Whether you work for a food co-op, credit union, electric co-op or another type of cooperative, teaching potential (and current) members about the cooperative difference should be a top strategic communication objective. Members who fully understand the co-op business model and identify as members rather than customers are often more satisfied with their co-op’s services. Those are also the individuals who become a co-op’s biggest brand ambassadors and long-term members.
While communicating the cooperative difference must be a top priority, any co-op communicator will tell you that it’s also one of the most difficult strategic objectives to achieve. The reasons for this struggle are, of course, varied. In almost all cases, though, immense benefit can come from taking a step back and focusing first on educating your employees about the cooperative difference.
If your employees don’t fully understand the co-op business model and its benefits compared to other types of businesses, how can they communicate the co-op difference to your members? This article outlines several ways that you can ensure all of your employees understand the co-op difference and are equipped to communicate it to the public.
Teaching your employees about the co-op business model starts before they’re even offered a job with your co-op. Within your job postings and application materials, weave in details about your organization and how it differs from other types of businesses. When interviewing candidates, test their knowledge about cooperatives and fill in any gaps by talking about the cooperative principles and giving examples of the differences between customers and members.
Develop a robust co-op employee onboarding process that begins on a worker’s first day and spans several months. Design the onboarding program to first teach new employees about the co-op business model and your co-op’s unique brand story. Towards the end of the onboarding program, transition into training new employees how to communicate the benefits of co-op membership as well as your co-op’s brand story to potential (and current) members.
A well-rounded co-op employee onboarding program will set your workforce up for success. It will also ensure that all of the co-op’s employees are communicating the same key messages regarding the cooperative difference to the public.
The best way to help your employees fully understand the cooperative difference is by involving them and informing them on important business and governance processes. For example, if you don’t currently provide employees with a recap of each board meeting or invite different groups of employees to attend each board meeting, now is a good time to start those practices. By making your board of directors more visible to the workforce, the co-op’s employees will begin to more fully understand the intricacies and benefits of the organization’s governance structure.
Additionally, if your co-op has a strategic plan, ensure that it’s available to and understood by your workforce. If you don’t yet have a strategic plan, involve employees in the process of developing one alongside your board of directors. A strategic plan should serve as your co-op’s north star by clearly outlining the objectives that you hope to achieve. Employees should understand how their daily tasks and work goals contribute to helping the co-op achieve its strategic objectives.
If your co-op doesn’t yet have a brand guide, now is the time to create one and provide it to all employees. A well-rounded brand guide details everything from a co-op’s brand story to its official colors, fonts and more. Within your brand guide, include the cooperative principles as well as your co-op’s value proposition that sets it apart from competitors.
A brand guide acts as a reference manual for any employees who are involved with creating and releasing marketing and communications materials. It will also help to train your workforce on the importance and impact of consistent branding. Want to learn more about the importance of branding and its impact on setting not-for-profit organizations apart from competitors? Check out the book, “Brand the Change” by Anne Miltenburg. It will help you think like a brand strategist to create a unique brand experience and ultimately attract more members.
Employee communications must never be an afterthought. Rather, when creating external marketing campaigns, link internal communications efforts to those campaigns. For example, if you operate a food co-op, always inform and train employees on upcoming product specials or membership drives. If you operate a credit union, provide employees with all essential details regarding any promotions you plan to run regarding the credit union’s products and services before releasing the external messages.
When employees are properly informed and trained on external promotions and marketing campaigns, they’ll be prepared to confidently answer member questions. No one likes to feel left out of the loop of important information at work. Streamlined internal communications plans keep employees informed and boost their commitment to the co-op. Need help learning the ins and outs of creating effective internal communications plans? Check out our free Internal Communications Planning Guide and Checklist!
Training your employees mustn’t stop after the onboarding process ends. Rather, uphold the fifth cooperative principle by providing your workforce with ongoing training opportunities through each stage of their co-op careers. Trainings should help to build your workforce’s knowledge of the cooperative business model and also be designed to help guide employees toward their career goals. Incorporate a blend of online trainings, in-person workshops, conference and other opportunities that are relevant to your industry. Also, invite ideas from employees about career trainings they’d like to attend.
Want to attract more members to your co-op who fully understand the cooperative difference? The process starts with your employees. From refining your onboarding process to enhancing your ongoing internal communications plans, ensure your employees fully understand the cooperative difference so that they can communicate its benefit to your current and potential members.
Need help evolving your employee communications efforts? We’d love to help! We offer a range of services for cooperative leaders including virtual and in-person workshop, ongoing communications support and much more. Contact us today to learn more!
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