Linden Hills Co-op
It’s not a scientific poll, but one of the most frequently asked questions about the food co-op’s board is quite simple. What do they do? Owners know boards are responsible to the co-op, but in what ways?
At Linden Hills Co-op in Minneapolis and others around the country, board leaders are proactively addressing these questions through promoting their role in the co-op to the owners. What these cooperators realized is that by being more accessible and visible, they are providing stronger avenues for owner relationships. This is work that’s also undertaken in partnership with the co-op’s management and marketing staff.
In 2010, Peter Erickson, the Linden Hills Co-op’s former board president (as of this month) worked with Luke Schell, the co-op’s general manager and Allie Metzer, the co-op’s marketing manager at the time, to come up with ways, as he said to “demystify the board and show people what we do.” In addition to newsletter articles and website postings, they designed an in-store poster that demonstrates how the governance process works, included professional photos of the individual board members, and information about how they can be contacted. “It was a graphic influenced by various CDS Consulting Co-op workshops,” said Erickson. “We wanted to express where everyone, owners, management, and board, fits in the circle.” This imagery is also used in staff training for co-op education.
Erickson said that Linden Hills Co-op was also inspired by a listening project undertaken by Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth, Minn. “We modeled our listening sessions format based on the ones launched by the Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth,” he said. The result of that process was a greater understanding that in order to serve their 8,000+ owners effectively they needed to have an ongoing process for reaching out. “We can’t control how people come to us,” Erickson said, “But we always have to reach out to them.”
This has required some investment in presentation. For example, professional headshots and photos that show the board in the store or a natural setting are much more inviting as outreach to community members, than hastily shot digital photos on the fly. At Linden Hills Co-op, representing board members in a positive way, and educating people about their role with the same attention to detail that the co-op demonstrates in its other promotional activities, has yielded many benefits, including more owner involvement and an exponential increase in annual meeting attendance. “We want people to see visibly who we are in the co-op,” Erickson said.
Listening Project Empowers Board and Management Next Steps, Solutions, Volume 11 Number 2, March/April 2011.