There is a need for greater clarity on the boundaries between management and member representative bodies.
Currently democratic bodies are free to intervene with management at all levels - from area committee to group board - on almost any question or detail. The paradox is that this freedom has meant a loss of democratic power and accountability. Area committees are burdened with lengthy agendas and boxed in with rules and protocols so that they have no time or freedom to consider vision or strategy or feed in ideas. The group board is so overburdened with strategic detail, so hedged in by management, that they dared not challenge the strategic ambition of the executive. The executive, wary of being micro-managed by people without specialist expertise, have managed upwards.
There should be clearer boundaries. Elected representatives should be focused on the strategic goals and setting the framework, the limits, within which management can operate. Then management should be left to deliver those goals, free to innovate so long as they respect those limits.
Both sides need to have a clear understanding of their role. It is not the place of management to have a strategic ambition to create a ‘challenger bank’. It is the role of members and their representatives to require the executive to avoid existential risk.
Area committee questioning of management on the performance of individual stores rarely serves much purpose. While they worry about these details they are not consulted and have no influence over the strategic choices being made at the top, decisions that the members they represent may feel strongly about - such as whether it is acceptable to enter a joint venture in China, or to allow a private consortium to run shops using the Co-operative brand, choices that arguably breached limits that should have been set.