The Bottom Line: Forming a Peer Advisory Group Spud Smart Winter 2011

THE BOTTOM LINE: Principles and practices for profit

By Grant Griffith

BusinessDevel_TheBottomLine1In the past few years, an increasing number of farmers have been interested in establishing formal peer advisory groups.

A peer advisory group is comprised of producers who are successful in their own rights and are also heavily invested in agriculture. The most critical element for an effective advisory group is all producers must share a common vision.

Guidelines for Success

An optimal peer advisory group should be comprised of five to ten producers. If the group has more than ten members, a facilitator should be hired to coordinate the meetings. The group should meet on a regular basis—monthly or at least quarterly. Once the meetings are set, the group should develop agendas and guidelines for each meeting.

It’s important to draft a confidentiality agreement to ensure producers feel comfortable that their strategies and ideas are protected within the group. It is also essential for the group to develop guidelines and protocol for members who choose to exit or are requested to leave.

A fundamental objective of any peer advisory group is to provide an environment in which producers can participate freely in discussions and exchange unbiased and constructive input on management issues and decisions.

To begin the process, recruit producers from similar types of operations (e.g., dairy, hog, grain, potato, etc.). Start with a small number of members, leaving the opportunity to expand the group as need and opportunity arise. Once the group is ready to grow, new members offering different perspectives can join as peers, as long as each entrant contributes to the group’s goals and expectations.

The Benefits of Working with Peers

There are several advantages to establishing a peer advisory group. Peer members can act as a sounding board for new or alternative ideas. Peer members are provided with objective advice which helps to reduce implementation issues. This advice helps producers go beyond grassroots strategies and focus on the bigger picture.

Advisory groups also offer encouragement and practical solutions for issues producers face. Because of this, producers are encouraged to discuss new issues they must overcome. This process often pushes producers out of their comfort zones, allowing them to expand their abilities, knowledge and acumen as producers.

There is also the opportunity to implement educational or training components at meetings. This environment is ideal for round table sessions on issues that may affect one or several of the peer members. For these types of occasions, background information on the topic can be sent to the group in advance. This will give members time to digest the information prior to the meeting.

While technologies such as email and social networking sites can be useful tools in facilitating ongoing communication, regular face-to-face meetings should always be the primary method of interaction for strategic planning purposes.

Contrary to popular belief, peer advisory groups are not just meant for producers who are planning to expand their operations. Through the guidance and advice of an advisory group, producers can help each other to establish more efficient and sophisticated business operations.

For more business principles and practices, please contact Grant Griffith at 204-571-7665 or [email protected].