Byron's Babbles

Farm Party Strategy 9.0

Posted in Educational Leadership, Inspirational, Leadership, Learning Organization, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 10, 2015

9th Annual Farm Party Banner

9th Annual Farm Party Banner

“To the extent that it is possible…you must live in the world today as you wish everyone to live in the world to come. That can be your contribution. Otherwise, the world you want will never be formed. Why? Because you are waiting for others to do what you are not doing; and they are waiting for you, and so on. ~ Alice Walker

This past weekend my family and I had the opportunity to spend a few days up in the Ludington/Scottville, Michigan area for the Fourth of July weekend. The main objective was to attend the Ninth Annual Farm Party of our good friend, Kevin Eikenberry, and his family. He had been inviting us for the past several years and it seemed as if every year something came up preventing us from attending. This year, however, we made it happen. We had an absolutely wonderful time.

I believe the Annual Farm Party answers the three essential questions that Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City pose in their great book Strategy in Action: How School Systems Can Support Powerful Learning and Teaching (2012). These questions are:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. Why are we doing it?
  3. How are we doing it?

While these seem to be simple questions; they are very complex to answer when used in the context of strategic planning for an organization.

IMG_2899So, let’s take a stab at these from the perspective of the Annual Farm Party.

  • What are we doing? Ninth Annual Farm Party – Food, Hay Rides, Fireworks, Bonfires, Recreation, and Socializing
  • Why are we doing it? Kevin hosts this party to honor his father, family, neighbors, and friends. He is really providing a family/community reunion of sorts. Except, it is much more fun than any family reunion I have ever been to.
  • How are we doing it? Kevin hosts at his family farm he grew up on. He really relies on neighbors, family, and friends to pull the party off. I was amazed to watch everyone doing their “jobs.” It was a little daunting to be a “first-timer” to the party, because I had no “job.” Kevin even went so far as to put in 30 amp electric service boxes for those of us who had brought travel travel trailers or RVs to stay in.


Annual Farm Party Banners

As I watched the whole event unfold I thought about strategy and strategic planning. In my world, as a school leader, strategic planning is an exercise in setting direction, prioritizing work, and prioritizing resources. Done properly this is not just a document, but a working/living plan. The Farm Party strategic plan came together perfectly. Resources were allocated to the perfect places and the puzzle pieces came together for a well-planned event. From a strategy standpoint, I believe the most important lesson modeled was the fact that every “regular” attendee of the Annual Farm Party (there have been nine now) knows what his or her role is in making the party a success. Even down to the person that brought and cooked bacon and pork loin strips on the grill as the midnight snack!

This principle of every person person knowing what his or her role is to accomplishing the goals, mission, and vision of the organization is one of the most important lessons I learned from Liz City and Rachel Curtis during my work at Harvard University for Strategy in Action. These two great teachers of strategy drove home the fact that each of us and our team members needs to know our role in carrying out the theory of action of our organizations. Again, it is worth repeating – Every person needs to know his or her role in carrying out the mission, vision, and goals of the organization.41J7bo+LTOL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_

So, back to the Annual Farm Party model. There were individuals who the job of cooking on the grill, cooking in the house, building the bonfire and keeping it stoked, conducting hay rides, bringing picnic tables, setting up food tables, banner making and signing, and on and on. Anyway, you get the idea – everyone knew their role. In fact the roles were so well defined that as an outsider (don’t confuse outsider with not feeling welcome, we were welcomed) I felt like I was being lazy and not helping. But…this was evidence of a well oiled machine.

The take away from me, however, is as a school leader I need to make sure to be very deliberate when a new team member comes on board to make sure he or she understands very quickly what their role is in the goals and action steps of our strategic plan. As the Harvard University research shows, individuals need clearly defined roles to operate at the highest level of engagement. Teams, on the other hand, as the same research showed, need the goals, but need to not be given a prescription of how to carry out the mission. The teams must be the innovators. In fact, to this end as a part of really studying the school we are turning around we have the following written on my office white board at all times:


  • What are these people doing?
  • Are they doing the right things?
  • Then, making what they are doing more visible to everyone!

“It turns out that all influence geniuses focus on behaviors…. They don’t develop an influence strategy until they’ve carefully identified the specific behaviors they want to change. They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do? ~ Authors of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Thanks Kevin and family for the great Fourth of July, inviting our family to the Ninth Annual Farm Party, and the great exemplar of team members knowing their roles in the Annual Farm Party mission and the answering of the three important questions of strategy:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. Why are we doing it?
  3. How are we doing it?


Curtis, R. E. & City, E.A. (2012). Strategy in action: How school systems can support powerful learning and teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.



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