Measuring the Soul of a Business

A Letter from the Co-op General Manager

To Our Community, 

I recently took part in a phone conference with general managers from food cooperatives across Vermont. It was a good discussion on many levels, a productive mix of information-sharing and moral support. In summary, I would say many of us are working from the same playbook—trying to manage the complex work of keeping our member-owned businesses strong and serving their communities while also managing the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. More than anything else, the discussion reinforced the importance of knowing who we are and where we are going, a broad topic that is top of mind for me these days.

As I have written about before, customer experience has been the focus of many meetings at the Co-op over the past few months. We have now moved on to the next phase, which is a discussion dedicated to articulating and analyzing the difference between what we are and who we are. This is the start of the more critical phase of our strategic planning, as it helps us to establish where we are going.

What We Are

What we are is much easier to define than who we are. At the end of the day, what we are at the Co-op is a portfolio of businesses. Some of these businesses, such as our food stores and Hanover Service Center, are developed and have a long and storied history. Other businesses, such as our Learning Center, Community Market, Co-op Kitchen, and Norwich Service Center, are still developing, with bright and promising futures ahead. Regardless of which business we are talking about, they all share common characteristics, e.g., being member-owned, community-driven, and cooperatively governed. These characteristics lay the groundwork for thinking about who we are.  

Who We Are

Who we are, or what I refer to as the soul of our business, is admittedly more nuanced and difficult to define. But the abstract nature of it is rich ground for analysis and critical to strategic planning. Our teams have been having productive discussions about the soul of the Co-op, and summarized who we are by breaking it down into three broad areas:

  • Socially Responsible
  • Ecologically Responsible
  • Community Focused

Our next step is review our initiatives within each of these areas, and analyze the various ways we meet these broad objectives. Our ultimate goal is to measure them with hard, factual data.

It is one thing to have lofty, noble goals. It is another to break those goals into measurable objectives that can be tracked over time. By doing that, we can report on them and provide open, transparent information to our employees, members, and shoppers, just as we do with our financial data.

Strategic planning is not a one-and-done task. In my view, this should take place continually throughout the course of the year. Our environment has become more dynamic by the day. Accordingly, we always need to be thinking about strategy, where we are going, and how we are making progress. This is why defining and measuring the soul of a business, especially a cooperatively run business, is so important. It provides a North Star of sorts that can keep a business on track and guide it into the future.

As always, I will keep our members and shoppers updated as we move forward. In the meantime, I want to emphasize that a discussion like this benefits from many voices, so Speak Up! I would like to know what you think. Reach out to me and share any thoughts or ideas you may have.

In the meantime, to all of our members, thank you as always for your support. Remember to be kind to one another and to yourselves. See you in our stores and at the curbside.

Onward and upward,



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Paul Guidone

Paul Guidone, CFA, spent the better part of four decades in the investment management business here and abroad. He held positions ranging from analyst through Deputy Chairman and Group CEO, at organizations such as Citigroup (US) and The HSBC Group (London and Hong Kong). He joined the Co-op in 2016 as the CFO and in 2018 became Strategic Advisor to the General Manager. Paul was appointed by the Co-op Board as interim General Manager in March 2020 and General Manager in September 2020. To contact, email

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