Intensive Training Builds Staff Skills

In May of 2000, general managers of the Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops (TCNFC) approved a proposal for new program, Leadership Development Training. TCNFC will begin its third session of this program in September of this year.

The training is designed to develop strong, confident, effective management skills in co-op staff members who exhibit leadership potential. The structure of the program is classroom-style learning combined with hands-on application. Each of the member co-ops can send up to three staff people, and participating stores pay "tuition."

(Members of TCNFC: Lakewinds Natural Foods, Linden Hills Co-op, Mississippi Market, River Market, Seward Co-op, St. Peter Food Co-op, Valley Natural Foods, Wedge Co-op. For background on TCNFC, see Corinne's report in CG #99, March-April 2002.)

"The Leadership Development Training is a great opportunity to build skills, share ideas, and have fun!"

The development of the program was a combined effort of the member co-ops' human resource managers and the Executive Director of their association. The program was designed over a period of six months, including purpose and objectives, curriculum development, criteria for participation, process for application, expectations of commitment, and a budget.

The concept for this Leadership Development Training was shaped by the Cooperative Management Institute, an intensive three-week training formerly offered by the Center for Cooperatives in Madison. We needed to bring training close to "home" and receive its full value yet not remove participating staff from the store for three weeks. We determined that there is enough need here in the Twin Cities to justify creating such a program, one that all stores could take advantage of.

The main objectives of the program are:

  • To develop a pool of qualified applicants for management and supervisory positions at the co-ops.
  • To improve our strength by creating another avenue for cooperation among the TCNFC member stores.
  • To reduce turnover by offering a valuable training benefit.
  • To foster a sense of community among our stores and staff members.
  • To develop strong, confident, effective leadership skills.

By preparing a pool of qualified applicants for supervisory and management positions, we empower our staff members and strengthen our stores for the future.

The curriculum design uses expertise both internal to our stores (Debra Gagner, Elka Malkis, Dave Schermerhorn) and external (Walden Swanson, Carolee Colter, Janda Grove, Mary Esterling) in a variety of courses. Classes are scheduled every two to three weeks and last from 3-6 hours, depending on the class. The merchandising and store audit course take three full days.

TCNFC staff work with the instructors to ensure that every course has objectives which are communicated to the participants before each session. Participants evaluate every course, and improvements are made with each session. For the 2002-2003 sessions we are adding an additional evaluation. Two of our course instructors who work with the "students" throughout the program will provide evaluations of the participants to their human resources managers.

Some classes require "homework," and the sequence in which classes are presented build on each other. Course topics in the order presented are:

  • Motivation and Work Styles -- learning styles and diversity
  • Time Management -- including productivity, goal setting, stress and crisis management
  • Communication Skills -- giving and receiving feedback, active listening, business writing, conducting a meeting,
  • Food Safety and Sanitation
  • Financial Training
  • Introduction to CoCoFiSt
  • Merchandising Principles and Store Audits
  • Legal Aspects of Human Resources
  • Workplace culture -- assessing and working through conflict, building a team.

Following the completion of five months of classroom courses, there is a mandatory three-month project that focuses on self- directed application of the coursework. In order to receive a certificate of completion this project must be completed and presented to the general managers and human resources managers of TCNFC. Requirements of the project include four parts:

  1. The goal and purpose of project
  2. The information and techniques used to set the goal
  3. Participants' analysis of the information and expected outcomes
  4. Participants' analysis of the next steps that need to be taken in the co-op to implement the project

Participants are told to focus on one area for improvement in their organization. They identify the purpose, set goals, recommend a plan for implementation, and identify the desired outcomes. They are encouraged to THINK BIG, and outside the box -- their project concept can be far reaching or something that needs to happen now.

Written reports with supporting documents must be submitted to TCNFC 10 days before presentations. Projects are evaluated on the accuracy and completeness with which the report is written and presented.

Our first class (2000-2001) had a completion rate of 64%, with 9 of 14 participants completing all courses and the projects. Our second class (2001-2002) had a 100% completion rate, with 13 projects, including two staff who were no longer employed but completed the projects on their own time and returned to present them.

The quality of the projects presented is very exciting. Some examples: expansion and reset of pet products department; HBC department training manual and reference book; online grocery ordering service holding and pick-up; improvements to orientation process; integrated display case analysis. Three of these systems are being translated for implementation in all of the TCNFC stores -- illustrating the quality behind this work!

Criteria for a staff member to apply for Leadership Development Training are basic:

  • Employee has passed an interim employment period
  • Employee has completed all current training programs at their store: natural foods training, customer service, and co-op membership training.
  • Employee is not on probation
  • Employee submits an application
  • Employee receives good references from the manager and/or supervisor
  • Employee exhibits an apparent or demonstrated commitment to the organization

Each store screens interested applicants and decides whom it will send. The application process is completely handled at each of the individual stores, but the process and criteria is the same for all members.

Tuition is based on the cost of running the program. The 2002-2203 tuition fees are $925 per person. TCNFC estimates that the total cost to run the program including coordination expense is close to $17,500 per session. To date we have received one grant from Mutual Service Insurance foundation and are seeking another for this upcoming year. However, we all agree that if we cover the cost of the trainer and the TNCFC dues cover the cost of coordinating the program, we are satisfied.

TCNFC stores are strongly committed to the objectives of the Leadership Development Training. Monitoring systems are being implemented through a quarterly reporting system that allows us to track the retention and promotion of program graduates and allows us to determine if we are achieving our long-term goals. This year a graduate was promoted to HBC manager, and the applications at the store level for the 2002 --2003 session are averaging about 10 per store.

It is exciting to know that so many of the staff are willing to make this time commitment to training. And it is gratifying to walk into one of the Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops stores and see the Leadership Development Training certificates of completion displayed with pride.

See other articles from this issue: #102 September - October - 2002