Reports from the general manager are one of the most important tools boards have for monitoring their co-op’s operation. But sometimes the reports, while very informative, don’t always deliver information in a way that is geared toward making governance decisions. This can lead to boards spending their time asking a lot of questions of the general manager about the information in the report, rather than being prepared to use it to determine the co-op’s future.
An example of this might be using an income/expense statement to present information about the co-op’s finances, something a general manager would find useful in the co-op’s operations. However, what boards really need to see is the top and bottom lines and how those have changed. “If you get rid of extraneous data points and look at 3 to 5 year trends, you can see it from a long term perspective. Are sales steadily increasing? Decreasing? What does that tell us? Do we need to expand?” said Michael Healy CDS CC board trainer. This doesn’t mean that the income/expense statement isn’t available to boards; it just focuses the reports into a user-friendly format for boards.
Healy wanted the process of reporting to be easier on everyone. Building on the work of many generous co-op managers who participated in two CBLD monitoring report R&D projects, he created a set of common reporting templates for general managers that gives them a standardized approach to data for boards.
Bruce Palma, the general manager of Co-opportunity Natural Foods in Santa Monica, Calif., said that using the templates has been a big change for the better because there are fewer gaps in interpretation. “It’s helped the board,” he said, “and it has changed the nature of the conversation.” Additionally, the approach has meant less revision of reports after board meetings for Palma. Palma recognizes that good reporting takes a lot of preparation and creating the right data streams for customer satisfaction, staff treatment, and Ends. “But the board doesn’t want you spending all your time on reports; they want you to run the store.”
Palma is grateful for the reporting templates and said that to him it shows cooperation among co-ops in action when others can readily share and access this kind of information in the CBLD Library.