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From planning to implementation

AME Management: Get into these management habits. They will help you develop the strategic objectives that will drive your farm where you want it to go, and then help you achieve real progress toward them

Progress is best made not by trying to break bad habits, but rather by developing good habits.” — Larry Martin

In our past column, we reviewed the habits of successful agricultural managers. One habit is that successful managers don’t just do strategic and operational planning, they translate their plans into action — i.e. they have a process to implement the plan.

Like most farmers, many CTEAM participants have had little experience or training in planning and implementation. Frequent questions address issues like:

  • How do I hold people accountable?
  • How do I get my team to have disciplined processes when I’m not very disciplined myself?
  • How can I use team meetings to help implement our plan, and how do I set up those meetings?

These questions become more compelling as farm businesses grow: what works at $1 million in sales and one employee may not be appropriate at all with $4 million and five employees. As the business grows, many managers find that they, or someone, needs to spend less time on the tractor and more in the office.

A second issue in many farm businesses is that some employees are also family. Managing and disciplining family provides very different challenges than managing hired employees. And, as implied above, frequently the family member who is the biggest problem is the owner/operator who may have no background or training in managing, may have no experience in managing people because he/she is accustomed to working alone (or nearly alone), and may be inclined to just “get it done.”

As with many issues in life, progress is best made not by trying to break bad habits, but rather by developing good habits. Here are some things CTEAM has taught us about improving implementation.

First, have clear focus

The first step is to develop three to five very specific strategic intents that will be achieved for the business. They will be very different for different businesses, such as reducing costs substantially, introducing a new commodity, adding value to one or more commodities already being produced by marketing direct to consumers, or significantly improving financial record-keeping and decision-making.

If achieved, these strategic intents will assist in delivering on the farm’s value proposition.

Intents are more than simple actions. So, for example, building a barn and buying a new combine are not in themselves strategic intents, although they may be tactics that are part of a strategic intent.

Strategic intents should be few. If even multi-national corporations generally are unable to focus on more than three of four major initiatives, how can a small business with more limited resources do more?

As well, strategic intents also need to be measureable, as are all of the examples above.

Explicitly translate intents into actions and accountabilities

In CTEAM we provide a template that does this. For each strategic intent and each fiscal quarter (can also be monthly) it identifies what actions will be taken in that quarter to achieve the intent, who is accountable for them, by what date during the quarter, what resources will be required, and how the action’s effectiveness will be measured.

This has a number of positive effects:

  • It ensures that the manager and/or the management team must think through all the actions required to accomplish a strategic initiative so that a map can be laid out. It doesn’t mean that things can’t change if warranted, as will be discussed below, but it clarifies expectations of what needs to be done and how to do it, thereby helping improve communication.
  • It provides a way to hold people accountable for their responsibilities: if Joe is responsible for getting drawings made for a new building by the end of the month, he knows it and so does everyone else.
  • By being effective in holding people accountable, it will lead to a management process that works.

Have management meetings and processes

As suggested above, a process can be put in place to ensure that implementation is carried out effectively. This can be done using the template above as the basis for regular meetings to assess progress.

They can be monthly or quarterly, but they should be regular. The meeting’s agenda is organized around the accountabilities. What was each person supposed to do? Did they do it? If not, why not? What do we need to do to get back on track, and how does that affect actions in the next month or quarter?

This provides a means to ensure that everyone is communicating. Observing farm businesses that use approaches like this leads to the conclusion that a range of learnings can come from them. People with different areas of responsibility learn from each other and often work together to find better ways to do things.

This provides a process to decide what to do when people aren’t performing. If failure to deliver on time persists, it’s possible the person isn’t in the right organization or the right job within it. This demonstration of performance issues provides the opportunity to reassign people if they are not in the right position.

One question, alluded to in the introduction, that often arises about this process is, what if I don’t have the discipline as the manager to do this consistently?

In my personal experience, this problem can be addressed by giving the responsibility to someone else in the organization who has the right personality traits to ensure regular meetings actually happen and that the process is followed.

It works and demonstrates to the organization that you are serious about the process, even if you’re not initially good at it.

Final comment

This is just one approach to developing disciplined management processes to implement a plan. There are others. Successful ones are common sense, but then most good management practices are.

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