Employing either of these methods, or a hybrid like Steve Laing of Fiddlehead Farms in Demorestville, Ont., just makes it a little bit harder for business owners to let themselves off the hook when they don't meet their own goals.
While Steve Laing
may only farm five acres in Ontario's Prince Edward County, and this may only be his
third year in operation, he
talks about the essential role of his
advisory board in a way that echoes the feelings of large operator Lee Erickson.
"I have to make sure an idea is thoroughly researched to present it and answer all the questions everyone else has, and then sometimes we have to bench an idea to come back to it later on or do a trial," says Laing
"You have to make sure you cover all your bases because whenever you have a hole, they can point at that hole."
is a small market garden and agri-tourism venture, the management structure on Laing's farm
is sophisticatedly business-like.
father, a registered accountant, share voting control of the company.
However, the board also includes non-voting partners such as Laing's stepfather, who earned his MBA before retiring from a long career with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and Laing's partner, a landscape biologist.
With so many different value systems, it can be frustrating to operate by consensus, Laing
admits, but it also truly tests the strength of his
ideas thanks to the variety of perspectives.
"Having a bunch of people who overlap a lot isn't necessarily useful in making well thought out decisions," Laing
"People with divergent viewpoints can help because it requires you to justify your position more and ultimately you'll end up with better ideas and better implementation."
Laing says his group meets three times a year for overall business-planning purposes, such as approving annual budgets or new marketing initiatives, which is much closer to the quarterly meetings experts recommend for advisory board meetings.
Then through the growing season, Laing
makes operational decisions within the parameters set by the group, reacting to immediate challenges mostly as he
says the act of outlining the year's plan of attack helps him keep the farm's day-to-day progress balanced with reality, and takes much of the emotion out of decision-making for extremely rational results.