Outpost Natural Foods, Milwaukee, Wis.
At Outpost Natural Foods, strategic thinking and planning is something that they incorporate into many of their board conversations quite naturally. While they may set aside time at retreats and at meetings to talk specifically about the big picture, board president Will Kort said that over time their board has assumed the ability to carry out their regular work with a tactical view toward the co-op’s future. “It’s a process that has evolved over the years,” Kort said. He’s served on the board since 2005 and has been president since 2012. “Now it’s imbedded within our monthly meetings,” he said.
Kort said a “collection of techniques” have “pointed them in that direction.” He said that the board’s relationship with the general manager and the yearly goals they set for themselves spill over into strategic thinking for the whole organization. He said that the strategic discussions they have are often aspirational, but it gets everyone thinking more closely about the co-op’s intentions.
Formally, their strategic work is often in close relationship to the work of the general manager, Pam Mehnert. In the past year she worked on a 2022 vision (a ten-year projection) based on the board’s original work of developing the Ends policies. The Ends drove the interpretation of management’s operational planning with the co-op’s entire staff. “It was interesting to see how the management team thinks about their work operationalizing the vision,” Kort said. The result of that is a 2014 rollout by the management team of their High Five vision for the co-op workplace.
“We talk at a high level about access to organic and healthful products for a broad sector of the community,” Kort said about the difference between the board’s strategic thinking and management’s implementation of it. In 2012, the board, in conjunction with the 2012 Year of Cooperatives, discussed the strategy of raising the profile of cooperatives both locally and internationally. “These are things that set the tone for the discussions and the strategic themes we want to address,” he said.
He also said that Strategic Leadership, as one of the 4 Pillars of Cooperative Governance is also closely tied to their policies and procedures. All of these things inform the board’s culture and strategic thinking according to Kort. As such, one of the board’s next projects is to work on documenting some of their strategic work in order to codify it for future boards. “Every meeting there’s always a strategic conversation regarding reports,” he said. “It’s an embedded the idea into our process.”
4PCG Focus—Strategic Leadership: successfully articulating the cooperative’s direction/purpose and setting up the organization for movement in this direction. Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the article in the January/February 2014 issue of Cooperative Grocer.