Peer appraisal in worker co-ops

– or “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” (Hint: You don’t)

Many moons ago, at a worker co-op conference, someone asked me: “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” Good question, I thought, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it. Except I thought then – and still do – that you should never tell your co-op co-worker their work is crap!

Worker co-ops are run for the benefit of the employees – their members – so of course the very last thing you want to do is fire someone. But you do need a way of providing support to your members – and a means of getting everyone on board with quality, timeliness and commitment to your mission and aims.

Appraisals provide members with support as well as providing a structure for holding them accountable. Any kind of business with employees (or volunteers) needs to carry out regular staff appraisals. But it’s how it’s done that interests us here.  In a worker co-op you will find a flatter, more democratic organisation. You may find that all the employees are Directors and you may find a variety of organisational structure – management by General Meeting (GM) or Management Committee, which may have delegated powers, or be representative of different teams or departments. There is also a growing body of worker co-ops adopting Sociocratic tools and structures. So we are not looking for a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

In a private enterprise an employer worth their salt will hold regular employee appraisals so that employees have the confidence that they are doing a good job, and the employer gets to know when people need training, or need new software or equipment, or when she needs to recruit more staff or give more hours to existing staff.

So in a flat, democratically-managed workplace, it’s just as important to have this information, and there are a variety of ways you can do that. You don’t need a hierarchical structure with a line manager responsible for holding appraisal exercises with staff, there are other approaches and this is what this paper aims to explore. Continue reading “Peer appraisal in worker co-ops”

Who’s afraid of leadership?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to co-operative leadership, because there are so many varieties of co-operative, depending on co-operative type, organisational structure, and sector of the economy.

In a consumer retail co-operative for example, the hierarchical structure pretty much dictates who holds what power and while of course there are opportunities for career development and promotion, there is less flexibility and those at the top of the tree can control the way authority is delegated to those below them.

I often remember an early lesson in co-operative leadership – or the lack of it!  I was a member of a co-housing group, run as a co-operative and we held an event to promote the co-op and recruit new members. All the members – eight or nine of us – turned up at the community centre to arrange the room and get ready for our audience. Continue reading “Who’s afraid of leadership?”

Generating and nurturing a strong co-operative culture – Top Tips

There’s been a lot of talk about co-operative governance and culture recently, so when our friend and fellow co-operator Siôn Whellens, of worker co-operative Calverts Design & Print, said “Co-operative culture eats co-operative governance for breakfast” it got us thinking ..

And so during Co-operatives Fortnight, Co-operantics talked to seven very different co-operatives, with the aim of exploring how co-ops develop and maintain a strong co-operative culture. We found a range of approaches, differing according to member relationship and size of co-op. Clearly the challenges facing a large consumer co-operative, with members meetings at most quarterly and communications between meetings restricted to the odd newsletter are different to those of a small worker co-op, where people spend all day every day together. Perhaps this is why the issue of co-operative culture is such a live one in worker co-op circles, since they have to make it work to survive.

“…the culture created the policies and the culture is the thing that keeps us checking the policies, otherwise we’d probably forget about them. The most powerful influence is practice and custom”

Cath Muller, Footprint

The first thing we observed was that ‘culture’ is there anyway, cultural norms, custom and practice will be a strong influence on your members whatever you do, and it’s up to you to make sure that it’s a strong ‘co-operative culture’ that is being nurtured and absorbed by your new members. Here’s some Top Tips to help you do just that.

  1. Shared vision

Make sure that everyone knows not just what you do but how you do it. Strategy sessions, regular communications such as newsletters, publicity and promotional materials, your website – all can highlight your shared values and vision of how you do things. The Phone Co-op makes it abundantly clear in all its materials that the reason it offers good quality services is because it is run by its members.

  1. Excellent communications

We agree with Suma’s Bob Cannell, who quoting Ralph Stacey says that organisations (including co-ops) are best described as a collection of processes of human relationships and communication. Some worker co-ops use multiskilling and job rotation to ensure that members are aware of what is happening in different departments. Suma are considering providing training to improve people’s interpersonal communications skills. Good communication is central to being a successful co-operative business.

  1. Induction of new members

Vital for ensuring that new members ‘get’ the culture as quickly as possible. ‘Sitting next to Annie’ might seem a practical approach but it is not enough, and Annie might be a bit cynical, and know her way round the rules, with a damaging effect on morale and initiative. No, take the training of new members seriously, provide them with a mentor or buddy and recognise that not everything can be taught, a lot will be picked up by watching people’s behaviour in the workplace and during meetings. Some co-ops start the process before people are even members, and Radical Routes co-ops in particular benefit from shared cultural values.

“Writing down what you and other co-op members have been doing over the past three months can help reinforce co-op cohesion and culture”

Jane Ferrie, Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op

The Conversations highlighted a range of ways in which new members learn co-operative culture: observing other members in the workplace, during meetings, being part of decision-making, working together, training, mentoring, buddying, writing and involvement in the wider co-operative movement (especially Radical Routes co-ops).

  1. Structured and appropriate approach

Whatever your approach, it needs to be structured, otherwise ‘an awful lot’ can ‘fall between the cracks’ with members taking ‘a long time to feel comfortable enough to speak up’. You have a responsibility to teach new people how to do something no-one learns in school. Most people don’t go to meetings where 20, 30 or 50 people sit around in a room and discuss things. It can be intimidating! But we can learn how to do it, and you can adopt ways to make it less intimidating, such as using small group discussions as part of a larger plenary.

  1. Ignore Co-operative Principles at Your Peril!

– for example Principle 5: Education, training and information. If you are finding collective working a challenge there may be a temptation to resort to hierarchy, which can create a new set of problems and diminish self-responsibility. If a collective approach isn’t working, maybe members don’t know what is expected of them, how they’re supposed to behave or they need support or training.

  1. The Member Job Description (or Member Agreement)

A Member Job Description can be a useful resource. It sets out what co-op members expect of each other (and themselves). It could include what you can expect from your co-op, and what the co-op in turn expects from you. It could include norms of behaviour in meetings – for example we expect members to have read the papers and turn up on time, to have an opinion and to be prepared to share it. To be ready to attend training or to learn the ‘core tasks’ that we have agreed everyone needs to know how to do. It’s up to you!

So, finally, Siôn was right – co-operative culture does indeed eat co-operative governance for breakfast!

This doesn’t mean that governance isn’t important – far from it. Written policies and procedures are

  • helpful for new members getting to grips with how things work
  • essential for saving time – you can look it up, no need to hold a meeting!
  • and a guide to what has been agreed in the past, so you know where you are when changes in the co-op’s external environment affect how you do things.

Thanks to all the co-operators who took part in Co-operantics Conversations: Cath Muller,of Footprint Workers Co-op, David Charles of Sanford Housing Co-op, Dave Morris of Hamwic Housing Co-op, Jane Ferrie, of Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op, Amanda Beard of The Phone Co-op, Sion Whellens of Calverts Design & Print Co-op and Bob Cannell of Suma Wholefoods Co-op.

You can read the interviews by following these links (they open in a new window):

Co-operantics Conversations #3 Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op

Conversation #3 is with Jane Ferrie of Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op, or MAJ for short. Formed in 1999 by a group of individuals from North London, most on welfare benefits or low waged, they have bought and converted a house in North London, as well as managing a house in which some members are tenants. Members are also involved in Haringey Solidarity Group, a non aligned local campaigning group. As part of the housing co-operative they hope to incorporate a meeting space and a few small office/ work spaces, for campaigning groups and others.

Hi Jane,

My first question is:

Q: Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or Policies & Procedures – or culture within the membership?

A: Definitely the most powerful is a co-operative ‘culture’ within the membership. However, that needs to be combined with playing to everyone’s strengths.

Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?

A: MAJ is a small co-op and we have had very few new members. The few we have had have already been familiar with our co-operative culture from being part of joint events with existing members of the co-op. Once actually in the co-op new members learn a lot from seeing what goes on at meetings. We don’t have a regular newsletter but take it in turns to write the MAJ contribution to the Radical Routes quarterly newsletter Radical Rumours. Writing down what you and other co-op members have been doing over the past three months can help reinforce co-op cohesion and culture.

Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?

A: The advantages are that it is organic and intuitive

Q: And the disadvantages?

A: that it is unstructured and might require rethinking if new members were to join who had not previously had any experience of living or working co-operatively.

Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?

A: No, we haven’t, but we are thinking possibly of expanding the co-op so this will be something that we may well need to consider.

Q: Do you use a member agreement? (A document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)

A: No we don’t at the moment, because we have a set of primary and secondary rules that cover much of what would probably be covered by a membership agreement. However, if there were added benefits to a membership agreement we would consider it.

Q: What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time?  Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?

A: It changed significantly once we got our first property and again when we took over the management of the other property where most of the rest of our members live. The move from talking and planning to hands on doing brought us focus and tangible results.

Thanks a lot Jane!

Check out Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op and follow @MAJHousingCoop

So what do you think? Do you have any thoughts, opinions, experience to share? We’d love to hear your comments or questions. Or if you would like to join in the ‘Conversations’ then answer the questions above, add any further ideas you may have and email to us at:
kate [at] cooperantics.coop
and we’ll be happy to have a Conversation with you!

Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.

It’s Co-ops Fortnight!

Co-ops Fortnight 21st June – 4th July – is the perfect time to come together and promote the vibrancy and strength of our sector. Co-operantics will celebrate Co-ops Fortnight with a series of ‘Co-operantics Conversations‘ where we will ask co-operators how they build and nurture a strong co-operative culture.

As a result of criticism levelled at poor governance at The Co-operative and the Co-operative Bank, there’s been a lot of heat and not a lot of light shone on the topic of co-operative governance. Experienced co-operators have talked about the importance of co-operative culture. But what is it? How do you build it and nurture it? We think there is much that co-operatives can learn from each other, both in the UK and overseas.

Our first Conversation is with Siôn Whellens of Calverts Co-operative: Design & Print

Hi Siôn,
My first question is:
Q: Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or policies & procedures – or culture within the membership?
A: We don’t have lots of policy codes, but we do have a lot of accepted procedures, developed by consensus decision making over the years. So often, ‘the way we do things’ has its roots in policy decisions and rule-making from a long time ago, before most of the current members can remember or tweaked from time to time.
Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?
A: Watching the way clients, customers and neighbours interact with us; social media and our website; the reputation of the co-op; observing colleagues during the working day, ‘water cooler’ or lunch break gossip, behaviour of members in meetings, ease of participation in meetings and during the induction process.
Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?
A: People can take as long as they need to ‘get’ the culture (which can also be a disadvantage, but mostly it’s an advantage); it’s a mixture of ‘hard’ learning (e.g. understanding financial reports, environmental policy and procedures) and ‘skills’ learning (modes of discourse and interaction). It’s cheap, efficient and humane because it doesn’t rely on hard power or a management cadre, although it does rely on goodwill and the ‘soft power’ of the group.
Q: And the disadvantages?
A: We tend to assume that given enough time, people will align with and find their positive place in the culture, so we don’t ‘hand hold’ that much and we don’t review members’ performance as members, so it can take a long time to resolve problems.
Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?
A: More formal training in co-operative knowledge and skills during the probation year (quite likely to implement, if the current worker coop skills training and other events like Worker Weekend continue); a system for formal peer appraisals (always rejected!)
Q: Do you use a member job description? (A document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)
A: No! It might be difficult to introduce one, unless there was something we could borrow and tweak, because when things are going OK people say ‘why fix it if it ain’t broke’ and when things aren’t going well people have other priorities.
Q: What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time? Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?
A: Less overtly political as the business entered its golden phase and early members moved on; less ‘office politics’ (i.e. internal caucusing and organising around ‘agendas’), as the average age changed from 25-ish to 45-ish, and also because it led to conflicts which caused a lot of grief and nearly destroyed the co-op. We grew up.

Thanks a lot Siôn!

Check out Calverts Co-op: Design & Print and follow Siôn @Scumboni

So what do you think? Do you have any thoughts, opinions, experience to share? We’d love to hear your comments or questions. Or if you would like to join in the ‘Conversations’ then answer the questions above, add any further ideas you may have and email to us at:
kate [at] cooperantics.coop
and we’ll be happy to have a Conversation with you!

Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.

Co-operative Skills Seminars: ‘Strategic planning and managing change’

Part of Co-operative UK’s Co-operative Skills Seminar programme, Strategic Planning and Managing Change is a completely new seminar, designed to meet worker co-operative training needs identified by the Worker Co-operative Council.

The content was influenced by the Worker Co-op Code of Governance, by our recent work with Unicorn Grocery in Manchester and by Bob Cannell’s work on co-op friendly management techniques (Oct 2010 Break Free from our Systems Prison) as well as experience with other worker co-operatives addressing issues around change.

However since this topic is so broad, we will be circulating a brief questionnaire to everyone who books for the seminar, in an effort to ensure that the content is relevant and pitched at an appropriate level for participants. Additionally, we would be happy deliver an in-house version of this seminar, tailor made for the requirements of your co-operative. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

The seminar aims to help you improve participative strategic planning, helping your co-operative grow or change, and covers:

  • exploring your shared goals and what motivates your members
  • participative strategic planning tools
  • typical challenges
  • change management techniques

Book here!

De-bunking co-op myths

In this series we aim to debunk some of the commoner myths about co-operatives – the stereotypical beliefs that people hold about what a co-operative is, which can lead to misunderstanding and can prevent people from recognising the very real value of the co-operative business model.

JOB ROTATION – OR MULTI-SKILLING

The first topic is job rotation – all co-ops rotate jobs, don’t they?

Well no, some do and some don’t – it’s not a necessary condition for a co-operative. Co-ops organise in many different ways, ranging from full multi-skilling (mostly found in worker co-ops, owned and controlled by employees) to those which have specific roles and job titles.

However co-operatives that do organise around multi-skilling enjoy a variety of benefits – as long as it is implemented thoughtfully and as long as the costs are recognised, anticipated and accounted for.

Job rotation as practised in worker co-ops can be more usefully described as multi-skilling, meaning that all co-operative members must be ready to perform a range of tasks, so when extra hands are required (at certain times of the week for example, or seasonally, or if someone is off sick or on holiday) they are readily available.

Advantages
Apart from the obvious advantage of having those extra hands available, co-operatives that have successfully implemented multi-skilling report improved communications between departments, leading to fewer demands on the personnel department, more variety in the working environment, enabling the co-operative to cope more effectively with high workloads, so members are fresher and enthusiastic for longer; it allows recuperation from stress and enables the co-operative to use labour and skills more efficiently to cope with the troughs and peaks of business.

Pitfalls
If you are learning a new job, you will not be up to speed for some time, and nor will the person teaching you. This is a cost which needs to be built into budgets and projections. If it is not, the lower productivity implied by people ‘learning on the job’ can quickly become a drain on the co-operative’s resources. Another disadvantage is the resentment that can be caused when a trained and qualified worker is recruited for a specific task only to find that he or she is expected to perform tasks they are not experienced in while people who do not have their skills and experience step into their shoes in the job they were recruited for. I am remembering a new-start co-op veggie restaurant that rotated all their members around all jobs including the kitchen, with the unfortunate result that they lost the two qualified chefs they’d recruited! A major pitfall is to assume that all jobs can be rotated and to undervalue the specialist skills that qualified and trained staff bring to the co-operative.

Suma Wholefoods, based at Elland, near Halifax, have been practising multi-skilling for over 30 years and their 150 employees perform more than one role in the co-operative. They say that this broadens their skills base and gives every member an invaluable insight into the bigger picture. It also helps to play to each member’s different strengths, enabling them to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to creativity and problem solving. Suma workers multi-skill, usually between desk and manual work and contribute to collective management. Drivers often drive for part of the week and work in the warehouse or offices for the remainder. Desk workers are encouraged to do manual work for at least one day per week.

At Unicorn Grocery, in south Manchester, members learn a range of core tasks – working the till, packing, cleaning – and then two or sometimes three people are trained up in specialist roles, so there is back-up when needed.

Suma says: “to avoid the chimps tea party approach of everyone trying to grab the best job, it must be agreed democratically and organised co-operatively. You can use regular HR practice such as job analysis to identify what needs to be done, then share the jobs according to skills and desires. That way you won’t be held to ransom by people with rare skills.”

Summary

What are the key benefits of multi-skilling?

  • improved communications
  • improved awareness of the business ‘big picture’
  • more efficient use of labour and skills
  • more variety, less boredom, less stress
  • more opportunities for individual continuing professional development

And the main pitfalls?

  • assumption that all jobs can be rotated
  • failure to identify those jobs that most need back-up
  • failure to include learning on the job into production costs
  • lack of planning

Co-operantics provides lots of free downloadable resources that will help you with democratic decision-making, the essential foundation for implementation of an effective multi-skilling approach.

Co-operative skills and motivation

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a workforce, team or any other group of people will perform better when it is motivated. But how do you go about motivating people? In the world of motivation there is a theory that unpicks how to get the most from your workers, volunteers or members called the “Hygiene-Motivation Theory” developed by Fredrick Herzberg and published in “The Motivation to Work” in 1959.

The crux of this theory is that there are the factors which satisfy people in the work place and others that dissatisfy them. Motivation occurs where there is satisfaction and demotivation occurs where dissatisfaction prevails. However, contrary to what you might expect, what motivates people at work is not just the opposite of what causes dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors must be met in order for people to stop being dissatisfied, but halting dissatisfaction does not itself provide satisfaction. This involves extra activity. If you like, the hygiene factors are the foundations upon which motivation can be built. Meeting basic hygiene needs provides only momentary satisfaction – in much the same way that finding a deserted building as shelter on a rainswept moor would provide momentary relief: you would not want to live there! Satisfaction, and sustained motivation, comes from meeting separate motivation factors. But, failure to address hygiene factors makes any work on motivation factors a waste of time and energy.

Herzberg identified typical examples of these factors which we can take as a starting point, but it may be possible to identify specific factors in your organisation which have either a motivational or demotivational effect on members:

Hygiene and motivation factors
Hygiene & motivation factors diagram

There is a useful introduction to Herzberg’s theory on the BusinessBalls website: http://www.businessballs.com/herzberg.htm

How can we apply this theory in our co-operatives?

A first step would be to get members talking so the co-operative can establish how they feel about these issues. One person’s idea of status may not be the same as another’s, and what is for one person an adequate salary (or total pay if you include profit share) may not be enough for another. Desirable terms and conditions can vary between people with different circumstances e.g. the parent might rather be able to work flexibly around school start & finish times whereas the hardened festival goer may want to take the bulk of their holiday in the summer. What does achievement mean to your members? At what point for individuals does responsibility provide motivation and at what point does it constitute unnecessary pressure? Do they want individual responsibility or shared responsibility?

What does this have to do with co-operative skills?

To benefit from this motivational theory, your co-operative might look at management decisions and organisational changes. However improving co-operative skills will address some of these motivational factors at a fundamental level:

  • Developing good communication skills and learning how to deal with conflict helps people to maintain relationships for longer (a hygiene factor).
  • Improved efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation through better meetings can generate better conditions, remuneration and job security – each of them an acknowledged hygiene factor.
  • Recognition of status as an equal in the business is an important hygiene factor in co-operatives. Poor co-operative skills such as bad communication can undermine the status of a member. If some members feel their views are not heard or taken on board they may feel they do not have equal status – despite what the governing document says about one member one vote. Behaviours that have developed over years and some policies, procedures or systems can also contribute to this .
  • Direct influence on company policies (a hygiene factor) and the way work itself is organised (a motivation factor) are more likely if your organisation adopts good decision making processes that take into account all members – not just the majority or the most vocal.
  • Well organised meetings encourage individuals to share responsibility (motivation) giving all members opportunities to gain recognition as important joint players in the organisation (motivation)
  • Training in co-operative skills is motivational as it provides advancement and personal growth.
  • A co-operative that functions well is a less stressful, more supportive place to work.

It is worth looking at the free resources on the Co-operantics website to develop the co-operative skills in your organisation, or you can bring us in to help.

We can also assist you to identify factors that can assist motivation or advise on improvements to your governance structure, policies and procedures.

Email us at nathan@cooperantics.coop

Playing Co-opoly at Co-ops United Manchester

Britta Werner
Britta Werner, Unicorn Co-operative Grocery & one of our promoters

We were delighted to have the opportunity to play and promote the game of Co-opoly at the Co-ops United event in Manchester on Thursday 1st November. We managed to set up four games running concurrently and came away totally vindicated in our belief that Co-opoly is an excellent tool for learning about co-operatives and especially what it’s like to work in one.

‘we take this seriously, you know!’

There was much interest in our ‘Pod’ – with people coming in to watch, asking us about the game, and asking where they could get hold of one.We asked players for feedback about the game – here are some of their comments:

  • the game cleverly illustrates a real-life problematic in co-ops, which is trying to find out what’s going on in colleague’s heads …
  • realistic but fun game, similar to working in a workers coop
  • one of the players immediately adopted the role of “Treasurer” to keep tabs on how many points the co-op owned in real time. This was used by the group along with some forward planning in case the points were needed to cover losses to weigh up spending decisions (e.g. “wage” rises for members).  This demonstrated an awareness that the co-op needs enough working capital to survive to trigger member benefit in the longer term and it also needs up to the minute financial information – something not all new-start co-ops understand!
  • die needs round corners, doesn’t roll well
  • black text on red cards is hard to read
  • good for children to learn an alternative to competition (especially siblings)
  • lastly a small child made the clever observation that for countries that don’t use Roman numerals – 1,2 3 etc. – the die would not work, so we agreed that the traditional dots would work better!

Fun for Kids & Bigs!
Fun for Kids & Bigs!

 

We were privileged to have the participation of Donna Balkan, from the Canadian Co-operative Association, who has played Co-opoly “at least 12 times” and who is a great fan of the game. See her blog about Co-ops United & thanks for the photos Donna!

playing Co-opoly
players debate their next move

There was a lot of interest in the new version of Co-opoly, which Toolbox for Education are currently fundraising for, which will be cheaper overseas, because easier to pack and post. Check their website & contribute if you can.

Co-opoly

To celebrate International Co-operatives Year, Cooperantics is proud to promote Co-opoly: The Game of Co-operatives where players collaborate to found and run a democratically owned and controlled business. In the game players make tough choices in order to survive as individuals and strive for the success of their co-operative business. We’ll be playing it with Somerset Co-operative Services before the AGM on 18th July in Taunton, so look out for a review of the game shortly after that.

You can purchase a copy of the game by clicking on the logo in the right hand side bar below