The amazing power of co-ops

The first International Co-operative Summit was held from October 8 to 11, 2012 in Quebec City. Bringing together 2800 participants from 91 countries on the theme “The Amazing power of cooperatives”, it has been the occasion for conferences, forums and roundtables on the economic stakes of cooperatives. With more than a billion members, co-ops represent a major player in the global economy. Through this summit, I was able to discover the values, the functioning and the stakes of cooperatives. It is with a look of an operational excellence specialist that I propose a series of articles on the universe of cooperatives, in connection with operational excellence.

In this first article, I will focus on the values of cooperatives and their proximity to the values of lean.

Democratic functioning

The founding principle of a co-operative is the model of governance. The Co-op belongs to its members. In addition, each member has a voice, regardless of the number of shares he owns in the Co-op. This principle distributes the power between all members. It is the members who decide the directions and make the strategic choices for their co-op. In practice, members are elected and sit on the board of directors, with the leaders (employees) of the cooperative.

This principle reminds me of one of the basic rules of continuous improvement. People in the field (operators, technicians,…) get involved and have a voice as important as their manager in solving problems and choosing solutions.

The place of human

In cooperatives, the human being is at the heart of the concerns. Co-ops ensure the well-being of their members, but also their community. The training of members, the education of the general public, as well as the mutual assistance and commitment in the community are the founding principles of the cooperatives. This is also the main reason why members are grouping together and forming a cooperative.

On the lean side, this value is also very present: the key principle of operational excellence is that everyone does their job best. Therefore, a person does not cause mistakes. Poorly defined, incomplete or failing processes are the cause of errors. Respect for individuals is at the centre of all approaches.

Look further

By their essence co-ops have a long-term vision. Unlike publicly traded stock companies, they are not subject to the publication of quarterly results. This publication pushes the stock companies to take short-term actions to provide quick results. If cooperatives seek to maximise profits for their members, they do so in a long-term vision, with sustainability objectives.

Operational excellence also works on a long-term vision. The most glaring example is the wheel of Deming. The final step (Act) aims to consolidate the results achieved, to improve them as needed and to deploy good practices. It’s an endless circle. Hoshin planning also plans in the long term.

Produce what the customer requests

Finally, co-ops are very client-oriented. Often the client and the member are one. The Co-op will focus on providing the member with the product or service he needs. It is the same thing in the world of operational excellence, where the client is brought back to the center of decisions. His voice must be listened to to provide him with what he needs.

This orientation towards the client/member, and the satisfaction of his needs are another example of common values or principles between co-ops and operational excellence.

The cooperative movement and operational excellence share the same values!
To learn more about the importance of co-ops in the global economy and the issues they are experiencing, I invite you to view the opening video of Summit 2016.