One of the first things they did was read Carolee Colter’s toolboxHiring a General Manager: A Food Co-op Toolbox Manual and worked through it as a group. “We found it very helpful in the process,” said Alison Kolesar, the board’s president. They also took extra time to review the policies related to the board and general manager relationship to be sure “everyone was on the same page,” Kolesar said. Additionally, they included the store’s operations manager on the hiring committee and during the interview process. “She had been with the co-op a long time and didn’t want the general manager job, so we felt comfortable having her there,” she said.
One of the things their board learned, in addition to developing their hiring practices, was that doing so was imperative. There is a dearth of qualified general managers in the food co-op sector. Therefore the board needed to demonstrate that the co-op was a stable and attractive workplace. Preparing to set in motion a positive working relationship with their next general manager was part of that. She also gives credit to the co-op’s former general manager for creating a good foundation on which the next person could come into the job and thrive. Kolesar believes that their thoughtful and deliberate approach led them to hire the person that has proven to be the best fit for the co-op in the long term.
As they considered the strengths of the candidates they had and what the co-op needed (including managerial and financial competence) sharing the same values as the cooperative was very important. They were faced with a hiring dilemma: hire a person with more retail experience or someone who seemed more in line with their current co-op culture’s needs. They went with the latter, but built in greater accountability for the retail side through frequent general manager reporting and operational mentoring during the first six months. “Since we were not in crisis mode we could afford to hire someone who didn’t have co-op experience but who had other great qualifications and then allow time for him to receive training to get up to speed,” Kolesar said.
David Durfee, the co-op’s general manager, said that this arrangement worked out quite well for him and the board as he gained more retail grocery expertise. He also believes that the policies that govern the board-general manager relationship are “key.” “Our roles are very well understood,” he said, and that the accountability structure for his first year worked well. He found the CBLD library resources for reporting templates invaluable. Durfee also appreciated the opportunity to connect to peers through the National Cooperative Grocers Association. “There is so much out there for learning the nuts and bolts of retailing, especially for financial support and training. Because of all of these things I think things went smoothly,” Durfee said. “For any individual considering working in the food co-op sector, I wouldn’t hesitate at all. My experience has been very positive.”
Kolesar concurs. “Building trust happened very naturally and we quickly developed a comfortable relationship.”
Hiring a General Manager: A Food Co-op Toolbox Manual
By Carolee Colter
Published by NCGA, December 2008
Available for sale at Cooperative Grocer Network (requires member login)
Hiring a General Manager Cooperative Grocer article by Carolee Colter