Strategic Planning is a Journey; Prioritizing Progress Over Perfection

On Dec. 31, 2023, Terry Betker, founder of Backswath Management, stopped writing for The Western Producer after 13 years. The team at Backswath has big shoes to fill as we take over the reins from Terry.

Our voices will be different than his, of course, but we look forward to writing about various topics including, but not limited to, strategy, marketing, finance and succession planning.

Helping business owners develop strategy has been a passion of mine for more than 20 years. I have worked with hundreds of business owners at various stages of business maturity, each one of them embracing or pushing back on the idea of developing a strategic plan. The last five years have been more focused on working with farm families.

A commonly heard statistic is that most strategic plans fail, so why try at all. The reason they fail is that business owners fail to implement. There are no magic beans. Strategy is hard because it takes discipline.

What is it about implementing strategy that makes it so difficult? Typically, I’ll see a lack of a cohesive vision or trying to prioritize too many things at once. So let’s start with first things first — how to create alignment with the farm’s vision.

To have alignment, the vision must be shared. This means everyone who works in or is involved with the farm should know the vision. Your farm’s vision statement could be posted in the lunchroom or the shop, a place where most people would see it.

A vision should be exciting, a little scary and realistic. It should provide direction for at least 10 years. Your vision statement could be two words, a few sentences or even a few paragraphs.

What are goals? A goal is a broad, long-term area of focus that ties back to the vision. It is recommended not to have more than three goals, and the goals should help you get closer to achieving your vision. A goal typically has a three-year horizon and breaks down the priority areas you would like to achieve.

Imagine not having a vision or goals. It’s like having a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off; nobody know where anyone is going and you run around bumping into each other until you’ve depleted your time, money and resources and are no further ahead.

I hear the skeptics saying, “well, I don’t have a plan and my farm has been successful.” It’s not impossible to be successful without a plan, but there are usually some elements in place that got you to be so lucky; a naturally aligned team, a small team or very disciplined leader.

Who’s heard the expression, “culture eats strategy for breakfast?” It’s true. In order to have alignment of resources, not only should you have a shared vision and goals, but you should also have defined values.

Values are statements that describe the behaviors and attitudes you would like to find in each of your employees. If it is important for employees on the farm to be resourceful and independent in their work ethic, you need to recruit for that and you need to live it. You can’t say you are seeking resourceful and independent workers and then dictate their every move. Chances are it will be a difficult employee/employer relationship.

Strategy is more successful when the foundation is properly set. Now that you have a vision, goals and values, you can begin to work on the sub-goals and action items you need to gain some traction. The key to successful implementation is to keep it simple. Give yourself a chance to get some “wins.”

Brainstorm some outcomes you would like to achieve within each of the three goals you have established. Prioritize them in order of importance and your ability to implement them.

What kind of action do you need to take to implement those desired outcomes. Do you have the time, money and resources to accomplish them? If the answer is yes, yes and yes, assign the actions to someone and provide a deadline for completion. Remember the rule of three — three goals, three sub-goals and three action items per sub-goal.

My last bit of advice is, don’t set and forget — the cake will surely burn if you do that. Set regular (doesn’t mean frequent) meetings to review your progress individually and as a team. If things are not progressing, get to the root cause and give yourself permission to make changes. Document, reassign and set a new deadline.

Strategy works; you just need the discipline to see it through. Celebrate all successes. The more you practice, the better you will perform.

Strategic planning is a journey; progress over perfection is key.

Josée Lemoine, CMC, is a farm management consultant with Backswath Management Inc. She can be reached at 204-770-3811 or .

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