Toban Dyck, Director of Communications, MPSG – Spring (March) Pulse Beat 2020
We asked for the impossible and we got it. In January of this year, board and staff at Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) locked themselves in a room at the CanadInns in Brandon with the determination to review its strategic plan. We were successful.
This isn’t news. It happens all the time. Organizations are encouraged to do this on a regular basis, and we do. We participated in one in 2017 and have reviewed that plan since. Introspection and accountability are priorities for us.
This strategic plan review was different, though. Everyone felt it needed to be. Strategic planning sessions, whether they are merely reviews or a complete rehashing of an organization’s vision and mission, tend to be led by an impartial facilitator running participants through a familiar workbook that was adapted for a specific event.
We needed something different. We needed something unique to MPSG’s board and staff and we needed one that addressed the specific challenges Manitoba’s pulse and soybean industries are facing — 2019 had novel challenges. We wanted to put this one together, relying on staff experience (many of us have been through a few strat plans).
It took us months to put together. Thinking about what we wanted out of such a session and what it would take to achieve our lofty desires took us down an intellectual rabbit hole that, at times, felt untethered and impractical. We got lost and then we’d find footing. This happened more than once.
Our premise was to come up with a day or two that would utilize and engage MPSG’s staff and board. The approach couldn’t be predictable and it would have to be interesting. We could all agree that there’s nothing worse than boredom.
When I taught writing at Red River College, I had to take a brief course on how to teach adults. I wasn’t excited about it, but I learned things such as the human brain, no matter how old or mature, doesn’t want to listen to someone talk for much more than 20 minutes at a time. I also learned that equipping small groups with the required information and tasking them with figuring out solutions on their own is not only effective but also memorable and interesting.
We all came to the table with anecdotes and expertise on what works and what doesn’t during strategic plans, and we drew from a deep pool to come up with what we did.
As a farmer myself, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of commodity groups and how they could be the most effective. It’s a tricky thing to frame thoughts around. MPSG does amazing things for its members — stuff I appreciate because I am immersed in it — but there’s a parallel story taking place within agriculture.
Private companies are spending a lot of money to ensure their information reaches farmers. Few commodity groups, ours included, can compete with those dollars.
We routinely ask ourselves, how can we better serve our farmers. We produce independent, unbiased information that can genuinely benefit growers and we’re intimately connected to the broader agricultural industry. We see a lot.
We see that there’s a need for western soybeans to have a stronger voice in the prairies. We see that government could be pushed in ways they currently aren’t. We see that market access, business risk management programs and the carbon tax have become very real concerns for Manitoba’s farmers.
On January 9, following a brief in-camera session, the session began. François set the stage and then the heavy lifting started.
Here is a snapshot of some of the questions/group work we participated in. The following was taken, verbatim, from the workbooks we prepared in advance of the session:
- You’re a farmer in Manitoba and you’re paying a .5% check-off to a brand-new organization that is up to you to create.
- As a group, take 20 minutes to build this new association from the ground up using a $2-million budget. Designate a person to present your new organization to the group.
- What does this new association look like?
- What does it do for you?
- How does your new organization ensure high levels of satisfaction among staff and its board of directors?
- How does your new organization be a leader?
- How does your new organization ensure it’s accountable, transparent and efficient?
- How does your new organization deliver value to its members?
- How does your new organization define independence and how does it achieve it?
- Using elements from each of the three presented models, determine what this new organization looks like?
Commodity groups can be a lot of great things, but they can’t be everything. Something quite interesting came out of this, though. An ideal association started to come into focus.
As markets slump and governments claw back on agriculture, there is perhaps a need for commodity groups such as MPSG to start participating in what is commonly referred to as policy. This has been something on MPSG’s mind for a long time, and the organization’s commitment to proceed in this direction was galvanized on day two of our strategic plan review.
A policy committee has been struck and we’ve been working with material from the session to come up with a plan for how we can intelligently and effectively further Manitoba’s pulse and soybean industries. There are a lot of groups doing great work in policy, and we have already committed to collaborating where possible, as such efforts consume a sizeable amount of fiscal and administrative resources.
MPSG will be releasing the results of its strategic plan review once all the information has been sifted through, condensed and fit into a form that will make it clear, shareable and implementable.
It was an honour to be a part of such a process. It was an honour to work with my smart colleagues at MPSG putting it together and I speak for all of us when I say I’m excited to start implementing the guiding principles this process yielded. We really did ask for the impossible, and if we didn’t get it, entirely, we got dangerously close.