General set-up of the training using the ISM method
For the “Interactive Strategic Management (ISM) methodology for improvement of agricultural entrepreneurship in Central-Eastern Europe” project a generic strategic three-day training for groups of 8–10 farmers was implemented that led to a personal strategy and action plan for each participant.
The focus in such training is on strategic choices (2–10 years ahead; Figure 2.). This means that tactical choices (choices for the next 1–2 years) and operational issues do not receive much attention. In general, a good strategy is based on a good fit between means and opportunities (Porter, 1980; 1998). Within the ISM method this is specified in the following way. A good strategy is based on a good match between 3 E’s:
- The entrepreneur: the ambitions and skills of the farmer, his family and/or employees
- The enterprise: the structure and performance of the farm
- The environment: market and society.
Figure 1. Levels of management
In the first part of the training (1.5 days), the farmer analyses these aspects while in the second part of the training the farmer translates this analysis into a suitable strategy and an action plan (1.5 days). After about a year, there is a fourth meeting – the so-called return meeting – to see what has happened with implementation of the strategy (see Figure 2.2).
Figure 2. Structure of ISM Training
About 8–10 farmers participate in each group. The group is facilitated by a qualified trainer.
The role of the trainer is crucial in the training, a factor that will be elaborated on below. Interaction is an important aspect. The farmers are asked to discuss with and challenge each other. The trainer also has this role. Homework assignments are used to create interaction with the outside world and to organise reflection on the process of developing a strategy.
A web-based tool is used to structure and support the process. The tool consists of a list of questions a farmer has to answer to ensure that all aspects are taken into account.
Figure 3. The ISM web-based Tool
As part of the tool the farmer must also give a score to the three E-elements: Entrepreneur, Enterprise and Environment. After this analysis, a switch is made to the future strategy. The starting point for this is the farmer’s personal ambition and vision. The farmer himself has to combine all of the gathered information to transform it into a few possible strategies, he then has to evaluate these alternatives and finally come up with his own personal strategy. The tool also calculates a ‘fitting score’ for strategy categories based on the score the farmers have given to different aspects of the three E’s. The farmer can use this calculation as inspiration or to reflect on his own choice. In the last step, the farmer prepares an action plan along with a presentation of the background and content of his strategic plan.
The process leads to a strategic plan. Each part of the process includes collecting data, considering and interpreting this information and communicating this with others. The challenge is to find a link between the different elements and use them. Another challenge is to use and increase the innovative potential of the farmer and the farm. Being creative is a key factor in this, which implies that a farmer searches for the ‘why’ of certain events and benefits from this.
When discussing creativity and the process of learning, the learning cycle of Plsek (1997) will be used (see Figure 2.3).
Figure 4. Cycle of learning (Plsek 1997)
The first phase consists of observing and analysing: accumulating experience and considering the observations. The second phase comprises imagination and generalisation. The observation component is more abstract and general. The third phase consists of the development and evaluation of new ideas. The fourth phase involves the active implementation of ideas; in other words: abstract concepts are applied by implementing them in new specific situations. This will, in turn, lead to a new specific experience.
The process of strategy development is most efficiently gone through by using this cycle of learning as a background theory. This means trying to move through as many elements of the cycle as possible instead of sticking to one. Of course, it is not necessary to go through all of the steps in a single afternoon. With the method of strategic management, first a strategy supported by analyses is formulated. Second, an action plan is developed and, third, the implementation of the action plan is described in order to realise the strategy. Fourth, the monitoring, review and evaluation of the strategic plan and attached analyses are carried out. In summary, in the process of Interactive Strategic Management, i.e. “strategic planning”, the following steps should be taken to ensure the greatest success:
- Formulate the mission
- External analysis
- Internal analysis
- Formulate strategic alternatives
- Choose one alternative
- Define specific objectives
- Develop an action plan
- Implementation action plan
- Monitor the results
- Evaluate the strategic plan