October / November 2014 Issue

Co-op Conversation 2014
In the winter of 2012, the Board of Directors of the Olympia Food Co-op initiated a Member/Staff/Board Engagement Process, calling it the Co-op Conversation, in order to listen and engage the entire Co-op community in such a way that all voices would be heard, and to help the Coop develop the tools necessary to meet the demands of our changing world.

Co-op members, Staff and Board members were encouraged to bring their questions, concerns, and expertise to the table. And tables there were – numerous ones set up around a large space in the Olympia Community Center, with rotating groups of people representing various parts of the Co-op community–seniors, LGBTQ, students, families, disabled, financially strapped – all contributing to the Conversation.

Discussion centered around questions such as: What do you think of the Co-op? What are the challenges and realities the Co-op faces? What resources does the Co-op have to meet these realities? How can we transform our values into action? The results of that meeting were taken to the Board and Staff, with the intention that solutions could be found for the issues that came forth. The outcome desired was for “an organization re-energized and clearly focused, responsive and sustainable communication mechanisms, and a deeper understanding of how to move forward with our mission in a changing environment.”

The Member Relations Committee organized the event, and continues to carry forth the feedback and recommendations that came from that meeting. On June 4, 2014, another meeting was held–a Mini Co-op Conversation–with a much smaller attendance, but with the same desire to continue working on and taking care of the many concerns that circle around the running of Olympia Food Co-op. This meeting was held for several reasons. It was meant to meet member requests to continue the Conversation, even informally. It was also meant to address member feedback from the first meeting in 2012 concerning Coop communication. The Mini Co-op Conversation attempted to move forward with implementing some of the recommendations for better communication that were offered at the 2014 meeting.

Also discussed at this meeting were Membership Systems Improvements. Staff member, Mo Tobin, discussed the potential benefits of merging the membership database with the new POS system that is now in operation, hoping to allow for better accuracy of membership information, a smoother returns process, and more privacy at the register. While the new POS system is now in operation, the transition to the new membership database system has not yet begun. It is likely to be implemented early in 2015. Please see article on page 3 for more details.

Communication emerged from the 2012 Co-op Conversation as a key issue, with ample feedback coming in, offering concern over how the Board and Staff of the Co-op make decisions and how they communicate with membership. The boycott of products from Israel was one among several motivators for this discussion. Questions arose about the Co-op’s organizational structure and existing communication systems/channels for product education and feedback. Also, the slow pace for making changes at the Co-op was examined, recognizing that the Co-op has always been a strong supporter of consensus decision-making – a process that inherently requires time for solid
and clear resolution of issues.

From this meeting it became clear that we all could benefit from a simpler communication system than our current avenues for member questions and feedback, those being: the Suggestion Box, Customer Service email, Member Relations email, Board email, etc. It has become clear to the Member Relations Committee that there is a need for one central communications contact person, rather than having member concerns filtered through so many entry-points. With this in mind, a staff job description is currently being created by the Member Relations Committee that will offer accountability for timely follow-through by directing incoming inquiries to the appropriate groups or persons.

By Desdra Dawning