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Management groups are game changers – if you know what you want

3.5 min read

Participating in management groups can be an effective way to better a business and find social support – but getting that value depends on establishing trust and matching the group to your farm business goals. 

Finding the right group

Management groups commonly take a top spot in the hierarchy of professional development strategies, says Denise Filipchuck, an independent farm management consultant and financial planner in Manitoba.

Which management group can help achieve your professional development goals?

But the variety of groups and their respective focuses can vary. While not a replacement for strategic or financial planning, management groups can focus on a wide range of support topics.

“They’re really designed to offer advice, support and information. If business owners want that from peers on general topics, like transition or working with advisors, it’s a great forum,” Filipchuck says.

Shawn Hass, an Alberta-based financial advisor, points out that groups designed to share business experiences and advice don’t have to be exclusively agricultural. Indeed, his experience shows mixing sectors, such as manufacturing and farming, helps operators find unique solutions to common problems.

“What’s the manufacturer doing that I can apply to my operation? Go outside the industry if you want to be challenged,” Hass says regarding a regional group he facilitates for nine different businesses.

Formal and informal coaching both valuable

Early in his career, Rémi Busque, co-owner of a dairy farm in St-Simon-Les-Mines, Que., participated in a 24-hour boot camp organized by l’École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce, an entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur training program. After doing an exercise taught by other small business owners in the area, Busque says he learned a valuable business lesson about his strengths and talents.  

”It especially helped me understand that I should exploit my talents – focusing on my strengths instead of striving to correct my weaknesses,” Busque says. “Over time, I have learned to surround myself with people who fill my weaknesses, and this attitude has always paid off for my farm.”

For Kristjan Hebert of Hebert Grain Ventures in Fairlight, Sask., participation in TEPAP, the executive program for agricultural producers offered by Texas A&M University, was a game-changer for the professionalism in leadership and management at his operation. The program includes sessions with classmates and instructors. As well, alumni can participate in further learning programs with their former classmates and peers.

Hebert says his business also benefitted from entrepreneurship courses taught by other business owners at the Strategic Coach. Some practices picked up from the program, such as assessments for determining his staff member’s strengths, are still in use on his farm, he says.

Informal learning from peers is also highly valuable, says Tim May, a dairy farmer and agriculture advocate, known as Farmer Tim, from Rockwood, Ont.

Pointing out that many farmers are tied to staying home, networking through social media opens the world for learning opportunities.

“Imagine my delight to get a glimpse into the world of some of the three billion social media users around the globe! Many of these users are farmers showcasing firsthand knowledge of the latest innovations ag has to offer,” May says.

Characteristics to consider

How management groups are facilitated depends on what participants want from it. Third-party facilitators – that is, someone not directly involved in farming – bring a higher level of discussion, while experts on the group’s focus bring more targeted discussion.

Trust is a critical factor when sharing personal experiences. For this reason, Filipchuck says such groups should have established charters outlining rules of engagement, confidentiality and other rules for participation. Meeting with operators outside one’s local area also helps eliminate competition concerns.

“Typically, you want members to be at least 100 kilometres apart,” says Filipchuck, though she adds that distance can vary.

Hass says those starting new groups should also not plan on meeting too often. Monthly and quarterly meetings can be too much – a few times each year might be enough.


Bottom line

Management groups can be a game-changer for a farm business. Designed to offer advice, support and information, groups can focus on a variety of topics, such as transition or working with advisors. Groups guided by a business advisor can often take a farm business to the next level.

Article by: Matt McIntosh

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