slate on the issue of involving employees in decision-making, I would say of Co-op Plan Event, well done. And I would spend my time congratulating you. And thanking all those who have undoubtedly put in a lot of hard work.

But WSM policy is not a blank page on the issue of involving employees in decision-making. Co-op Plan Event appears just to be a massage, albeit a pleasant one. And as "interesting, fun and interactive" as it may be, it will not put you in compliance with co-op policy, and it will not meet the requirements of my still extant formal complaint.

So. Co-op Plan Event will be what it will be. I will be attending on July 15. I suspect that what I am going to be presented with is a host of decisions already taken. And my informal commentary then sought. That will not be complying with the co-op policy in question, and it will not meet the requirements of my formal complaint. But I will at least hold off until I have experienced the Event itself. I might be wrong.

If I am not wrong, then to be blunt, Ruffin, we have danced on this issue long enough. It is time for you to offer demonstrable compliance with a very specific co-op policy and follow-up consultative document. To meet the requirements of my valid formal complaint, I really do want now to have you address the employees of this co-op formally on the issue of how and when you will be implementing that co-op policy.

Again, if you seriously believe that Co-op Plan Event is such demonstrable compliance, then I have formally to say, I disagree, and we waste no more time, and simply advance my formal complaint to the Board, which I will wish to address personally. Such advance is appeal, not a review.

If you have other steps in mind - and I have made suggestions, such as the unit meetings - then please tell me what they are. In any event, I think it now fair to say, either I see such address by you, in person or in writing, to all employees, by the time of this year's Annual Owner's Meeting, or I will wish my formal complaint advanced to the Board, so that I may ask them to direct you so to address the employees.

I am sorry to be so blunt. But I get the feeling this co-op policy is being played with, not seriously addressed. In which regard, I will be publishing our exchange. I thought seriously of holding off, to see if something more could be achieved. But I get no sense (yet) that you truly understand that Co-op Plan Event is not complying with the co-op policy in question. And, in my opinion, that needs to be stated publicly. And now.

All the best,