This article started out as a post on the listserv asking for ideas for an article called “Not Your Grandmother’s Cooperative.”
Ideas started pouring in, so many ideas that they cannot be summarized into a single article. We decided that a series of articles made the most sense. For the introductory article, we will offer our observations about the evolution of communications and invite you to give us your perspective.
To set the stage, while there were computers in the Journalism Department at Western Kentucky University, I was one of the lucky ones. I had an IBM Selectric Typewriter in my room. It was so heavy that when I moved into my dorm room I sat it on the floor and it stayed there the entire year. When I started my first communications job at the cooperative, there was no email, internet, mobile phones, or fax machines. I arrived in the office by 7:30 AM to mail newsletter pages for the local monthly magazine. Part of my job was to read all of the local newspapers, cut out the articles and scrapbook them for reference. Key items were photocopied to be included in the monthly board meeting packet. When finished each month, the packet was bound and mailed for board members to review prior to the meeting. Once we acquired a fax machine, our efficiency increased and local pages and press releases could be faxed to the local papers and radio stations. Then the internet came along along with personal computers and portable phones that function as a computer in the palm of your hand. The changes came at lightning speed and email revolutionized communication and left us wondering how we ever got any work done before.
Let’s face it – everything in today’s workplace is about efficiency. A cooperative used to have time to think and draft a response because the communication network was so slow. If a reporter wanted to call you, they had to pick up the phone and have a conversation. It gave you time to prepare if the reporter was seeking more information on a massive outage, an accident or a rate case. The relatively slow communications process allowed for more processing when making decisions. Now a cooperative communicator has to be ready to work efficiently in any variety of crisis. Gone are the days of calling in all of the staff to answer the phone and to write down outages so they could be handed to the dispatcher. Large scale outage information was provided to radio stations twice a day and the local daily newspaper each day prior to publication. Now we get instant information due to advanced metering and the media no longer calls you. It is as simple as checking the outage map online and the cooperative social media sites. Often stories are reported without ever even having a conversation with anyone from the cooperative.
Cooperative jobs when I started were rigid. Our annual meeting was held outdoors under a large tent in July and I was required to wear a dress with heels and hose for the entire meeting. Now I am a remote employee writing this article on a portable computer that I will email across the country for inclusion in the newsletter. Without an increase in flexibility, progressive workplaces, and rural broadband, none of this would be possible.
The opportunities for professional and personal growth are endless. Over the past week, I have learned new tricks for the Adobe Creative Suite by viewing a YouTube video and logging into Lynda.com. In the past I would have signed up for a course if there was one offered nearby or purchased the latest book on Adobe PageMaker (how many even know what that is?). There are now a variety of opportunities including Cooperative.com, the Touchstone Energy discount for Lynda.com, and a YouTube video on your phone – personal growth at your fingertips.
Personal accountability to me has been one of the most significant shifts in communications. When you joined the cooperative world you entered this incredible network of people working toward a common goal. People with a willingness to share knowledge to bring everyone up to a high standard of service. A system that still works the same way today and provides accountability programs to help you achieve. Today, you need to be flexible and look at each day as an opportunity to learn something new to keep yourself, and your cooperative, current in this fast-paced communications environment.
The bottom line
I still believe the most critical role of a communicator remains focused on building relationships. Although how we maintain those relationships has changed drastically, team-building, networking events and meetings like the CONNECT Conference have never gone out of style. The opportunity to learn and grow together in-person is still alive. Share your perspective with us on the changes in the cooperative world that make you say “This is not my grandmother’s cooperative anymore!” You can reach us at