April 30, 2021

DrKohl_color The Ag Globe Trotter

Dr. Dave M. Kohl

Welcome to the weekly edition of The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl.


The other day, I had the opportunity to work with a landscape business conducting strategic planning. A young entrepreneur started the business 20 years ago with just two employees. The company now has three owners and over 70 employees. The business started with “shoot from the hip” day-to-day decision-making and has evolved over the years to a very formalized business process.

After delivering a 40-minute state of the economy outlook combined with some business and personal wisdom, we started the planning process. It was impressive how each and every employee was engaged in the SWOT analysis to identify the internal strengths and weaknesses and the external business opportunities and threats.

Each individual was instructed to list at least one bulleted statement in each of the areas before being randomly placed into groups of seven for discussion. Individual responses were gathered and sorted randomly so that candid comments could be made. Then, each group discussed the written comments and came up with five bulleted responses for each area of the SWOT analysis.

As I facilitated discussion and the business owners acted as scribes, the responses were enumerated. It was impressive that the group liaisons were often the front-line workers rather than upper management. This demonstrated trust and a willingness to engage with candid comments.

Once the responses were tabulated, the next task was to identify three actions to prioritize for next year's business plan. It was surprising how common the responses were from the groups.

A spontaneous exercise was to randomly ask anyone with a hat on during the meeting to state one core value of the company. Without hesitation, these individuals recited either a core value or one important word or phrase in the mission or vision statement that was posted next to the entry door.

Another impressive observation was that the owners shared yearly financial performance of the business with the whole team. Not only were the numbers presented, but also an explanation of the outcomes. For example, financial performance had been impacted by the pandemic and the ability to garner enough workers to complete tasks. On a positive note, the business was able to adapt and reported solid performance.

Many individuals managing traditional agriculture enterprises may say strategic planning is only for big businesses and is not applicable. The founders of this company would disagree. They believe that strategic planning from the beginning of the company 20 years ago up until now is one of the best management practices that they have done annually. This testimonial certainly builds the case for strategic planning!

Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension and other popular publications.

© Northwest Farm Credit Services 2021