Farmers track and plan for evolving market conditions only to have a something like a global pandemic further disrupt markets and raise concerns of worker safety. Wisconsin farm leaders have adapted, and they continue to make decisions amid increasingly complex circumstances making it necessary to lead from a well-constructed strategy.
Most farm leaders stay on top of economic, social, environmental, and political happenings. They also get caught up in the day-to-day demands of an operation. When a strategic plan is in place, however, leaders can quickly assess operations and make decisions consistent with the plan. That’s because the strategic plan provides a clear sense of direction that makes the decision-making process less complex. It becomes their North Star.
Strategic planning is proactive. It prepares for the future before it arrives.
Strategic plans account for past experiences and current conditions to document a course of operation that will remain viable in whatever future happens. It is composed of several sections, like setting goals, inventorying resources, and implementing change. The most important part of a strategic plan, however, is the foundation that it’s built on—your organization’s values, vision, and mission.
Values: What you believe, reflected in how you act. The core principles you live by.
Vision: What you want your future to look like. The ideal future your organization is aspiring to reach.
Mission: How your organization acts and behaves in the present as it strives toward its vision.
Purpose: Why your organization exists.
Values Are Your Farm’s Fingerprint
Our values shape how we make the day-to-day and long-term decisions that affect our business and our future. Being able to define exactly what our personal, family, and business values are, allows us to understand more clearly our WHY—or what’s behind what motivates us and drives us to make decisions, accomplish goals, and be successful. Values establish our purpose and vision for the future.
“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”Elvis Presley
Your vision and mission are strongly influenced by your organization’s core values. If any one of them does not match your values, your organization will be less resilient. For this reason, identifying your organization’s values is a first step in strategic planning.
Values are the core principles we live by.
Values represent our closely held beliefs. Someone who values health will undoubtedly prioritize exercising, while someone who values community more than health might find it difficult to stick to an exercise regimen when others in their community need help. Whether we know it or not, our actions can often be traced back to our values. What’s more, when we make choices that conflict with our values, we experience distress. This conflict tends to be felt as dissatisfaction or anxiety and interferes with our motivation to achieve goals. It’s one reason so few of us stick to New Year’s resolutions. While we have the best intentions, they are often a mismatch with our values, which we tend to prioritize in our daily choices.
Values are who you are and what you believe.
Your values reflect the past that made you who you are and what you believe. They provide clues to help you understand why you are doing something. Do you value innovation or tradition? Do you value community or autonomy? Knowing why you choose one path over another is a key motivator for yourself and those you lead.
A business built on a foundation of commonly held values has a compass to guide it on the path toward its vision. Leading from your values has the power to inspire action toward a purpose, which in the case of strategic planning is your mission.
Discover your top values.
Because our values are so much of who we are and what we choose to do, they exert incredible influence on our decisions surrounding farm operations. A leader who values tradition may lean on time-tested techniques whereas a leader who values continuous improvement may regularly try new farming practices. So knowing your values and those of your business partners is a vital first step in developing a strategic plan.
Once your farm’s leadership team has identified your organization’s top three to five values, make sure to recall stories that demonstrate your commitment to those values. Values tend not to change much, so if you don’t already have stories that demonstrate a value, question if it’s a held value or a desired future value. Core values build up over time from important past experiences and life lessons. They are what you already believe. So it’s important your organization works toward its vision from currently held values.
Vision: The Ultimate Why
A vision statement is your main tool for inspiring yourself and others to contribute to your organization’s success. It sets a long-term direction that motivates internal partners and employees over time. Think of it as your organization’s point of destination over the next 5 to 10 years.
Vision statements don’t include specific milestones, revenue goals, or strategies for achieving these goals. They capture your passion for an ideal that your organization would work toward whether it took 10, 20, or 50 years to achieve. This ideal, your vision, inspires people because it embodies your hopes and dreams for a superior future.
Notice that a vision statement is just that—a short and simple statement that is easy to remember. It is future-oriented, ambitious, inspirational, and aligns with your core values.
To create your vision statement, tap into your imagination to capture your passion for what you are trying to do, not your odds of achieving it. Think of the General Motor’s Vision Statement: “A world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.” It’s simple, memorable, and a future that we can all get behind. Your vision does not have to change the world, but maybe it can better your piece of the world, like the Thornton Coffee Family Roasters example: “To become the leading premium specialty coffee roaster . . . in Southwest and West Portland and the West Portland suburban areas.”
Mission: The Here and Now. The How.
While a vision is your dream of the future, a mission is present-day reality. A mission statement, often synonymous with a purpose, highlights the main activities of a business, here and now, and how it plans to operate. Then, conduct that aligns with your mission statement shows that your organization is committed to working toward your vision.
Mission statements share what you do—and do not do—and how you do it. Think of mission control for space flights. Every mission specialist must know the core function (e.g., land a rover on Mars) and how the mission will be achieved. To be successful, everything that mission specialists do must work toward achieving that mission. If even one mission specialist deviates, it could be costly.
Your mission statement is just as important. It needs to capture your organization’s purpose and describe its core function, unique offerings, and intentions toward clients. The combination of these components describes your values in action and become the basis for decisions large and small. Consider these examples of mission statements. As you do, make note of the values they mention or infer.
To include all the core components, mission statements tend to be longer than vision statements. While a mission statement can be entirely business-oriented, it can also incorporate a family’s goals and reflect on social values. Including personal and societal goals can trigger emotions that help inspire partners and workers to be mission-oriented.
Remember that your mission statement needs to align with your vision and your values. How you behave day-to-day and the actions you take either move you a step closer to your vision or further away from it.
Communicate Your Values, Vision, and Mission
It’s important to continuously communicate your values, vision, and mission. Lead by example. Remind yourself and others to make decisions that align with your organization’s values. Embed them into regular internal communications whether that be through emails, meetings, or employee training and then highlight behavior that reflects your core values. Finally, share your values and mission with clients and the public. They reflect who you are and what you believe and inspire others to share in your unique vision of the future.
The author confirms contributions to the article as follows: draft manuscript preparation and interactive media design and development–Connie Gill, Natural Resources Institute.