Wild Oats Market is located in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts in a town of 6,000 people and is considered the heart of the community. The co-op owns its own building and land that abuts a forest on a main road. “It’s an unusual setting and really nice,” said Michael Faber, the co-op’s general manager. The co-op moved to its current location in 2005 and is once again poised to expand. Faber and the board have spent the last year gathering results from a member survey and determining the co-op’s direction for the future. The process has been very satisfying from Faber’s perspective because he and the board have been working on it together. Their practice could also be described as unusual and really nice, and their approach can serve as an inspiration for others.
Faber’s been at the co-op almost five years now, and he said every year they all continue to improve their implementation of the Policy Governance model. “I feel like the board and I have embarked on a great relationship. The use of the Policy Governance model and the subsequent empowerment and accountability has worked really well,” he said. Over the years he said that as the board developed policies and adjusted them, he has also taken steps to improve his reports, collect data, and use resources available to him.
According to Faber, the board’s policies provide the right amount of clarity and parameters while also being flexible. “I don’t feel they are constraining,” he said. “So my own feeling of empowerment has grown. It’s given me a lot of space for creativity and my own growth and development.”
Their relationship of respect is particularly notable when Faber said that the board really values his reports and recognizes the time he puts into them, even when not a lot of meeting time is spent on them. It’s a lot easier to be accountable when you know your work is appreciated. “I know that’s not always true for general managers,” he added.
Faber said he doesn’t worry about factions or divisions on the board hampering the empowerment and accountability stream at the co-op. He said that he can define his relationship with the board in two words, trust and respect. “I feel like we are working together. There’s a supportive teamwork dynamic that sets a great tone for the co-op and good leadership for the store as a whole that trickles down,” he said. He said that he feels like he and the board are on the same page, working for the same goals. Their approach to monitoring and reporting has been to “help each other” because they really want to be sure of their next steps. Their work this past year has been to determine their growth priorities and what they want to accomplish on behalf of the members.
After exploring their options, the co-op leadership decided to expand its current location rather than move. The location is appealing, visible and beautiful. “It’s a good place to be,” Faber said. Indeed. Their approach to their work for the co-op has closed the gap between quality of life and merely having a grocery store.