University of Wisconsin Center for Wisconsin
Rural Cooperatives, September/October 1996, p. 10.
Published by the Rural Business and Cooperative Development Service 

A to Z Guidelines for Board Members

John W. Siebert
Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics
Texas A&M University

You run it. It's yours and you are the heartbeat of it. It's your farm. You visit it one or more times per month. You and many other farmers own it. It's your cooperative and you are on the board of directors.

When something needs to get done on your farm, you just give a few instructions and the wheels start turning. Often you jump right in and make them turn. Most of your employees know you will work with them under fire. They respect you, understand you and they quickly learn that you are in it for the long run. Day-to-day fluctuations in your mood do not mean a whole long as everyone works toward the long-term goal of running a successful farm.

The cooperative is completely different. It seems to make miraculous progress at times. But other times it seems to bog down just when it should be succeeding. Your grip on it is not as firm as it is on your farm. Yet you still want to do an excellent job as a board member.

The Corporate Agribusiness World

Welcome to the corporate agribusiness world. Your tools to succeed here are in many ways similar to what you already know. For example, saying what you think, seeing for yourself, listening to others and learning whose word you can depend upon. However, in other ways the cooperative is very different. The best analogy I can give is that the cooperative board sometimes can function like a family business meeting where everyone may have a different perception of the issues at hand. Ever had a meeting like that?

A to Z Guidelines

Here are the A to Z Guidelines I suggest you follow when serving your cooperative as a director.

Accurate: Seek accurate financial reporting according to the criteria of an independent, outside auditor.

Best: Hire the best manager you can.

Confidence: Express confidence in the cooperative when outside the board room.

Different: Recognize that serving on the cooperative board is different from being a patron of the cooperative.

Earn a margin. The cooperative must earn a margin on the package of services rendered to each member or it will not continue to exist.

Fun. Take time to celebrate victories. Spread the credit to all team members involved in making a difference.

Grudge: If you hold a grudge based on past co-op decisions, it will make attending meetings extremely stressful. Forgive and forget.

Hurry up! In a hurry-up atmosphere, mistakes will be made. Why not take the time needed to do it right?

Integrity: Integrity is why you were elected to serve on the board. Do not leave your common sense at home on board meeting days.

Judge from this perspective: View the cooperative as though you own it and as though you have no farm. What would you change?

Kick the political habit. The basic purpose of the cooperative is financial in nature.

Length of life: No cooperative has to last forever. Be flexible about re-organization concepts such as up-sizing or downsizing.

Meet new people: When attending industry meetings on behalf of the cooperative, you are there to meet new people and learn.

No dart board: You are not a dart board for every co-op member's complaint. If members can get special treatment by complaining to you, then they will do just that.

On time: Arrive at meetings on time. Start meetings on time. End meetings on time.

Patronage dividend: Conduct all transactions at market price levels. Then reflect earnings in your cooperative's patronage dividend.

Quality: If you are going to make decisions about your co-op, then you probably need to know much more about the quality of its products. This is different than the quality of the product made at your farm.

Run for the board. Do not run for the board if you fail to believe in the co-op's basic mission.

Strategic planning wins in times of low commodity prices or high commodity prices. Does your board action pass this strategic test?

Time for family: Take the family pledge—my family has great needs for my time and I will not let the emotions (or telephone calls) of co-op business affect my relationship with my family. It's just not worth it.

Unallocated. If you allocate overhead to every department, the money-making departments will get loaded with more than their fair share and the losers will get treated with kid gloves. Instead, rely on your common sense regarding overhead.

View the banker as a valued advisor.

When is the last time you acted like the very best board member you can imagine. Follow your intuition, speak your mind, be eager to hear the other side of the story and accept truth where you find it.

X marks the spot! If your board meeting is becoming a contest to spot a flaw in CEO presentations ... then it is vital that you are reunited as a team.

Your partners are the cooperative's customers.

Z - the end. Just as the alphabet comes to an end, so will your time on the board. After all the effort, will you be able to look back and say you made a difference? Will you be able to look back and say you had some fun?

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