As you may have heard before, the Board uses a process called “Policy Governance” in doing its work. This system of policy statements enables the Board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management’s job without meddling, and to evaluate the accomplishments of the organization.
Our policies are arranged in four basic groups. There are policies about Board process and how the Board functions. There are policies about Board-management relations, which are where the Board delegates authority to the General Manager. There are policies on “executive limitations,” which constrain the actions of the GM. And lastly, there are the “Ends” policies. These policies work together to guide how the Co-op is run.
The Ends policies lay out the vision for the organization, what the Co-op is for and what will happen because the Co-op is here. When it was developing these policies a number of years ago, the Board took its guidance from the bylaws, where you, the owners had detailed the purpose of the Co-op, including a long list of goals. The top-level Ends policy that we adopted states that the Co-op will be: “an economically viable and environmentally sound business cooperatively owned by its members” and that its primary mission is to “operate a retail grocery store that forms a cornerstone of a vibrant community.” Subsections of this broad policy then list several more specific Ends for emphasis, such as owners being kept informed about food, agriculture, and environmentally-sound practices; or maintaining a humane and empowering work environment; or meeting the long-term needs of the Co-op through growth and expansion, among others. The GM and her staff then take these Ends policies and decide how they are going to bring them about. Results are what the Board is looking for, not the particular method for achieving them.
It works the same way for the “executive limitations” policies. Rather than making routine decisions about store operations, the Board makes policies that establish guidelines specifying which things aren’t acceptable. These guidelines can be very general (“Don’t do anything illegal”) or very specific (“Don’t fail to pay the payroll taxes”). Management and staff are then free to run the store as they know best as long as they stay within those boundaries. This is how the Board maintains control without meddling in day-to-day operations.
Compliance with the Board’s policies is determined through regular monitoring reports, and the policies themselves are evaluated to see if they are achieving their desired effect. If not, a more or less restrictive policy may be implemented, depending on how involved the Board feels it needs to be with a particular issue.
All in all, Policy Governance is a useful tool for the Board to use to organize its work and to ensure that the Co-op does the best that it can in meeting your needs. If you have any questions about how it all works, ask any of your friendly Board members.
And remember, we need to know about how things are going, so email us at and let us know what you think.