Clumsy

My momma always said, ‘clumsy is as clumsy does’. And that leads us to what we have here today, and it is me again, expressing my opinion. Now, as I’ve been inclined to do lately, here is my disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the following commentary are solely those of me. No-one has told me to write these words, no-one else has boarded  my opinion-bus to enjoy the ride. I am not an expert, but I know what I know. Thank you, and enjoy.

(and also as I’ve been inclined to do, here is some background: I work at a natural and organic foods cooperative grocery; we are member-owned. Competition is fierce in the organic food biz these days, and our store is not exempt. After several decades of leading the charge, we face some tough economic times. The board of directors hired a new general manager late last year, and he has a background of corporate, conventional business; he has not previously worked in a cooperative environment, nor in natural foods.)

So what is clumsy? As regular readers may know, if I am making myself clear enough, I have strong disapproval of how the current management team is doing things. While I want to voice my opinion in line with today’s prompt, I must say that ‘clumsy’ is a big understatement….but it’s what I have to work with.

For the sake of brevity (unless I have already thrown brevity under the bus) I will stick with one issue; I see clumsiness on a daily, weekly, monthly basis around the cooperative, but I will stick with one focus for this column: conventional produce. Our cooperative has been a leader in natural and organic foods for decades. Even the local produce we offer, although not certified organic (due to the cost of certification), is guaranteed to be pesticide- and chemical-free. (similarly, our dairy products may not all be organic, but they are free of growth hormones and such nonsense.)

Our new general manager felt that we needed to bring in conventionally-grown produce in order to offer more competitive pricing. Many people within the organization, as well as many member-owners and customers, were opposed to that idea. Regardless, he went forward with this initiative, and store by store we had conventional produce displayed and ready for sale.

What was clumsy about this was the rollout, which was done with little to no communication with our staff. In our specific store, we heard it was coming, we knew the date to expect it on the shelf, but that was it. We came in one morning and our produce department had been altered, with one big display moved (the first time in 15 years) and another display added; no-one had been told this was happening. Similarly, no staff had been given any information on these products, what the conventionally-grown term actually meant, how to communicate the change to our members. And our membership is involved and vocal; they want to know what is going on. So the management team did a huge disservice to the staff in the stores, the staff on the floor, because we were ill-prepared to handle the questions we received.

The staff in the produce department was not excluded from the miscommunication, and actually had it worse. They had not been trained on proper handling of this produce. The difference, you see, is that certified organic produce cannot be stored or displayed in certain proximity to non-organic produce. Nor can the handling, washing, or prepping happen in the same exact space. But the products showed up and were for sale without the staff being up to speed on these things. Signage was not clear nor obvious; distinctions were not made so that cashiers could easily identify organic produce from non-organic.

It was a mess. Now, as I’ve said before, the cooperative culture is different from the corporate environment. Respect, communication, education are all important and part of how we operate. These concepts have been ignored by the current management team. They will come through the store and talk nicely and friendly-like with staff, but in the big picture of operations they simply make decisions, enact their plans, and leave the fallout for everyone else to deal with.

Now, I do believe in a learning curve. But what makes this process clumsy to me, and even dastardly and ill-conceived, is that these guys have repeated this way of doing things over and over just in this past year. They have not exhibited better communication habits; they have not shown interest in listening to opposing points of view; they have not trained staff or given people time to learn new positions. So I will use the term clumsy for the purpose of this daily prompt exercise; but my term for how they are doing things is much stronger than clumsy. Thank you. (sorry if this completely shot brevity out of the water….)

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