Farm Progress

A solid briefing is at the heart of a well-executed plan.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

March 30, 2017

3 Min Read

It is pitch black, and high overhead enemy territory a fighter pilot and his wingman are ready to strike. They have already flown a fourth of the way around the world to get into position, refueling their planes several times along the way. As they prepare to drop their laser-guided bombs their radar lights up with multiple surface-to-air missile launches all pointed toward the fighter planes. Immediately two planes break away from the formation, each heading an opposite direction taking evasive maneuvers to shake off the missiles. The fighter plane maneuvers are successful and the missiles fly harmlessly off into space. The mission continues with the successful bombing, more aerial refuelings, and arrival back at home base. During the mission, there was complete radio silence as the fighter pilots and their support team carried out the mission.

How does this apply to your farm? As a farm manager, you also need a team that understands your game plan and executes it. You need a way to manage the unexpected and still get to your goals. You need to build a culture of accountability and trust your employees. You also need your employees to think on independently, yet follow the game plan. A key component to a successful mission - or farm season - is a well-executed briefing.

Farmers who employee this briefing tactic often have fewer interruptions with trivial matters, fewer employee errors, and more efficiency. If pilots can operate in near-total radio silence while getting shot at, aerial refueling and other high-risk endeavors, can’t farmers adopt some of the same strategies?

The heart of a briefing, and debriefing, involves the culture of continuous improvement. It is a time, before the planting or harvest season, when the whole crew comes together to learn what needs to be done, how to do it and who will do what. Don’t assume your employees, even long-term employees, know what the plan contains. We survey employees from across the U.S. and Canada and we always hear the same thing. Employees often don’t understand the big picture and their role in it. When employees don’t understand the big picture, errors are made and time is wasted.

First, a briefing is not about creating a plan. The plan has already been created. It is about communicating a plan to employees before a major farm event such as harvest. A briefing is not a two-way conversation, but rather it lays out the roles that everyone will play. A briefing also relays, in detail, what the objectives are and how the objectives will be met.

For example, an objective may be to harvest 4,000 acres of corn in 15 days. In order to meet that target, the combine must run 20 hours per day. Keeping the combine running 20 hours a day for 15 days is the goal. All factors in achieving this goal such as equipment, supplies and everyone's role, are part of the briefing.

We sometimes hear a farm can’t create a plan because there are too many variables and the weather is uncertain. The military and farms have much in common because they plan and execute complicated missions with many variables and uncertainty. Farms can copy the military by laying out not only the end goal but also the roadmap and the roles everyone will play. A solid briefing is at the heart of a well-executed plan. In our next post, we will lay out a template you can follow in briefing your farm crew for the upcoming farm season.

Related: Part two of two: Brief your farm crew like a fighter pilot

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

Tim Schaefer founded Encore Consultants to provide specialized advising and coaching to farm families and agribusiness at the crossroads of change. With over 20 years of experience advising farmers, Tim was an early pioneer of peer advisory groups for agriculture as a way for successful farmers to gain knowledge, ideas and skills from each other in a non-competitive environment. Tim can be reached at [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 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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