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Grower University 2011 Series – for Feb. 15, 2011

Having a solid business strategy for your operation is like air to the lungs — essential to stay alive. Yet while contemplating a calculated strategy is critical, of equal importance is finding a way to give that strategy legs. So how can you incite your strategy, taking it from paper to reality?

What is strategy, anyways?

To briefly recap what I wrote in this column last year, I urged readers to start thinking about the overall goals for their farms and where the under-serviced segments lie within the markets for their products. Developing the initial strategy can seem daunting, but there are some key elements to consider that can help get the ball rolling.

In order to create a valuable strategy, growers need to look both externally and internally — to both the market and within their operation to identify where they’re best positioned for success. On the external front, following and tapping into market trends and understanding the strengths and needs of the market you serve provide a major advantage when devising and refining your strategy to create value. At the same time, defining the long-term goals for your farm and being realistic about the operation’s core capabilities will ensure your strategy is on track.

Creating a vision

Imagine your farm in five years. What is the size of the operation? Is your focus on local or international markets? What changes would elements of your strategy bring to your farm? What makes you unique?

Vision is of utmost importance. You need to be able to see your strategy take life in your mind’s eye to make it happen. As silly as it may sound, don’t be shy to draw a picture or draft a written scene of your farm’s future. This is not a call for a vacuous vision statement, but a clear vision of what your operation will look like five years down the road. The more clearly you see it, the more attainable it becomes.

Once your vision for the operation is clear comes the “Oh My God” moment — how do I get there?

Designing your strategic action plan

The first step to setting your vision in motion is identifying and itemizing the building blocks of your strategy and determining the resources required for each element. Once you have a fulsome list, there are two important factors to consider before moving forward: actions and roadblocks.

Actions represent the items on your “to-do” list. They’re the resources and timelines you need as you work towards your vision and strategic goals. What people and resources need to be in place and what actions need to be taken to execute the strategy?

Roadblocks are exactly as they sound — potential issues that may interfere with elements of the overall strategy. Consider the realities of each component, such as cost and availability. It may be an amazing idea, but do you have access to the funds to back it up?

This detailed plan of attack is your action plan.

Keeping the momentum alive

The initial excitement of a new plan to energize the business can get overshadowed in the day-today grind. In order to keep the plan in the forefront of activities, it’s important to schedule time for the business. In your calendar, be it a day planner, your smartphone, or whatever tool you use, schedule meetings with yourself to take next steps, deal with roadblocks and assess your status. And most importantly, stick to those meetings once they’ve been set.

Another tool that’s very useful for keeping the momentum going is public commitment. It may be easy to get out of a commitment to yourself, but others will help hold you accountable. Far more valuable than that, however, is the insight and assistance these outside parties can provide. It becomes a “we” thing. Seeking insights from outside parties, such as your banker or peers, will also ensure you’ve thought about the elements of your strategy from all angles. Be sure not only to share your vision, but the dates and deadlines for the tasks at hand.

An alumnus of both Syngenta Grower University and Grower U II (an advanced follow-up program), learned firsthand the importance of scheduling time for the business and making a public commitment. After returning from Grower University, Andre Poulin, of Greenbelt Farms in Wainright, Alta., had developed a plan to diversity his business by expanding into poultry.

“Making an action plan forces you to follow through on your strategy and we have accomplished our goal because I followed through on each item in order to expand the business,” says Poulin. “Further to that, one of the key learnings I took from the Grower U program was the importance of sharing aspects of the plan with other growers. Having additional support and ideas from peers in different areas of the industry really helped me gain new perspectives on the industry as a whole.”

As a result of creating an action plan and following through on each item of his strategy, Poulin now enjoys an additional stream of profits as well as increased opportunity to market his products. He set his plan in motion — and so can you.

So how do you get started? Dissect that vision and start asking yourself what will be involved. A few hours a week may seem like a large investment, but if you keep on track it will pay off — literally.CG

Don Barclay is Ivey Eminent Teaching Professor Emeritus at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. He is co-creator and professor for the Syngenta Grower University programs, designed to help Canada’s top producers run their operations with increased confidence and profitability by adopting the most effective business management skills and techniques.

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