Harnessing the power of an advisory council

Farming today is challenging on many levels, and that includes management of the entire farm. With the added complexities of volatile markets, increasing uncertainty, and the traditional risk of making a living off the weather, farmers and ranchers need to act as multi-talented CEOs on a daily basis.

The challenge is that it is incredibly hard to be an expert in all areas of the business, especially as a farm grows and complexities increase. Getting external assistance can be a major benefit to your ability as the farm CEO to make better decisions that lead to financial sustainability.

According to Jolene Brown, author and farm consultant, “the structure of your council is critical to success,” meaning that you really do need to sort out the seats before the people. Perhaps even before you figure out the seats to fill, you are best served by first identifying where the knowledge and skill gaps are on your particular farm.

If you’re considering adding an advisory council, here are some items to watch out for based on feedback from Jolene Brown and the RealAg audience:

  • Filling an advisory board with “like minded” individuals might be doing you no favours in the long run. Aim for adding talented, respected people in their line of work, not your best bud;
  • It’s critical to be incredibly honest with yourself and your business in identifying your own weaknesses in skills and abilities; These are the areas you will lean on others to provide insight;
  • Avoid filling your advisory board with “yes men.” Find someone you respect who can present a challenge to your way of thinking, and have an intelligent conversation;
  • If you find the right people to fill the advisory board, be prepared to be just as open minded and do not fall into being defensive;
  • Have structure to meeting frequency and time, but be flexible. Figure out what works for everyone, but make sure touching base is a set time on the calendar;
  • Be open to seeking feedback from your employees and spouse both in putting the team together and as it evolves; and,
  • The local coffee shop does not qualify as an advisory board.

For many independent farmers seeking help is difficult, but even the greatest Fortune 500 CEOs or start-up entrepreneurs engage in the power of advisory groups to benefit themselves and the long-term sustainability of their organization.

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