Time for Tough Love?

[What follows is an e-mail sent to Jacob Myers, Kitchen Specialist in Carrboro, one of our two Worker-Owner Directors, and the Board Chair of Weaver Street Market Co-operative these past three years, when all of the planning for and decisions about the current $6 million dollar expansion – including the Food House – were made]

“Dear Jacob,

As a Worker-Owner, I would be grateful if you would ask the Board to put the following item on the Agenda for the Board Meeting on August 20th, and on every subsequent Board Agenda, until such time as the $6 million expansion of Weaver Street Market Co-operative has been completed and is functioning successfully: Update On Expansion.

I would suggest that this item begin with the General Manager presenting to the Board a publicly-available report setting out any and all decisions and matters relating to the expansion which he feels either are negatively impacting or have the potential negatively to impact the Co-operative’s Mission Statement and the Board’s Policies.

In addition, if it is not happening already, I would ask that the General Manager make available to the Board an unedited account of all comments and suggestions received by Weaver Street and relating to matters which are associated with the expansion. This should continue on a monthly basis, and these accounts should also be publicly available.

My very first and over-riding concern is that our Co-operative continues to be successful – in respect of all three of its bottom lines.

Everything I am doing and have been doing – as a consumer, as a worker, as an owner, as a member of the Elections Task Force, and now as a candidate for the Board – has that goal in mind.

Success means different things to different people in this broad and tempestuous family we call “The Weave.”

To some it is merely the discount we get on our weekly grocery bill. To some it is the personal contact we used to get with our butcher in Carrboro. To some it is the pride of producing food which is a level of quality obviously above anything else to be found locally. And to some it is the satisfaction of always being able to please a customer.

To others, it is a day job, which never intrudes too heavily on preparations for the future of fame and glory which awaits…just around the corner. To others, it is a career in itself, which will provide a pension for ourselves, and a college education for our kids. And to others still, it is a statement in social behavior, which stands as counterpoint to 8 years of a grueling, seemingly heartless obsession with money at the highest levels in our country.

All of these disparate passions make up the whole that is our “Weave.” They are all of them totally valid, and they are all to be honored and respected.

To be honest, Jacob, as I have spoken with many around our Co-operative these past few months, as expansion has progressed, every single one of these different strands of thought has expressed real concern about the way things are going.

Perhaps the fault lay with thinking that a small group of senior management could always make the right decisions every time with something so complex as a $6 million expansion.

That is why I have been suggesting that the decision-making – with regards both to the design of and the planning for the changes, and to their implementation – should be shared with the owners and the workers. I think it is time now that the Board picked up its share of the burden also.

I do not seek to criticize or pull down. Rather, I am suggesting that it is time for all of the information to be pooled – openly – so that we may pull together and, together, we may find a way forward that puts us back on track.

That is only going to happen if we all feel ownership of the way forward. And that, in turn, will only happen if we are all truly a part of the way forward, and are aware of the true situation.

Jacob, I do not need to spell out the concerns that are being raised. You are Kitchen Specialist in Carrboro. You know them. You hear them.

The consumers, worried about the sufficiency, the variety and the quality of the food currently available. The signs warning about the change-over being removed, because the 2 week period of transition was up a long time ago.

And what about our work colleagues who are stressed to the max having to come up with stereotyped responses to every complaint at the check-out counters?

We care about our relationship with our customers. That’s what makes us different from Food Lion or Whole Foods. It really hurts us when we have to come up with crap answers for our customers, because no-one will trust us or them enough to give us both the true facts. (And don’t think for one moment our customers don’t know the answers are crap!)

Now, none of this reflects upon any of our work colleagues. We are all of us – whether in food production, food service, customer service or administration – working as hard as we can to make this transition a success.

My information is that the problem resides with machinery and the physical works, and with the decisions, the systems and the processes.

It could be argued this is the sole preserve of ‘Operations.’ But there comes a time when the very health of the whole Co-operative is put at risk by what may be happening within ‘Operations.’ I would suggest that time has come.

You do not need me to remind you that the primary responsibility of the Board is to ensure that the investment of owners is not being put at risk.

The Board is also the guardian of a Mission Statement and a set of Board Policies which are supposed to protect the shopping experience of our consumers, the work environment of our workers, and social and environmental bottom lines.

It is my opinion that all of these are now being negatively impacted to a degree that makes it the responsibility of the Board to get involved – openly and dispassionately, and with a serious view to monitoring matters closely, and to putting them right where needs be.

Bottom line? The Board needs to be able to make ongoing and responsible decisions about whether the problems being experienced with the expansion are genuinely temporary in their impact, or whether they may have a more permanent effect upon sales and costs.

The Board then needs to be able to decide, having been made fully aware of all of the relevant information, what it needs to do, and what it needs to be telling its consumers, its workers and its owners. Because what we are being told at the moment is not working for us.”

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Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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