Setting Farm and Family Goals

Vern Pierce and Joe Parcell
Defining Farm and Family Goals

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Have you set short- and long-term farm and family goals? Have you written them down? Does everyone in your family farm operation know what those goals are so they can help achieve them? Have you set a time frame to accomplish them? Has everyone who will be affected by these goals had an active role in setting them?

The purpose of this guide is to help you through the process of developing and refining farm and family goals for your operation.

Before setting specific farm goals, the manager usually begins by looking at the "big picture," the mission of the family farm. At first glance, the mission of a farm may be quite apparent, i.e. to raise beef calves. Yet, it is amazing how many producers are unsure as to why they are actually in the business. The mission of the farm summarizes why it exists. The reasons that managers report for being in farming are based on personally held values of all members of the farm business.

For example, one farm mission might be "to produce and market high quality beef in sufficient quantity to provide a good standard of living for our family." The value that is held high by this farm manager is to provide a good standard of living for all family members. To support this special priority will be given to producing and marketing high quality beef to accomplish that mission. This mission summarizes a long-term vision and establishes a broad commitment to reach this vision. Most importantly, it provides a framework against which activities and investments can be measured as to their impact on the stated mission.

Following are several examples of portions of well-written mission statements:

After identifying a farm's mission, the next step is to draft objectives. Objectives are general statements that give direction and help the manager focus on action steps to achieve the mission. They outline what the farm family wants the farm business to look like in the future.

For example, the following objectives might support the mission already mentioned:

"Increase calf pounds sold per cow" and "Breed and sell quality replacement heifers". By accomplishing these two objectives, the farm's mission of producing and marketing high quality beef will be partially attained. Objectives are the aim given to the mission, which is the "big picture." They begin to specify the "How" part of fulfilling the mission.

Seeing the big picture does not replace the need for a more specific road map for each job. For this reason, we need to set goals. Goals are defined as being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed statements of what is to be done en route to the accomplish the farm's objectives and mission. They include a specific action, a monitoring system for control and a reward for completion. Goals are stated in quantitative terms such as dollars, numbers or levels, and provide motivation, organization and measures of progress.

In sports, is it important to get a ball in a basket or a hockey puck into a net? This allows you to get points to win the game! The team's mission is to have a successful season. The objective of the team is to win the game, the goal might be to reduce the number of missed shots by 50 percent. The successful completion of the specific goal will lead to accomplishing the objective. For instance, in the farm mission example, "reducing calf death loss by 25% in two years," may be set as a goal to help meet the objective of "increasing calf pounds sold per cow".

To differentiate between objectives and goals, remember that goals are the specific activity for accomplishing the objective which, in turn moves you in the direction of the mission. Reducing death loss does not increase the standard of living for the farm family but does help produce more high quality beef which you plan to sell for a higher price.

Planning activities is easier if you know what you are trying to achieve. Not setting objectives or goals can lead to situations where you respond to all the urgent tasks, but never have time for other important activities. Responding to all urgent matters is good in emergency situations, but it may leave no time to accomplish planned activities that support your objectives and goals. This might explain why people who do not feel in control of their surroundings often don't set goals and objectives and write them down to help them stay focused.

The farm managers who set objectives with help from their employees and family members free themselves from urgent tasks so they can concentrate on those tasks that require organization and planning. The employee becomes responsible for accomplishing objectives (which may include setting up emergency plans, too). The employees and/or family members can focus on daily tasks because they know they're working toward important objectives, and so do you!

Most of us start the goal-setting process by making very general statements. For example:

While these are all important, there are some potential problems with the way they are stated. How will you know when these are accomplished? For example, how will you know when you are "financially secure?" Of course, if you get to a point where you have one million dollars in a savings account, you would probably consider yourself to be "secure." However, what is a realistic goal? Perhaps what you meant by "financially secure" was that most or all of your debt would be paid off, or that you would have a year's worth of operating expenses in the bank.

Let's look at another example. What does "take some time off occasionally" mean? Do you mean have a week's vacation each year, or not to work more than a few hours on the weekend?

These are common problems with many of the general goals that we set in support of the farm mission. We don't know when they are achieved, and we may have trouble measuring our progress. If we aren't able to say to ourselves, "I have met this particular objective," then we don't feel we are making progress.

Steps in Goal Setting

Goal setting requires creative thinking. Goals can be numerous and varied, short-run and long-run, monetary and nonmonetary. Goals are personal and unique to you or your family. They reflect your values and beliefs, the resources you have to work with and the opportunities and limitations that you face. Because work to achieve goals often requires the cooperation of family, the goal setting process should involve discussion and compromise among family members. Here are seven steps suggested for setting goals:

Step 1. To determine where to go in the future, assess where you have been in the past.
Review some recent decisions, and ask yourself: Why did I/we do that? Do I/we still feel that way now? Review experiences you have liked or disliked, and ask what this tells you about your interests and values. Did those decisions move you or your business in the right direction? If so, did you plan it that way, or did it just work out in your favor? This step will help set the stage and get you thinking about making decisions, because the result will help you achieve your goals.

Step 2. Assess family and farm resources (including yourself) and planning restrictions.
This step helps you decide what you have to work with in your planning. A list of farm and family resources for farm planning should include:

Step 3. Develop a farm mission statement.
In this step, develop "the big picture:" Where are you going in life? What do you hope to achieve with your time, effort, money and management skills? Evaluate your current plan and identify alternatives for the future. You might consider untapped resources, new enterprise combinations or opportunities to improve market and financial management.

Your mission should include farm business direction as well as family life and personal growth. Community service projects or simply more time to fish may be important. Personal goals might focus on spiritual, intellectual, cultural or professional growth. Remember, this is the general plan we are setting up! Vagueness is still OK in the "big picture."

Step 4. Identify objectives and set specific goals.
Write goals down. List farm and personal goals for the short and long run. If something is important enough to be a goal (and not just an activity), it should be put into writing. Writing goals down increases their permanency and provides a reference for decision making and monitoring success. Make your list visible. Post it where you'll see it often. When you achieve a goal, check it off your list. This gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Write goals as action statements. List activities you intend to carry out during the year to achieve the goal. Some examples of good goal statements appear at the end of this section. Study the alternatives. Develop budgets (whole farm, enterprise or partial) to compare the expected financial benefits and costs. For each goal listed, estimate resources needed, the effort (labor and management skills) and financial resources required to carry out the activity, the potential payoffs of the activity and time constraints.

Goals should be measurable. When possible, goals should be expressed in quantities and measured against time or some earlier performance. Goals should result in accomplishments, not just activities. If you can't observe and measure the results, you may have defined an activity rather than set a goal.

Goals should be challenging, but achievable. Goals aren't likely to be pursued with any degree of commitment unless they are both. They should not be so easy that they can be met by "average" effort, nor should they be unrealistically difficult. Unrealistic goals, if not revised, may become a source of frustration and stress because you may not meet them.

To be most effective, set goals with family members rather than for them. Members of your family may be either a resource or constraint in plans. Developing goals as a team gives everyone an interest in achieving them. You may want to set goals individually, then meet as a family to discuss openly each other's goals and their relation to other family and business goals. Resist the temptation to make value judgments about each other's statements. Hold your reactions until other people have fully expressed their ideas.

Specify when the goal is to be attained using realistic deadlines. If the time frame is not a measurable factor (for instance, if your goal is to spend more time with your family), list qualitative aspects you hope to achieve. Write the goal on your calendar to remind yourself of self-imposed deadlines. Having a time frame for completion holds people accountable and allows you to assess performance often. If you know you have to have your taxes done by April 15, for example, you will make it happen. If the government simply tells you to get your taxes in when your schedule allows, it might not happen.

Step 5. Prioritize goals.
Priorities can provide clear guidelines for management decisions. To help set goal priorities, ask yourself these questions:

High priority goals need not take all your attention and resources away from other goals. Weigh the importance of each task for your long-term as well as short-term goals. Consider your personal life goals as well as your business aims.

Step 6. Make plans for action and implementing goals.
Action without planning is fatal; planning without action is futile. Use established priorities to allocate resources to activities and enterprises directly linked to your high priority goals. Given your goals, how do you intend to get there from here? When will you arrive? What are the five most important things you will have to do to achieve your mission? Which are most crucial? Be creative in generating and implementing new ideas. Remember, there may be many "right" ways to achieve a specific goal.

Stay focused on the objective associated with each goal. Put yourself in a position to achieve your objective and commit yourself to being successful. Take the ideas you have deemed worthwhile and high priority, and do what's necessary to implement them. Be persistent. Be prepared to act quickly to reach your goal, but also be prepared for a long crusade. Establish check points to monitor progress. If a goal is 30 days or more away, break it down into intermediate goals. Check points are time periods when you will compare your measured progress with how much time has lapsed toward your established deadline.

Step 7. Measure progress and reassess goals.
Follow up goal setting and implementation with actual performance measurement and evaluation. Don't wait until a goal deadline to determine whether goals are being met. Use intermediate progress or performance checks to see how you are doing. Remember the check points?

Analyze both your successes and failures. By studying why a goal was or was not met, you can improve the chances for success next time. Reward good performance using goal-related rewards. Make each family or team member's good performance known to the other members of the family or team.

Because your goals change over time, you will want to periodically review them to see that they paint a true picture of who you are and where you are going. To be kept current, all maps, whether of personal paths in life or public roads, must be revised occasionally to adapt to changing circumstances.

This example illustrates some possible objectives and measurable goals that might support the farm mission mentioned below:



1. Diversify our operation over the next few years to reduce price risk.

2. Purchase reasonably priced land nearby to reduce average fixed cost and increase potential for profits.

3. Reduce current family expenses that are not necessary.

Notice that these general objectives guide the manager to the areas of concentration that need attention to fulfill the mission. The goals help all involved know what to concentrate on that will allow the operation to move in the direction the objectives direct. The goals are quantifiable and can be monitored for progress.

Here are examples of short-term farm goals and check points:

1. Goal: Purchase 180 acres of land within two years.
Check point: Find potential land to buy by this fall.

2. Goal: Reduce operating debt by at least $10,000 per year in the next two years.
Check point: $5,000 reduction after six months.

3. Goal: Own at least 100 head of cows one year from now.
Check point: Develop budgets by spring to show banker the potential profits of expansion.

You will find blank forms below that may be helpful in this process.

No wind blows in favor of a ship without a rudder.

Farm Business Planning and Development
Purpose, Philosophy and Mission

Using the analysis on the previous pages, prepare a brief (maximum 4 sentences or 50 words) statement, which describes the purpose, philosophy and mission on your farm business.


Summarize WHY the farm business exists. These reasons for being in business are based on the personally held values of the owner/operators. The mission also describes what products or services the business will market and their purposes.

Mission Statement


are general, observable, challenging, and untimed directions for the farm business. They outline what the owner/operator wants the business to look like in the future. The objectives help to realize the farm's mission.



are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed (SMART) statements of what is to be done en route to the accomplishment of an objective. You should complete at least one of these sheets for each objective you develop.

Objective to be realized: __________________________________________________


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