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How to move the strategic plan from vision to realityHow to move the strategic plan from vision to reality

Transitions and Strategies: Create a vivid vision to describe the future of the business in the next three years.

Tim Schaefer

September 6, 2023

3 Min Read
Farmer looking into the distance
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This blog is part two in a series. Read part one and part two.

“We’re family, and we work together every day. We know what each other wants.”

This is often the unspoken thought for many farmers, and it’s logical reasoning. But this logic makes several assumptions that can lead to misaligned priorities, confused employees, and potential conflict.

In part one and part two of this series, I outlined the benefits of strategic farming for your business. In this story we’ll focus on moving your strategic vision into a real game plan.

So, you’ve put your plan together. What’s the problem? It usually comes not from what’s talked about but what isn’t. Specifically, the vision for the future of the farm.

But wait a minute. We all know it’s impossible to foresee the future, so why even try?

Owners may have a vision of where the farm is headed, but their visions often differ slightly from one owner to another. That isn’t to say the visions are far apart, but there is room for confusion or disagreements.    

Vivid vision

That’s where crafting a vivid vision comes in. The point of a vision is not to see the future but to envision what future success looks like so everyone pulls in the same direction.

What does success look like in 3 years? The vivid vision answers the question. It describes what success looks like. It’s written in future tense as if it has already happened but with a future date attached. Why three years? It’s long enough to plan and execute but not so long as to become outdated or procrastinate.

Related:What's the plan?

Steady, annual progress is what counts. What are the employees doing and saying about working there? What problems have been solved? What do the financial metrics show? What do you see when you walk around? 

To answer what success looks like, there are a couple more supporting questions.

  • What must we get right?

  • How do we behave?

What are the pillars, key activities, or outcomes that the farm must get right? This is usually a short list of 4-5 items, some of which you might already be doing.   But don’t lose sight of them. For example, one farm may see a need to increase its debt coverage ratio. Or lower the cost of production per bushel. Or improve herd health. The purpose of this list is not to lose sight of critical things when reaching out for new opportunities.  

Why is this question important? It details the culture you want. Families have certain norms, ways of communicating, decision-making, dealing with conflict, etc. Some of these norms are useful for the future, but some aren’t. For example, one family was used to making snap decisions with one or two other owners while riding around their pickup. But the farm grew, and now they don’t see each other as much. There are non-family in key roles such as human resources and accounting. They found that informal communication and decision-making were hurting the business and causing confusion. So they saw the need to create a more formalized culture.

Related:Use core values to build teams, pursue opportunities

Many visions fail because they look too far into the future. Another reason vision fail is they aren’t vivid but rather fuzzy. All visions should be written to be vivid, clear, and concise. That’s why we use the term vivid vision. A vivid vision paints a picture that is measurable, specific, attainable, and relevant. It’s not a fuzzy dream.

From this vivid vision plans can be made by breaking the vision down into smaller projects, quarterly and annual goals. The best part of a great vivid vision is reviewing the progress each year and checking off all the things you’ve accomplished. Farms often achieve their vivid visions on time. It’s not always easy to stretch for the vision, and it shouldn’t be. But it is unbelievably satisfying when the alignment of visions allows farms, employees and farm families to surge ahead as they scale or transition to the next generation.

Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. If you have a management or succession planning question, contact [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at FarmFutures.com. He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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