Something Completely Different

So. My line is that we need a different Board which will do things differently. And that if we did things differently, we could be a better co-op and a stronger business.

Fine so far. But what do I say to anyone who asks: can the Board actually make a difference; and how exactly would I suggest they do things differently?

Actually, even before we go there, I’ve been asked more than once, just what makes me think I understand the complexities of all of this (and it is complex), and why do I believe that I’m qualified to offer any solutions?

Good question. The blunt answer – and forgive me for blowing my own horn – is that I know how to make Boards work. I used to make my living at it.

Ten years ago, I left the corporate world to pursue my creative interests. But before that, I was a successful lawyer and marketing and management consultant. I served on the Board of several companies with turnovers ranging from $3 million to $30 million.

I made my living troubleshooting for companies that were having problems. This meant mediating disputes, opening channels of communication and creating value-based strategies that encouraged the Boards of those companies to understand that people are the core value of profit.

What I am offering you is the opportunity to have on your Board someone who really knows how to make your Board work for you – properly, as it should in a co-op.

Right. So, back to those first two questions – can the Board make any difference, and what can it do differently to make that difference?

Hopefully Jacob and The Weave will agree to some Candidate Forums, and I can explain in detail. Something I will also be doing on this blog, over the next two months.

In the meantime, here’s a brief, two-step summary:

1) Yes, The Board can make a difference. It’s a question of truly understanding the Policy Governance model we use. And I’m not sure that everyone on our Board does.

It goes like this: the Board is supposed regularly to ask owners and workers, on an ongoing basis, what they want for their co-op. The Board should then fashion what they are told into a Mission Statement (what) and Policies (how).

The Mission Statement and the Policies set the direction for ‘Operations’ (us, and our managers). The Board is supposed then to check to make sure ‘Ops’ is doing what workers and owners have said they want, by monitoring ‘Ops’ every month at its Board meetings.

It’s supposed to be that simple.

Now, I’ve been present at almost every Board meeting in the past year. The fact is that our Board, with Jacob as its Chair, has been getting it the other way round.

They ask ‘Ops’ (and I mean just the senior managers) what they want, and then tell owners and workers what’s good for them.

I want to turn it back around. Jacob, on the other hand, wants to keep it the way it is.

Now, I want to be clear. I say kudos to Jacob for sticking to his guns, and not backing down.
I may disagree with him on this point. But he is taking an honorable stand by defending what has happened during the period he has been Chair these past three years.
I think he’s wrong. But I admire his integrity.

2) What would I ask the Board to do differently – and specifically?

a) Regularize the finances. Cut the debt – in a manner that does not hurt workers or consumers. And that does not hurt our efforts in the community. To give us back our dividend, and un-mortgage our future.

I talk about not hurting our community. Here’s an example:
We will almost certainly have to sell the property on Greenboro Street – where orientations were held.
But let’s do it in a way that does not put the future of WCOM 103.5 (our community radio station) in jeopardy – since WCOM also uses that building.
Many of us actively support WCOM. WSM helped to create it. I serve on its Development Committee. With a little thought, we can be creative about the tough decisions that have now to be made. Not destructive.

In the meantime, I’m going to suggest there be a one-off incentive bonus for all workers at the end of 2009, based on improved production during the year.

All we workers are already being asked to do a lot more to pay for the decisions that others have made.

Is it too much to ask that, in return, we receive a temporary incentive for all that extra work, and one that will entirely pay for itself?

b) Monitor ‘Ops’ (i.e. management) better. Make ‘Ops’ more accountable to the Board. So that we can avoid some of the more-avoidable big, bad decisions.

Suggest ways for ‘Ops’ to be more inclusive of worker-input (our ‘in-house experts’). Do more real listening. Be more responsive. So that we can avoid some of the more avoidable small, bad decisions.
[I explain in more detail in a strategy document I presented to the WSM Board in 2007 – “Informal Intimacy”.]

c) Do a better job of asking workers and owners what we want. Not least about the last remaining piece of the Expansion jigsaw puzzle – the refurbishment of the Carrboro store.

Let us feel that, in future, we have real control over our future – a future which, at the moment, is being created by a small handful of people, often in secret.

Someone recently used the expression ‘dark-of-night decisions, made without any public input.’ I think that’s a description that’s appropriate –and it’s not only wrong; it’s unproductive.

Workers and owners are far more likely to support and implement smoothly big decisions which they already own.

So, create vehicles to allow the Board to know exactly what owners and workers really want. And then, make sure the Board pays attention.

‘Yeah, very nice, we’ll let you know’ is not co-operative democracy. Not according to the Policy Governance model to which our Board claims it subscribes.

It’s just ‘feedback.’ The Wal-Mart way. Also known as ‘filing under ‘D’ for Dustbin.’

Revive the Worker-Owner Discussion Program. Re-jig the Open Forums. Have The Weave adopt the Online Forum that Jamie Bort (a Consumer-Owner) will be completing shortly – with a little help from me.

And most important of all – let us vote on things from time to time. Like whether we want to pawn our co-op for $6 million…
[Again, I expand on these thoughts in a proposals document I submitted as a member of the WSM Elections Task Force, earlier in 2008.]

That’s a start. And now I wish I could think of a really cute Monty Python quote.

Nope. Sorry. Guess some things are more serious than that. Oh well. Next time, maybe.

In the meantime, this Board Election is about you – not me, and not Jacob. It’s about what you want your co-op to be. How you want it to reflect the values and aspirations you have for it.

I’m standing because I love The Weave, I’m troubled about where we are, I think I can help us get safely to the other side, and I want to help. But that’s not the point. It’s still all about you.

I’ve spent as much time as I can trying to contact as many of you as possible, so that you can tell me about the hopes you have for our co-op.

I haven’t got to all of you. I’ll keep trying. But, you see me around. Feel free to chat to me, anytime. Or write to me on Facebook, MySpace or at:

And when you talk with me, I promise I’ll truly listen. We should all strive to be a genuinely ‘Listening Co-op,’ and that should start with our Board, and your Worker-Owner Board Directors.

Now please remember, you have to be a Worker-Owner to vote. You really can shape the future of your co-op. But you can only do it by being an owner and voting. To find out how, ask Linda in Marketing, Deborah in HR or write to:
You can become an owner anytime up to October 25, and still vote in this year’s Board Election. Whoever you vote for, please use the opportunity you have to create your own future. Good luck to us all!
Published in: on September 10, 2008 at 9:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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