Thoughts on Positive Culture and Accountability:

What I’ve learned after nearly 30 years working at my co-op

I have a passion for positivity and its close counterpart, accountability. Together, they have become the cornerstone of the training and development work I do at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, as well as at other co-ops in the nation.

I have grown up with the co-op, and I would like to share with you some thoughts, opinions, and insights shaped by this experience. Before becoming training and development coordinator three years ago, I spent over 20 years as our human resources manager. Before holding that position, I was at various times a clerk, cashier, board administrator, assistant manager, and general manager.
When I started, my co-op had 20 employees and $2 million a year in business; our co-op is now 195 employees strong, with over $30 million in annual sales.

What do I mean by positive culture?
Positive culture is the source that draws us together. Positive culture is the spirit of our co-ops, the heartbeat. It is the way we show our communities what is possible when people gather together to create something useful and beneficial for all. It is where motivation stirs, where we become energized–it fuels our desire to grow and develop and bring our best self forward.
Through positive culture, we show we are a different kind of business in the marketplace. It is how we demonstrate our deep regard for humanity, and it reminds us of the truth of who we all really are.
It takes effort to bring about this truth and the positive cultures we seek–a focused and prioritized practice that allows habits, beliefs, and conditionings that we all carry to change, strengthen, or diminish. It takes skilled leadership, staff development, and deeply held convictions. Here are some things I have learned that support this effort to build a more positive culture.

Where does positive culture start?
Where does anything start: ourselves! To build a culture that is positive, you and I must become the first building blocks. It starts with more awareness of our personal points of view, of how we are feeling, interpreting, and interacting with others. Governed by our self-awareness and our own efforts to be positive, we can provide a strong foundation of leadership. From that strong stance, we can lead others in the creation of a highly productive and positive co-op culture. It starts with ourselves–really, that is all we control anyway.

We start by turning our awareness toward strength: the strengths in ourselves and in the people we work with. We look for what is going right, letting our staff know that we are noticing, and we speak frequently about our board’s, manager’s, and staff’s best efforts. We put our focus on behaviors that unify and strengthen us as a team–then feel the impact of leading this way. Yes, feel it! We let that positive emotion, which is so infectious, carry us forward.

Our next steps would then be to make a personal commitment to reduce our own gossip, negative talk, and venting while on work time at our co-ops. This is important because gossip and negative talk are the gateway to so many negative dynamics. It is the fuel for dysfunction. Venting without safeguards that channel the charge is equally damaging in its effects.

As leaders we have greater impact when we model proper positive communication and support each other in building a positive team. I feel this is one of our greatest calls to action. This means that when we speak about anyone, we do so with regard. When problems arise, we look for solutions through business practices rather than personal critique. When we experience inner turbulence, or an inner charge, we work to process that charge in a self-responsible manner that does no harm.

What else is needed?
Think about accountability and structure: As leaders we must uphold all of the co-op’s policies, standards, expectations, and procedures. The co-op’s business structure is our strength–it is what unifies, clarifies, and creates a defined zone for growth, development, and building our positive culture. Structure puts us all on the same page. It enables excellent business practice and keeps things from being too personal.

In my opinion, structure is something to be valued and cherished even more than our own individual preferences and expressions in a business setting. I also think it is a worth noticing our mindset about authority. What do we think about being in charge and having to enforce rules? If we have negative associations about being the authority, it is worth cultivating a new mindset. It is worth reminding ourselves of the amazing work that can be accomplished through leadership, mentoring, structure, and, yes, rules. What a privilege and honor it is to be a leader!
 
Becoming more accountable as a team to our structure?
When seeking greater accountability, we have to slow down, back up, and practice. We have to gather as a team and find the simplest policy that is not being followed by managers. This is our beginning point. This is where we start our practice and demonstrate to one another that we are all in it together and that we will grow stronger together.

There are many reasons why managers do not uphold policy. Sometimes it is rules resistance or a casual mindset. Sometimes we think it won’t matter, or we think a rule is trivial and does not apply to us. Maybe we are just doing what everybody else is doing. Whatever our past reasons, it is better to leave those behind and move forward.

A lack of accountability is a huge breeding ground for negativity. Staff members always react negatively to structures and rules that are not uniformly enforced. When accountability is spotty, it generates confusion and paralyzes our ability to grow stronger.

For our store, it started with wearing a nametag. We came into compliance ourselves as managers, then we worked for staff compliance. We worked to uphold all of the policies, work standards, service standards, conduct standards, and team standards. And we are still working on it today. This is an ongoing process and one worthy of our effort.

Structures that are well in place give staff firm guidelines for problem solving, thereby preventing unleashed negativity due to frustration. A co-op with firm structures in place, where boundaries are well defined, builds an atmosphere where all that is positive can flourish.

Why accountability and positive culture are my primary focus
Everything that is part of our ability to thrive as co-ops runs right through the middle of accountability and positive culture. These two are the foundation of what is needed to fuel any efforts toward differentiating ourselves in the marketplace. To improve our customer service, to draw in new customers, to educate customers about the cooperative model and food issues, to create strong bottom lines, to retain talent and grow talent, we will need as much accountability and positivity as we can muster. In my mind, it is mission critical!

This past year, I have worked with many wonderful co-ops, and taught workshops at a few conferences, to support an effort to strengthen these areas. I have come away with an ever-deeper faith, and an incredible optimism, about what we can accomplish together. In co-ops around the country, I have seen the most ethical, positive, and wonderful people working with a mighty effort. With just a little bit of helping, nudging, and focusing we can take our co-ops to a new dynamic level.


Our co-op model can become a light to, and leader of, businesses all around the country. I can see the day when businesses from all over will look to us for inspiration, leadership, and a way of doing business that has established a marketplace for its nourishing glow and for its ability to demonstrate the power of unity, positivity, and service. Cooperatives will do this with such vigor that people are drawn in to our co-ops to participate in all levels–drawn in by the profound expansive nature of what a co-op is capable of doing and being in its community.

Let’s go forth with a conviction to strengthen ourselves, and support others in doing the same, as we work to create positive cultures supported by active accountability. We will, I have no doubt, get stronger together!

 

Resources on Positive Culture
Change Your Think: An Unexpected Way to Think about Managing People, by Kris Plachy, looks at how our thinking affects the way we manage and coach our employees. The book provides excellent tools for improving personal accountability, which leads to greater team accountability. Find Plachy’s blog and information on her leadership coaching course at www.leadershipcoachinc.com.
Another resource is Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, by Swanson, Mingyur, and Goleman. I like this book because it gives insight to how our mind and emotions work and how to create new neurological pathways that support a more positive outlook. It is a meditation book, it is suited for individual efforts.

Training videos that are worth exploring are available from Media Partners: www.media-partners.com. The following descriptions are excerpted from Media Partners:

 

 

Resources on Positive Culture
Change Your Think: An Unexpected Way to Think about Managing People, by Kris Plachy, looks at how our thinking affects the way we manage and coach our employees. The book provides excellent tools for improving personal accountability, which leads to greater team accountability. Find Plachy’s blog and information on her leadership coaching course at www.leadershipcoachinc.com.

Another resource is Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, by Swanson, Mingyur, and Goleman. I like this book because it gives insight to how our mind and emotions work and how to create new neurological pathways that support a more positive outlook. It is a meditation book, it is suited for individual efforts.

Training videos that are worth exploring are available from Media Partners: www.media-partners.com. The following descriptions are excerpted from Media Partners:

1)    In This Together
Through the lens of real situations, the In This Together video addresses a wide range of issues from gossip to sexual harassment and invites team members to make good choices at work.

2)    Painless Performance Improvement
Are you looking for a simple, yet proven technique to help employees improve their performance without drama, pain, and conflict? Look no further than this training comedy focused specifically on the challenges of developmental conversations.

3)    It’s Okay to Be the Boss
Best-selling author and management consultant, Bruce Tulgan, has proclaimed that the days of “hands-off” management are over! This riveting new release is a call to action for all managers and leaders to fight the under-management epidemic and to become the boss their employees appreciate and ultimately deserve.

4)    Practical Coach
Direct and sincere: “practical” advice for coaches who care about their team members and are willing to encourage, correct, and challenge them to greatness. In other words: “Coaching is the process of letting people know that what they do matters to you.” It’s one of the best-selling coaching programs in the industry.

5)    Accountability that Works
Accountability That Works is an exciting, innovative training program that will provide everyone in your organization with the tools they need for a greater sense of empowerment, effectiveness, and increased productivity.

6)    The Unified Team
Team conflict can take on many different forms, such as belittling, blaming, backstabbing, and bickering. The Unified Team offers tools to help leaders overcome these problems, and promote a sense of unity within their teams. This video is ideal for team leaders, supervisors, and managers.

Media Partners, in the past, has been open to group buying discounts. Contact: Beulah Meints, account manager  [email protected].

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