21. May 2014 · Comments Off on Co-operatives Fortnight – Let’s Co-operate! · Categories: Uncategorized

What are you doing for Co-operatives Fortnight?  At Co-operantics we know the Co-operative Values and Principles can be used as a guide to transact business successfully as a co-operative.  This year, for Co-operatives Fortnight, we are focusing on the 6th principle “Co-operation Among Co-operatives”.

During Co-operatives Fortnight we are going to organise some co-op networking in Bristol and Southampton, where our members are based.  If your co-op is in either of those areas, get in touch and let’s see if we can work together to the mutual benefit of our co-ops.

Everyone can get involved in Co-operatives Fortnight.  Check out the Co-operatives Fortnight website for further details.

11. March 2014 · Comments Off on Ungovernable by one individual? Err… yes, it’s a co-op! · Categories: Uncategorized

So the Co-operative Group Chief Executive has offered his resignation as he considers the organisation to be ‘ungovernable’.  His proposed solution, if Robert Peston’s report is accurate, is a more PLC-style Board composed of more executives and fewer elected members.  Clearly if such a move is adopted it would threaten the co-operative way the group is managed, but if that’s what Members want, that’s fine.  The key issue here is that Members (such as myself) should be the ones to make that decision, not the Chief Executive.  It’s not a Chief Executive decision, neither is it a Board decision. A decision of such magnitude, affecting the very nature of governance and strategic control of the enterprise, should be a member decision. Co-operative Boards are elected to oversee strategic management of the business.  Co-operative managers are responsible for operational management to achieve the strategic direction agreed by the Board.

But crucially, in a co-operative, on major issues such as structure, election of Directors and levels of Member profit distribution, Members should have the final say.  Members own the business, they are the sovereign body, and the Board should seek their views.  The fact that the most consultative process the Co-operative Group has carried out in decades – #haveyoursay – was targeted at the general public and not members was a worry.  If people want a say they can join. Membership is open and voluntary!

Far from democratic member control being a weakness, as is being reported, it is the strength of the co-operative model.  If anything, it is the failure of the Co-operative Group to use its democratic structure to listen to its members that is losing its advantage and causing the current problems.  If member economic participation was taken more seriously, we might not be facing the reported financial crisis that the Group is facing.

The Group’s Chief Executive is reported as claiming the business is ‘ungovernable’.  Yes, it is ungovernable by an individual, because it is democratically controlled – in much the same way a democratic country is ungovernable by dictators!  But that does not make it ‘unmanageable’ which should be the Chief Executive’s concern.  He is a servant of the Board not their master and should manage according to their agenda not set the agenda. Board scrutiny of strategic governance decisions is a strength.

One of the main accusations being levelled at the Co-operative Group at the moment is that its Board requires particular expertise in its members.  This is only true if your enterprise adopts a ‘management’ style of governance.  If you have a ‘representative’ style of governance (adopted by most co-operatives practising the Co-operative Principle of democratic member control)  it does not follow that your Board cannot make good decisions.  A key duty – and good practice – for Directors of co-operatives, whatever the legal structure, is to act within the bounds of their own skills and experience.  When they fail to have significant experience they should take specialist advice and act upon it.  You bring the specialists in when needed – you don’t hand the Board over to them!   On this, the largest co-operative in the land could learn from the governance good practice used by many of the smallest.

Another accusation that is levelled at the Co-operative Group is that, because the Board is democratically elected, executives cannot get on with their job of managing the business.  I believe this is a load of rot that is being levelled by people opposed to democratic member governance or who have personal grudges to bear.  If it is the case then the answer is to review the management systems, job roles and responsibilities of executives – not to change the nature of the governing body.  If this were a mainstream corporation they would call in management consultants. This is an option open to the Co-operative Group. Again, the largest co-operative in the land can learn from some of the smallest.  From small consumer co-operatives running a village shop or pub to the Phone Co-op or other co-operative retailers, the division between strategic governance, strategic management and operational management is made clear and executives have clearly defined job roles, responsibilities and decision making powers that enable them to get on with running the business in line with the wishes of the Board, who represent the interests of the Member owners.   Co-operantics, along with many of our co-operative development colleagues who deliver support to smaller co-operatives funded by the Group’s own Co-operative Enterprise Hub, possess the skills and understanding in this area that many corporate consultants do not!

We really hope that the Co-operative Group can resolve this latest crisis, and will not look to the City for a solution, where consultants do not understand democratically-controlled member businesses and will advocate a shift towards their comfort zone of shareholder interests over-riding those of consumers, workers and communities. Instead we hope it will look to its members and its sisters and brothers in the wider movement who are all willing and ready to contribute to a solution. The co-operative model challenges those city assumptions – and provides a more sustainable business model – let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

09. March 2014 · Comments Off on Co-operantics at the Co-operative City Conference · Categories: Uncategorized

Sat 8th March saw Co-operantics represented at the Southampton Co-operative City Conference.

In addition to updates from Southampton Area Co-operative Development Agency’s John Merritt & Dave Griffiths, Council leader Simon Letts and Councillor Andrew Pope on the “Co-operative City” idea and its progress, there was an excellent key note presentation from Nick Matthews, Vice Chair of Co-operatives UK and introductions to West Solent Solar Co-operative and Hamwic Housing Co-operative.

During the afternoon Nathan facilitated a workshop on Co-operative Skills.  With only a 45 minute slot we still managed to incorporate information about what co-operative skills are and why they are important along with a group session exploring what makes good and bad meetings.  Despite the time restraints the group even got to the stage of discussing strategies for  avoiding bad meeting behaviours and encouraging good meeting behaviours.  The way the exercise worked provided an opportunity for people to work in teams towards a shared task, which in itself may have helped some participants reflect on the way their co-op works!  Perhaps the most engaged disccussions were around co-operatives having too many meetings and problems with participation in meetings.  Are the two linked? Quite possibly. As participants agreed: there’s got be some purpose to the meeting for it to be worthwhile and if people aren’t attending, maybe it is because they don’t see the value in it.  Wise words.  There was even debate about whether or not incentives such as food are counter productive bringing people for the wrong reasons! The challenge to co-ops is to unpick the answer to “What’s In It For Me?” for members to attending meet – which may come back to ensuring the co-op is truly delivering member benefit and that the members are in agreement about what that benefit should be and what common goals they want to achieve.  That’ll be strategy then!

The fruits of participants’ labour:

Participant work from Co-op Skills micro workshop 8 March

Participant work from Co-op Skills micro workshop 8 March

Participant work from Co-op Skills micro workshop 8 March

If you would like Co-operantics to run a workshop at your conference or event, get in touch!

19. February 2014 · Comments Off on Welcome to Co-operantics · Categories: Uncategorized

Our Home page hosts occasional blogs about what we are doing, what we think about what’s going on in the co-operative world and topics of interest. Elsewhere (see links) you will find free tips, tools and techniques to help you work together more effectively, information on our services and how to get in touch.

06. February 2014 · Comments Off on How Co-operantics maintains a quality service · Categories: Uncategorized

Cooperantics has recently reviewed the quality of our services in three ways:

  1.  We provided the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, to whom we are a sub-contractor, with evidence of: how we carry out personal reviews to ensure our practitioners are able to deliver a quality service to clients; how we keep track of our practitioners’ ongoing personal development; how we conduct reviews of the service our organisation delivers, and how we provide our complaints procedure.
  2. We took part in a service review session with members of two other Co-operative Development Bodies: Principle Six and Co-operative Solutions. The process enabled us to learn from each other’s practice and identify ways in which we could all improve the service we provide to co-operatives.
  3. Each practitioner in Co-operantics underwent a peer appraisal, in which we reviewed our practice with a client. This process helps us identify our strengths, weaknesses and areas in which we would like to develop skills or understanding, which in turn influences our professional personal development plans.

We are confident our ongoing review process maintains and improves the quality of the support we provide and feedback from clients indicates that view is shared!

23. December 2013 · Comments Off on Enjoy the festive season! · Categories: Uncategorized

Happy Holidays from Co-operantics, here’s to health, happiness & co-operation!

How about some festive music-making fun (thanks to Lizzie & Wayne)


09. December 2013 · Comments Off on Co-ops & Governance · Categories: About Co-operatives, Uncategorized

Media comment about recent events at the Co-op Bank has generated much heat but very little light over the issue of governance in co-operatives. Like others in the UK co-operative movement, we are concerned that apparent failures in governance – as highlighted by the ex-Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group in his recent appearance before a government select committee – are being extrapolated to apply to all co-operatives.

This is far from the case. It’s important to remember that although the Co-operative Group provides generous levels of resources to support the UK Co-operative movement, it is not synonymous with it. Also the Group has a hierarchical and somewhat complex structure – unique in the UK – due to its size and its 150-year history. The current structure has grown over the years, through mergers and transfers of engagements, most recently with the historic merger of CWS and CRS, with a resulting mix at national Board level of representatives of other consumer retail co-ops as well as Group representatives from different regional Boards.

Co-op News reports that the Group has launched an independent review to look at “strategic decision-making, management structures, culture, governance and accounting practices”, and with a new Group Chair, Ursula Lidbetter MBE, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-op, providing leadership and guidance, the future looks positive.

Co-operatives with a flat, democratically managed organisational structure aim to involve more people in decision-making, so good governance is critical, because without it we would be engaged in endless decision-making meetings or be subject to the whim of unaccountable charismatic leaders. We need structures which protect people from themselves and each other, so that we are not totally reliant on individual integrity, (not that integrity is not a good thing in itself!)

How can co-ops avoid problems arising from poor governance? A co-operative organisational structure should facilitate clear lines of delegation and accountability for decision-making. Directors must have clearly defined roles differentiating their responsibilities from those of operational management. There should be agreed policy on election of Board members to ensure a healthy turnover whilst at the same time retaining continuity. Member engagement is critical, with members involved in a range of different ways, including standing for the Board, so that there are contested elections at the AGM. And of course all members need excellent co-operative skills – good communication, efficient meetings and decision-making and effective techniques for coping with conflict. Inclusiveness is key – cliques and cronyism have no place in a successful co-operative.

Co-operantics has recently been part of a team delivering the ILM-accredited training programme: Core Competencies for Co-operative Business Advisors, which addresses these issues in detail, including organisational structures, legal forms, governance and co-operative management. The programme is funded through the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, itself funded by the Co-operative Group.

We are extremely pleased that our good friends Co-operative Business Consultants are organising a major conference on Friday 17th January 2014: Co-op Bank Crisis Ways Forward for the Co-operative Movement where activists, co-operators and co-operative business advisors will debate how we move on from the current crisis, building on the successes of the last few years.

And don’t forget: Co-operative businesses have a higher survival rate than conventional businesses, and the co-operative sector is growing faster than the UK economy, increasing by 20% in the last five years.

For more detailed discussion of the issues we recommend:

Ed Mayo

Ian Snaith

Andrew Bibby

December 2013

10. October 2013 · Comments Off on Sit back, relax and watch a video…. · Categories: Uncategorized

Although it has been out in the wild for over a year, we think this video is a great introduction to the wider movement for members of co-operatives.  You could use it in your induction processes

21. July 2013 · Comments Off on Get help with your co-op from Co-operantics for free! · Categories: Uncategorized

If your co-operative is located in the South East of England or London, we may be able to provide with some support for free.  As part of the regional co-operative consortium South East Co-operative Support we are able to work with co-operatives who apply for support from The Co-operative Enterprise Hub.  To make sure you identify the right sort of support, and that the work is allocated to Co-operantics, we advise having a chat first.  Nathan is our contact for these areas so contact him using the form or email address on our Contact Us page.

People interested in starting a new co-op can also receive assistance through The Co-operative Enterprise Hub.

24. April 2013 · Comments Off on Co-operative skills and motivation · Categories: About Co-operatives, Team Working, Tools, tips & techniques, Uncategorized

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