This year’s National Co-op Month theme is “Owning Our Identity.” Co-ops empower their co-owners to establish a vision for the cooperative that is carried out operationally. So how does this work? Through a collaborative relationship between the Board of Directors and the General Manager.
The Board and General Manager actively cultivate a relationship rooted in equity, respect, and mutual support. Board policy stipulates that we work collaboratively and transparently with the General Manager in addressing any issues as they arise.
We recently received messages from members that expressed concerns regarding this governance relationship. In light of this correspondence, we would like to share some ways the Board and General Manager have worked cooperatively in the last 18 months to establish trust, improve oversight, and require transparency in our governance process.
Members elect a Board of Directors that delegates authority to the General Manager to manage the operations of Three Rivers Market. The Board has created policies that set forth expectations for the General Manager’s performance in such areas as Employee Treatment, Financial Condition, Asset Protection, and Treatment of Customers. In anticipation of hiring a new General Manager in 2022, the Board took the opportunity to proactively review and update all B policies, which state the Board’s expectations of our General Manager.
The policy monitoring process requires the General Manager to provide interpretations of each policy and supporting documentation demonstrating compliance on a scheduled basis. We continually monitor the General Manager’s performance throughout the year, with discussion occurring both at our monthly meetings and via email between meetings.
Monitoring of the General Manager’s performance also includes information provided by independent third parties, including a CPA, who regularly reviews financial statements, and an auditor, who examines financial records annually.
We receive benchmarking reports from National Cooperative Grocers, allowing us to compare our performance in key indicators with that of our peers.
In 2022, a Shopper Survey, developed by National Cooperative Grocers in conjunction with the Survey Research Center at the University of Wisconsin and Columinate, was administered to provide data to help Three Rivers Market better understand its customers and inform strategic decisions.
An anonymous employee survey, administered by a third party in 2023, informs our monitoring of policy B1, Employee Treatment.
Members who are interested in the financial condition of Three Rivers Market are encouraged to register to attend the Board meetings at which we formally monitor the policy, which occurs on a quarterly basis. Our September meeting was our most recent scheduled monitoring of financial condition and we will monitor the report for the first quarter of the current fiscal year at our December meeting.
We share a detailed update for members on our financial performance in the previous fiscal year at our annual meeting in early December, after which we will email members our Annual Report. Last year’s report can be found on our website here.
For members concerned about issues that fall under Policy B1, Employee Treatment, this policy is scheduled to be monitored annually in May, but the Board also monitors it out of sequence as needed. This policy states that the General Manager will not “discourage or prevent any employee from reporting unethical or illegal activity to the Board, or discriminate or retaliate against any employee for reporting unethical or illegal behavior or activity.”
When reports from employees are received, the Board carefully reviews the information provided and determines a course of action according to the type and severity of the complaint. Possibilities include hiring an outside investigator, or requesting that the employee use existing conflict resolution procedures (such as the grievance procedures available to Level 1 and 2 employees in the bargaining unit of the union), after which the GM is required to provide an update to the Board on the outcome. Specific complaints we receive, as well as our responses, must be treated as confidential personnel information.
The responsibility of governing a democratically-owned cooperative is one we take seriously, and members’ feedback is vital to its success. The Board has an email account, email@example.com, that is managed by the Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary/Treasurer, and the full Board engages in a collaborative process to review and respond to messages. In addition to sending us ideas for governance, members can register to attend monthly Board meetings by emailing this account.
We are grateful for the unique cooperative business structure of Three Rivers Market and for our passionate and cooperatively-minded community of members.