Policy Governance Toolbox

February 24, 2015

When I first joined the Bloomington Cooperative Services Board of Directors, I had never heard of Policy Governance. I knew about Bloomingfoods, though. I was eager to be more closely involved with an organization that cared not only about what they did, but how they did it.

Through the guidance of my fellow Board members, our involvement with National Cooperative Grocers and the Cooperative Board Leadership Development program, I’ve come to understand Policy Governance as an incredibly useful tool for guiding organizations.

I think Policy Governance works well because it focuses the Board on the aggregate and the long-term, and it trusts the staff of the organization as the best ones to figure out exactly how to reach that vision.  Ends Policies are set articulating outcomes. The Board has a voice in the operations of the organization, but delegates the details to staff. Executive Limitation Policies are set to guide the management’s actions in pursuit of these end results. Finally, Board Process Policies are set articulating the responsibilities of the Board in vigorously checking to make sure the organization is actively pursuing those end results and not exceeding any limitations. Member-owners have a voice in all three places, but have delegated decision-making to their duly elected Board. The key components in this three-way relationship are communication, empowerment, and trust.  In the best Policy Governance, everybody involved has something to say, and everyone is heard.

When the Board monitors the Ends Statement affirming that, “Because of BCS, people in Bloomington and South Central Indiana will have a market for local, organic, and healthy products, meeting the needs of consumers and producers,” we first test the report, asking if we agree with management’s  interpretation of the policy and how to measure it. Then we examine hard data, accumulated over time, to evaluate BCS’s performance in this area.

The great thing about cooperative ownership is that we make this business what it is, together. Delegation is our strongest tool. Policy governance gives us a structure through which we can amalgamate these many voices into a cohesive vision, involve incredibly smart, talented, committed people to make it happen, and then constantly monitor, refine, and refocus that vision.

If you’re interested in learning more about the board’s process and goals, please participate in the quarterly member forums, contact us at board@bloomingfoods.coop, and feel free to strike up a conversation when you see us in the stores or on the street. Keep reading here in future Bloomingnews issues to learn more about the way your member-ownership works to make not only Bloomingfoods, but also Bloomington, a better place for all.

Danielle McClelland