Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society
Hanover, New Hampshire
Number of members: 13,000 households
Equity investment:$50 per household
Number of staff:350
Locations: Three grocery markets and one auto service station.
For a co-op that’s over 70 years old, like Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, you’d think defining the co-op’s purpose and identity would be old hat. However, in a thriving co-op, especially one with a long history, having the board regularly revisit the topic is a necessary practice. As time goes on, it’s very likely that many things about the co-op have changed since the beginning.
At Hanover Co-op, the board has just completed a process to define their ends policies — or what they call the results they aim to create in the world. Board president Don Kreis said that when they adopted policy governance six years ago, they developed a set of policies that “passed muster,” but they wanted to do more work on them to make them more meaningful, powerful, vital. Three years ago they began refining the policies and defining the co-op’s purpose and vision.
When they began the process, they engaged in two critical activities. That year the board went to the Consumer Cooperative Managers Association (CCMA) conference and was influenced by speeches by Michael Hartoonian and Brett Fairbairn about how cooperatives have the power to have a real impact on things like wealth and happiness in a community. Bolstered by that level of thinking, Kreis said, they began to think about how their co-op board could begin envisioning that for Hanover.
The second thing the board had to learn how to do, Kreis said, “was to stop wasting time on near term day-to-day stuff.” He said that board training helped with this, along with the realization that they could monitor the general manager’s compliance with their executive limitations policies. “We know our management is principled and competent. We saw that we had a great opportunity to do this,” Kreis said. Once the board let go of management-level issues, they were greatly freed up to consider the co-op’s future.
“We wanted to learn together about our coop’s potential in the community,” Kreis said. “We asked ourselves, what things do we want the co-op to be responsible for in the future?” The board began to envision the outcome of this equation: Because of all we do at Hanover, we will have X.
“We’re not the perfect co-op,” Kreis said, and felt that through the assistance of board leadership trainer Mark Goehring they were able to be more mindful and stay on task. “Like anything that’s hard, it takes practice and bad habits can develop. We have to keep ourselves disciplined to keep going.”
Now that they’ve gone through the process of defining ends policies they feel satisfied with, Kreis said that the time they put into it “was just about right” and the outcomes of the process made it well worth it. “There was so much enthusiasm for doing the work on the co-op’s purpose. People are very proud and are looking forward to accomplishing more in the next year,” Kreis said.
To view Hanover Co-op’s Ends Policies visit the policy governance section of their website..