Board Report: Change

I was recently asked how decisions are made by the co-op.  This is actually not a very easy question to answer as it depends on which decisions about what.  Generally, the board of directors is responsible only for the big overview of the direction of Bloomington Cooperative Services which is the umbrella organization under which all of the grocery store co-ops called "Bloomingfoods" function.

The General Manager of BCS hires managers of the grocery stores and sees to it that they are trained in all the skills required to run a store and manage employees.  These managers make all the day-to-day decisions about things like which brand of ketchup to buy and how many varieties of cheese to carry. The board only specifies that these items should be organic and local when possible.

As consumers of these groceries, we tend to like the stores to carry the things we personally enjoy, and we prefer that the stores continue operating in the ways we are used to.  We normally don't want anything to interrupt our routines and buying habits.  There are always things we don't like and things we really love about the stores depending on how well the stores are filling our needs for convenience, pricing and choice of merchandise.

As member-owners, you have expressed year after year on the customer feedback forms you mail in (you do do that, don't you?) your opinions on all aspects of each store.  Everyone in charge of decision-making pays attention to this feedback.  Generally, you report a high rate of satisfaction with how things are run.

However, changes are sometimes necessary, and what would be thought of as an improvement to some is a disturbance to others.  With the whole world changing faster than we can possibly keep up with, many of us drag our feet when something we have become comfortable with now has to change as well.

With new stores opening, there is a level of stress that takes place when an employee has to wonder about a job change.  Will this mean a hoped-for promotion?  Will I have to learn new skills?  Am I valued for my real worth?  Humans usually respond to change with either a flight or fight response.  Flight can be just ignoring that anything will be different, avoiding facing the shift of situation and just becoming passive, a "whatever" approach.

Fight can take the form of resisting or criticizing.  People deal with any perceived threat to their usual routine in a variety of ways.  An analytical person might look at the situation as a problem to be solved.  A visionary might need to see the Big Picture and how the change supports a larger goal.  Another person just wants to know if everyone involved in the change will be treated fairly.  And someone who likes order may just want to know what the new rules are so that she or he can get with the program.

It is important for managers to understand these different coping mechanisms so that stress is reduced and everyone's needs are met as much as possible.  When employees are relaxed and informed about the changes, they can more easily assist customers and acquaint them with what is going on and why.  You, as a member-owner can also make our growing pains more comfortable by being informed yourselves.  Read the newsletters.  Come to a board meeting sometime.  Attend the annual meeting in the fall.  Mail in those feedback forms that come with your vote for board candidates in the summer.  Tell the store staff what you like about your shopping experience.  Be a soothing presence.  It is still true:  all we need is love.

Carol Bridges
for the Board of Directors