Communication Knowledge

March 2001

Effective management in extension advisory services in Central and Eastern European countries

By Geoffrey Adams
1 Woodlands Road,
Sonning Common, Reading
RG4 9TD, UK

Part 1


This paper was prepared under a contract with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome under the technical guidance and supervision of FAO Research, Extension and Training Division. It was presented at the Conference on the Central and Eastern European Agricultural Extension held at Eger, Hungary
May 14-18, 2000


Summary

This paper reviews the management practices necessary for the efficient and effective operation of extension services with particular reference to the position in Central and Eastern Europe. It identifies a difference in operational requirements between public extension services and commercial consultancy services. The need for a clear aim and specific objectives is emphasised and factors that will influence these are considered.

Stakeholders should be taken into account in the preparation of the business plan and in its operation. Close links between the extension organisation and research and educational institutions are important for all in the industry. The increasing emphasis on environmental issues is recognised.

Aspects of management and leadership, organisational structure, and people management are included. The emphasis in these sections is on the need for clear objectives, strong motivation and genuine delegation of responsibility and authority. There is a short section on financial management and control which includes some efficiency measures or bench marks that may be novel to some managers. The extension programme is considered alongside the marketing plan as they have much in common.

Although management committees are not considered sound practice an advisory committee can be valuable in helping the organisation meet its goals. Innovation is the lifeblood of almost any organisation, and this is especially true for an extension organisation. Managers must therefore establish a culture that encourages innovation. The need for effective extension services will remain for the foreseeable future. Concern is expressed that the extension services in Central and Eastern Europe have yet to develop a strategy that will allow them to continue when the international donors and loan agencies stop their funding. Managers will need to be aware of the technological, social and economic changes that are occurring and ensure that their plans take these into account as they move further into the 21st century.

1. Introduction

All businesses and organisations have a duty to try to utilise their resources in an optimum manner. This is necessary for them to be successful and to justify the resources at their disposal. Extension services are no different. Extension service managers owe it to their owners, their clients and to their employees to provide the best service in the most effective and efficient way possible. To do less means an unnecessary waste of resources that will hinder the development of the national economy and result in an uncompetitive operation that will not survive in a market economy. It is this context that this paper has been prepared.

Assessment of the extension services in Europe and elsewhere shows that there is no universal prescription for the effective management of extension services. This paper is not therefore intended to present a prescription or set of procedures that must be followed for the effective management of an extension service. Rather it is intended to highlight some of the issues it is important to address and sometimes to explain how to address them in the hope that readers will find points of interest and help in their own work.

Agriculture has benefited from extension services for many years. In Croatia, for example eight regional extension services were formed in 1842/43 (Zimbrek 1997)1 . More recently most people and organisations (e.g. FAO) associated with developing the rural economic sector have realised that in order for the rural dweller to contribute fully to the national economy then the full range of resources available in the countryside must be utilised. Only in this way will it be possible to retain a viable rural population. Agriculture is recognised as one of the key resources contributing to rural development. Although this paper is based on agricultural extension the issues raised are equally relevant to rural development extension.

2. Developing a strategy

Few would argue that to be successful an organisation needs a strategy and a plan for putting that strategy in place. In many Eastern European countries extension services fail to demonstrate that they have a clear strategy and plan. The general impression is that the existing strategies have been arrived at some time ago as part of a technical assistance project. The donor agency had determined the outline strategy as part of a brief appraisal visit. The recipient country thought the proposal would bring in foreign aid and be beneficial and therefore accepted the suggestion. This was probably a sound pragmatic approach at the time. Another reason for lack of a coherent strategy is the failure of central governments to develop a clear agricultural policy or, if a policy has been determined a failure to communicate to extension service managers how their organisation is expected to contribute to achieving the desired results. Hungary is an exception. It has established its extension services based on findings from Kozari's2 world wide review of extension services prepared under FAO auspices. This was probably the most thorough such review conducted. It enabled the Hungarian government to prepare a strategy that addressed the different needs of large and small scale farmers and directed state support to those groups in greatest need. With the challenges facing the extension services, particularly in obtaining funds once the donor agencies withdraw, there is now a need for all services to review requirements and prepare a robust strategy aimed at taking the extension service through the next 10 years.

Even in non-commercial organisations the strategy is probably best presented in the context of a business plan. The business plan reviews the requirements and the resources available and then establishes the aims and objectives of the organisation. It describes how these objectives will be achieved by implementing the necessary activities, monitoring the results and then reviewing the objectives again to ensure that they remain correct. In other words it follows the management cycle.

This paper examines a number of the issues important in preparing and implementing the business plan. Before doing so it is useful to consider if there is a difference between extension and consultancy.

3. Extension or consultancy?

There is a fundamental difference in approach between the traditional extension service adviser and the consultants employed by a commercial consultancy firm. The aim of the traditional extension service is to develop farmers into a self reliant group of individuals able to look after their own needs with the ultimate aim that they will no longer need the support of the extension service. New Zealand is probably the extreme example where in 1985 the government adopted a "user pays" philosophy and the state determined that farmers were sufficiently self-reliant to stand on their own two feet.3 So the government sold the extension service to a commercial firm and the number of employees dropped from around 400 to around 100 .

The aim of the commercial consultancy company is different. It is to encourage a long term relationship between adviser and client and for the farmer to be reliant on the adviser for regular advice. Marketing specialists have long recognised that it is much cheaper to retain a client than seek a new one! The adviser working for a co-operative may have the commercial consultant's role as the provision of advice is expected to help the co-operative to retain members and expand services. Conversely the co-operative may regard the extension service as necessary today, but would, ideally, like to reduce its overheads by shedding the advisory function. Advisers working for input suppliers and produce buyers often have a major extension role but their first loyalty is to the company. They will be employed because the company believes that it can increase its profits by their services. When the return is perceived as too low then the company closes the advisory section, e.g. ICI in the 1970s in England. In this paper the term "extension service" is used to include those organisations whose sole or main function is the provision of impartial advice to rural entrepreneurs including farmers. It includes traditional extension services and commercial consultancy services.

Privatisation of Western extension services has clearly influenced the approach adopted in CEE 4 countries. Reasons cited for charging farmers for advice include the desire to be independent of political management, the ability to obtain more resources if private funds were added to state funds and the belief that farmers appreciate advice better if they pay for it. Lack of efficiency in many government organisations is another reason used to justify a commercial operation. These are all valid arguments but it is important to recognise that conditions in the agricultural industry in "The West" 5 at the time of privatisation of the extension services were very different from those currently prevailing in the CEE countries .6 It is therefore important that the CEE countries take into account these differences in conditions when designing and operating their extension organisations. Management and advisers need to be clear on their role. Are staff consultants seeking to build up business for their organisation or are they extension advisers encouraging farmers to develop independent sources of information and advice? All too often the different requirements resulting from this essential difference of role are not adequately addressed.

The southern CEE countries where a high proportion of the population is employed in agriculture, for example more than 50% in Albania, are not enthusiastic about chargeable extension services (although even in Albania embryonic agricultural consultancy services are being established). Advice supplied free of charge to the farmers is essential if the extension service is seen as a way of helping the majority of the rural population improve their standard of living. It is probably not the best option if the government's main aim is to increase agricultural production when it would be more productive to concentrate on those relatively few larger scale producers who manage the majority of the land.

It is usually assumed that the purpose of extension is to increase the economic competitiveness of farmers. This is not necessarily true and is certainly not always what the farmer wants. The farm, no matter how small, is a business, but a business where the farmer and his family wish to maximise their "units of satisfaction" 7 from the farm. These units are a combination of financial and non-financial rewards. Looked at in this way each individual farm unit will have a range of objectives each of which contributes to the total sum of satisfaction the owners and their families obtain from the holding. The larger commercial business will put more emphasis on the need to be competitive and the small subsistence farm will wish to maximise home production of food. An extension service adviser and consultant should assist the owner of the farm to identify his or her objectives, seek to modify them if appropriate and then help the producer to achieve them.

4. Setting the Aims and Objectives

Unless the manager is clear on what is the purpose, what are the aims and what are the objectives of the organisation he or she can never design and implement a coherent strategy and cannot know whether the organisation is successful. The owner can be expected to set the long term aims and will need to agree the shorter term objectives with the managers. In a commercial consultancy organisation, owned by individuals or shareholders, the main aim is usually clear - the owners want a return on the money invested. When the advisory service is part of the government service the aim can be much more difficult to identify. The Latvian extension service, for example, has an aim to "improve the efficiency of agriculture". This is not realistic as so many factors outside the control of the extension service will affect the efficiency of the industry. This aim is more appropriate for a government and the extension service might be required to "contribute to increasing the efficiency of agriculture by ..". Contrast the Latvia aim with that of the extension service of Nizny Novgorod where the aim is much more closely defined, namely, to improve agricultural production from the large scale farms. In Moldova the aim was to establish sources of information to the agricultural sector and only now is the role being extended to include the provision of advice.

Managers of the state-owned services probably have the greatest difficulty in obtaining a clear statement of what their aims should be. Extension services owned by governments are subject to the requirements of politicians who wish to be re-elected and frequently change their minds on what policies are most likely to achieve this. Governments, too, have many calls on their money and may prejudice the achievement of long term aims for short term expediency.

Advisory services that belong to farmers' unions or co-operatives may well have as one of their aims an increase in membership of the parent organisation.

The aims of an extension service need to take into account the changing role of extension services. This is widening to include care of the environment, animal welfare and in some African and Asian countries population control and prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS. In the CEE countries there remains a great need to help people to manage change in a situation where a new legal system has been introduced, markets have been lost, new market opportunities become available and social support structures have often almost collapsed. There remains a need to encourage group development and collaboration between farmers and a need to mediate between and negotiate with stakeholders.

Objectives are to be achieved in the short to medium term and should be quantified. Lack of quantification of the objectives leads to lack of focus of effort and makes measuring success impossible. Lack of precision in the stated objectives is all to common in the papers. Extension services in the CEE countries should become more specific in their stated objectives. While the ideal situation would be to have an objective such as "to raise the income on 500 farms by 20% within y years" this is not practical because too many factors outside the control of the extension service affect farm incomes. Conversely an objective "to contact 7000 farms within x months" is quite meaningless, as it does not require the advisers to achieve anything through the contacts. The correct balance is between these extremes and should include:

Possible examples are:

  1. The extension service will seek to improve the average milk yield by 30% and the margin over purchased feed by 20% on 500 dairy farms with herds of between 20 and 300 cows before 31 December 2002.

  2. The extension service will implement a programme that will establish 30 self help groups of farmers with a total membership of at least 500 by 31 December 2001. 75% of these groups are expected to remain in existence and active for at least 5 years.

The effort to quantify objectives can be substantial but as shown in Nizny Novgorod and Kyrgystan when the effort is made the results are a more structured approach to the tasks and a base line against which to judge success.

5. Factors affecting the aims and objectives of an extension service

In addition to the general points made above many aspects of the national and agricultural economy can affect the aims and objectives of an extension service. Some of the more significant ones are discussed below.

Government policy
Commercial consultancy and public extension services are affected by government policy. Food security is usually a priority for any government. Is this to be achieved by maximising home produced-food or aiming to buy the cheapest food available on the world market? Are agricultural products seen as major export earners? To what extent does the government control agricultural prices? Is agriculture seen as a way of absorbing people who would otherwise be unemployed (the situation in some CEE countries) or is industrial production hampered by lack of people, in which case the policy could be to encourage a migration of labour from country to town?

Governments which consider it very important to provide support to the poor will place greater emphasis on helping the small, poorly educated subsistence farmer than those governments which believe the way forward is to encourage maximum agricultural production from entrepreneurs. In Bulgaria, in 1990, it was estimated 70% of farmers occupied about 12% of the land area and less than 10% occupied over 50% of the land. In the UK it is estimated that 10% of farms now provide around 80% of the agricultural production. The same pattern will apply in many CEE countries. If, therefore, the government is aiming primarily at increased agricultural production then the emphasis for the extension service is to provide advice and support to the relatively few larger farmers and leave the small farmers to manage as best they can. On the other hand, if the aim is to provide support to many thousands of small, subsistence, farmers then the extension service manager needs to know this and to plan the activities of the organisation accordingly.

Government policy is affected not just by internal concerns but also by international developments. Most CEE countries have accession to the EU as a major objective and are implementing the necessary measures to achieve this. In addition globalisation, World Trade Agreement and acceptance of international treaties covering such things as intellectual property rights, phytosanitary arrangements and plant breeders' rights are all important influences on national policy.

Economic conditions
The situation in a country's economy will clearly have direct effects (e.g. the amount of money available for food) and indirect effects (e.g. the availability of social services for urban and rural populations) on the agricultural sector. Is profitable agriculture possible? If not, what is that keeps people on the land and in the villages? Are there possibilities for profitable exploitation of the other resources in the countryside, the scenery, lakes and rivers, forests, caves, thermal springs?

Infra-structure and services
In Estonia many farms have an electricity supply adequate for a domestic house but inadequate for farm production. The same probably applies in most other Central and East European countries (and elsewhere in Europe). The land tenure position, the land market, or lack of it, agricultural banking services, roads, electricity, clean and reliable water supplies, telecommunications, drainage, educational and social services all affect the potential for production in rural areas. They may not affect the long term aim of the extension service but will certainly affect what can realistically be set as the objectives.

Information and advice
Does the owner see the role of the organisation only to provide information or is the service intended to provide advice? Advice means helping the individual farmer to interpret the information in his or her own situation? What sort of information is to be supplied? Information is required by the farm business to facilitate immediate, short, medium and long term decision making. The subjects on which advice may be offered will depend on local legislation, what is available elsewhere and what is expected to give the best return to the owner. Legal advice, for example, is often not supplied by extension services because it is too specialised, too demanding in staff time and is available from lawyers in commercial practice, or is funded by another section of the national budget or by charities.

Mission statement
A summary of the main aims and objectives presented within a mission statement is valuable in concentrating the mind of the manager on what is the core purpose and what are the values of the organisation. A mission statement is also an excellent way of communicating these to staff, clients and other stakeholders. ADAS for example had as its mission statement "To be the leading consultancy service to the land based industries in the UK working with our customers through the provision of quality services for the benefit of their businesses."

6. The stakeholders

The stakeholders are all those people and organisations who are affected by the organisation. They include those directly related to the organisation, the staff, the clients and those who invest money and other resources in them. They also include the people and organisations that are influenced by, or seek to influence, the extension activities of the organisation. Managers during both the planning and implementation stages need to be aware, and where appropriate make allowances for, the stakeholders' effects and influences. A good understanding of their interests gives strength to the organisation, helps with devising extension strategies and reduces the possibilities of conflict with other organisations.

The number of stakeholders, especially in a state run service, can be very great. Smaller privately run consultancy organisations have fewer stakeholders seeking to influence their work.

Stakeholders include government departments, e.g. finance, economic, environment, social services and regional development ministries. In Romania, for instance, forests and rivers, including trout fisheries, are the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Forests (DEF) whereas carp farms and sea fisheries are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAFF). Clearly the activities of one ministry can have significant effects on the work of the other and they are major stakeholders in each other. Other stakeholders include the supply and food processing industries, environmentalists, accountants, lawyers, veterinary surgeons and national park authorities. The following paragraphs look at some of the stakeholders where there is, or should be, close interaction between stakeholders and the extension service.

Research
Extension feeds on research. To be of value research must undertake relevant work and enable the industry to apply the results. The term extension originates from the idea of extending the knowledge developed at universities to the farmers in the surrounding area. When research and extension are both owned by the same organisation, usually the government, and commercial considerations are not considered important, links between researchers and extension advisers can be easily established. This was certainly the position within the UK until the 1980s. The development stage when the results of research results are tried at farm scale may be undertaken by either the research or the extension organisations.

In recent years governments have moved to commissioning specific research programmes and the extension services have been privatised. This has changed the relationship between research and extension but the need for the links remain as strong as ever. Methods for establishing and developing these links are still being developed. In the UK much research is commissioned by farmer owned organisations such as the Milk Development Council and the Home Grown Cereals Authority. Their farmer owners demand that their money is well spent. Consequently the contracts for research commissioned by these organisations include a requirement for the communication of the results to their members. Research commissioned by the government includes provision for the communication of results to the industry. Commercial consultants need new information to keep their clients satisfied. They will therefore actively seek the results of research and present these to their clients. Other extension services must do the same.

But the information flow cannot be all one way. If the researchers are to conduct relevant work then they need to know, and respond to, the needs of the farmers. When seeking commissions they will need to justify their proposals. An effective extension service will be identifying the industry's needs and passing these back to the research organisations, either directly or through the research funding organisations. Extension services may, too, conduct some applied research themselves and should certainly include research aspects in their development work. Commercial consultancy companies will seek to use the additional knowledge gained from research to give themselves a competitive advantage.

It is unfortunate that many researchers in the CEE countries are not working with the extension services and are not conducting research relevant to the needs of the industry. This appears to be especially true where the research institutes are not controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture. There are, of course, many exceptions especially when researchers and advisers cooperate in the conduct of on farm demonstrations and experiments. A more proactive approach by extension service managers towards the research service could help improve the situation to the benefit of all in the agriculture industry and should also greatly strengthen the extension service.

Education
If productive, positive links with research services are essential for both the extension and research services, then the same is true for links with the formal education service. Extension is part of a continuing education process, and in Northern Ireland, for example, is an integral part of the agricultural education system operated by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The extension service has a role in helping the education specialists develop their curricula so that the students meet the needs of the industry now, and are able to adjust to the inevitable changes that will occur. University and college lecturers should also have a role in the training and continuing education of the extension workers. Formal and informal links between extension services and agricultural education establishments are necessary to meet these needs.

In the more industrialised countries the links between farming, food and the countryside are frequently not understood by the great majority of the population. It is surely in the common interest that extension services and educational organisations co-operate to promote the farming industry to the urban dweller.

The supply trade and product purchasers
An extension programme will inevitably have an effect on the demand for agricultural inputs and on the products for sale. Sometimes the product suppliers or product purchasers will see the activities of the extension service as beneficial, at other times they will be seen as threats. The advisory service manager should take these perceptions into account and incorporate strategies to mitigate any adverse effects or to utilise the beneficial effects. For example a programme designed to reduce the incidence of disease in cereals may depend on one particular chemical being used. Good news for the supplier, provided he can obtain it. Bad news for another supplier, who has purchased a different chemical to sell and which the extension service is now ceasing to recommend. In another situation encouragement of producers to move to organic production will mean not only changes in demand for product from suppliers but also the adoption of new work practices on the farm and on developing new channels for marketing the product.

The environmentalists
In 1998 Birdlife International and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds organised a conference in London. The stimulus for the conference was the conflict of interest that had arisen between a prospective purchaser of land in Hungary and conservation of a rare bird, the Great Bustard. The technicalities of the case are incidental to this paper. The important fact is that the environmentalists were sufficiently concerned and influential to cause a change in the farming decisions. The extension service cannot ignore similar interactions. At the very least the organisation must comply with legislative requirements. State owned services may have a more specific role in environmental protection within their objectives, a role that may be in conflict with providing advice for the farmer's own benefit.

The management strategy should take into account the characteristics and expected behaviour of the stakeholders, the network of interrelationships between the stakeholders as focused on the organisation and the power of the extension services to change the relevant relationships. Periodic review of these factors is essential.

7. Management and leadership

Many books and papers have been written on the differences between, and the interaction of, management and leadership. In this paper management is considered as the process whereby decisions are reached and monitored to achieve the goals of the organisation. Leadership is the style by which these decisions are first arrived at and then promulgated and put into operation. Both contribute to that essential of good management - achievement of the aims and objectives. Extension services in the CEE countries have often suffered from the rapid movement of managers resulting in loss of continuity. Some movement is inevitable due to sickness, age and incompetence and some is desirable to bring in new thoughts and ideas but the overall impression is of too many unplanned changes often associated with political changes in government.

Good management requires:

Management styles
Management styles vary from the dictatorial to the laissez faire. Most people are happier and more productive with a participative style and respond to being given responsibility. Managers who fail to delegate responsibility become overburdened with decision making and therefore either delay the decision or make the decision from a relatively ill informed position. There is a difference between delegating responsibility and abdicating responsibility. The former requires that the person who is to be responsible knows exactly what is to be done, the limits of the responsibility, the time by which the achievements are to be met and is supplied with the resources to undertake the task. The manager will monitor progress, agree when a review is needed and provide opportunity for the person to discuss any problems or unforeseen developments. The manager will also give the person authority to take the agreed actions. Abdication means instructing the person to achieve certain results without being precise in what these are or providing authority or any support. Management practices under the command economy did not encourage effective delegation of responsibility and authority. It is not surprising therefore that many managers in the Central and Eastern European countries fail to delegate adequately and effectively. An example of poor delegation occurred where the signature of the most senior civil servant in the Ministry was required to authorise the use of an official car by a member of staff. A person in such a position has much more important things to do. Managers need to utilise different styles of leadership and management in different situations and, in particular, to recognise when the different styles should be used.

Decision making
We are all continually making decisions. Managers need to make the decisions that affect the well being of the organisation and these decisions can have very widespread and serious effects. Once made the decisions need to be communicated to those affected. Good managers make more good decisions than poor managers. Indecisiveness leads to depressed morale amongst staff, lack of timeliness and often missed opportunities. Accurate identification of the problem is probably the key to good decision making. There are various tools that can be used to help the decision making process but they need the right information. A management consultant once used a decision making technique when choosing his new car. He determined the criteria, weighted them and then scored the various models against these criteria. The choice was clear until he went to buy the car. He had forgotten to include availability within the criteria for his choice and there was a 6 month waiting list when he needed the car the next week!

Managers will use a mix of decision making strategies that can be summarised as:
Optimising
Satisficing
Eliminating

Optimising seeks the best possible pay off for the decision. Satisficing is used when seeking an optimum solution imposes unacceptable demands in terms of resource requirement in relation to the perceived benefits of the decision. Eliminating will seek the only possible solution by discarding all other alternatives - a Sherlock Holmes approach.

No matter which strategy is to be used, making the best decisions involves a sequence of procedures:

  1. Establish the objectives
  2. Classify the objectives in order of importance - which are essential, which merely desirable
  3. Search for alternative courses of action
  4. Evaluate the alternatives
  5. Select the best course
  6. Consider future possible adverse consequences
  7. Reconsider the selection of the best course
  8. Implement and control the chosen action.

What difficulties do managers find in making decisions? The most common are:

Fear of past mistakes
Uncertainty of role
Information not understood
Inertia or laziness
Time/resource pressures

These all represent weaknesses in the manager or his/her position The first two can be blamed on the manager's manager or owner of the organisation. Failure to understand information could be due to innate inability on the part of the manager but is probably because insufficient time is given to study the data, i.e it is not given the correct priority within the workload. Inertia or laziness indicates a lack of incentive while time and resource pressures are often due to a failure to train and develop staff and then to delegate to them.

8. Organisational Structure

The structure affects the routes by which decisions and information are passed from manager to managed and results and information are passed from managed to manager. The needs of the clients and the needs of the organisation must be balanced. Modern practice is to minimise the tiers of management. It is now common for a senior manager to have 20 or more team managers reporting to him or her whereas the perceived wisdom in the 1970s was that a manager should be responsible for no more than eight subordinates. A wide management span is only possible if the team manager and the team members are empowered to act, have clear agreed objectives and have the resources to achieve the objectives. Good telecommunications and electronic data transfer are a great help in this situation.

Clear and short lines of communication are essential for effective management. One person with two, or more bosses, is a recipe for problems and inefficiency. Unfortunately it is occasionally necessary and, with the right people, will work. Extension service managers are not alone in having difficulties in determining the optimum management structure. Often staff are located at a number of geographical locations some distance from the manager. This can be because they need to be in close contact with their clients, or because travel is costly in terms of time and money. The very limited opportunity, in many CEE countries, for people to move to different residential accommodation is a severe constraint on managers.

Agriculture, and even more so rural development, requires a range of specialist knowledge, more than can be held by one person. Who is to manage the specialist based 150 kilometres from the senior specialist? Is it the local manager who should be aware of what the local person is doing? Or, is it the senior specialist who will be responsible for ensuring the specialist keeps up to date with technical knowledge and may have responsibility for a programme within the specialist sector? Professional rivalries often come into play. The decision is not easy and again there is no universal answer.

In some countries, for example Bulgaria, the extension service has two or more masters. Local government provides the extension service to the farmers while the national government defines policy and provides support services. This arrangement has the notional, and maybe real, advantage of having an extension service that should respond directly to the needs of the people in the local area - who, after all, elected their local representatives. On the other hand the scale of operation is inevitably small, resulting in fewer services being available to the farmers and more restricted career opportunities for advisers. Local politicians may exert undesirable influence on the extension service manager. Nor is the local service able to control the facilities on offer from the central government. In this situation a "customer/contractor" approach will probably lead to the most efficient support services for the local advisers. The local government extension service is the customer, the central government service the contractor. The contractor's role is to provide the services required by the local extensionists. It should including the "selling" of activities that the contractor considers as essential for the development of efficient services in the local government area. Central government should not be a monopoly supplier. Rather the local extension service should also have the opportunity to purchase services from other organisations, including neighbouring extension services.

In Estonia the government has decided not to provide an extension service but to encourage farmers to obtain advice from private consultants or the advisory service provided by the Farmers Union. They do this by providing financial incentives to the farmers to employ advisers. A similar arrangement has recently been introduced into parts of England whereby the government is providing farmers with sufficient money to employ farm business consultants for three days. The Estonian government also encourages certain organisations to provide technical support and intelligence to the advisory services by commissioning activities and supporting entrepreneurial action such as selling market information. The distinct advantage of this system is the very close relationship between the supply of advice and its supporting services and the demand from the industry. The disadvantages are that it may be too short term in its approach and is unlikely to cater for the very many very small subsistence farmers. The needs of the latter group could be overcome by the government commissioning consultancy services to provide services specifically targeted at these very small scale producers.

Specialists and generalists

The general adviser has a breadth of knowledge pertinent to the area in which he or she works and should be able to assess the needs of the family business as a whole. By living in the area in which he or she works, the generalist obtains a good understanding of local concerns and rapidly builds up respect from the local community. There can be a danger that the generalist adviser in this situation becomes isolated from the organisation and follows his or her own agenda. Management needs to take positive to ensure the adviser keeps up to date.

The specialist has a deep knowledge of a relatively narrow subject area and is expected to provide high level advice, write and speak in high profile situations and train the general advisers. The benefit to the client comes from the really up to date knowledge supplied. The danger of specialist advice is that it fails to take into account how the advice may impact on other aspects of the farm business. For example a client was advised that the most hygienic and effective way of cleaning the milking parlour was to use high volumes of water at low pressure. He then had a major problem with disposal of the dirty water that resulted. The correct solution would have been a high pressure jet which would use far less volume, do a perfectly acceptable job at cleaning and produce much smaller volumes of dirty water to be treated before disposal.

A second example relates to the use of resources by the farmer. When producing for a market economy, and especially when there are many competing demands for capital, farmers must invest their limited resources where they will obtain the maximum reward. The need for care in providing advice is illustrated by the case of a specialist agronomist in the UK who was advising his client on improved production of wheat. This involved a number of spray chemical applications. Part way through the programme the farmer announced that he had no more money. The adviser commented afterwards that had he been aware that the financial restrictions were so great he would have recommended a different programme of sprays. While all the treatments were economically justified the application due when the farmer ran out of money would have given the return on the cost of the sprays.

Both specialists and generalists are vital to the efficient operation of the extension service.

Concern that generalist advisers would be unable to meet the needs of the farmers has caused several services in the CEE countries to work on the basis of specialists only. This is probably more a reflection on the education available in the countries where a general agriculture degree is not available and a different perception of what is a generalist and what is a specialist. A generalist adviser is not, nor should he or she try to be, all things to all people. A generalist adviser should be able to assess the whole farm (business) situation, have a good knowledge of the main enterprises in the area and be able to contact relevant specialists when the required advice is beyond his or her competence.

If extension services in the CEE countries really wish to help their farmer clients then much more attention should be paid to the provision of whole farm business advice. Failing to do this will lead to situations similar to those described in the paragraphs above and will result in a lack of confidence on the part of the producer in the ability of the extension service to identify and meet his or her real needs. The problem could be overcome if a team of advisers visited each farm but the cost would be completely unacceptable and the farmer likely to become confused.

Agricultural education in the CEE countries produced some excellent specialists as these were the people needed for the operation of the state and co-operative farms. Good general agricultural advisers are more difficult, but not impossible to find.

The ratio of generalists to specialists within an extension service will depend very much on who is to be advised and how this is to be achieved. Large progressive farms will require specialist advice. Very small family farms need a person who can appreciate the whole business situation and the farmer will respond to someone who is able to build a rapport with the family members. An extension service that concentrates its efforts on communicating through the mass media will need specialists in rural development topics and specialist expertise in how to present the information for maximum effectiveness in the given medium. A service that operates largely through small group activities will need an expert communicator, knowledgeable in the important areas of interest for the group members.

Geographically dispersed or centrally located advisers?
People management is better and more effective when there is frequent and easy communication between manager and managed. Extension services provide advice to clients scattered throughout the rural areas. Advisers are generally more effective if they are based close to their clients. This presents a paradox for the extension service manager. Keep the staff close and make them travel to see clients or disperse them to the four corners of the countryside? There is no universally correct answer. Advisers working on their own can be difficult to manage and lack the company and stimulation of frequent discussions with colleagues. Conversely much time can be wasted when people are together talking about inconsequential matters. Several of the consultancy services in the UK, where there are good electronic communication facilities and a good, if overcrowded road system, have their advisers working from their homes. Communications are not always so reliable or well developed in the CEE countries. Normally generalists will be more effective if they live close to their clients. As a general principle managers, particularly for junior staff, should be based close to their staff. The local team leader should have specific responsibilities for his/her area and have the necessary staff to achieve the results. Good management requires both formal and informal discussion. The opportunity for frequent informal discussions between junior staff and the boss over the morning coffee is an opportunity to inform one another, to seek advice and sometimes draw up joint action plans. This type of interchange is extremely useful to the manager and gives confidence to the staff member that the manager has the correct information when it comes to making the formal assessment of performance.

If the consultancy market can be sufficiently segregated then a mixture of the two systems is practicable. Advisers for the general farming systems are geographically dispersed but a specialist team is established to provide advice to certain specialist producers, glasshouse growers or poultry producers for instance.

9. People management and development

Staff are the main and most important resource in an extension service. How effective are they? How important is the extension service to them? How well are they motivated? What are their career opportunities? Is there a personnel development plan? The term Human Resource Management is deliberately avoided in this paper: managers work with people.

The relative youth of many of the services, the previous training and experience of the managers, the rapid turnover of managers, the more than adequate supply of potential recruits and the novelty of the extension concept has not been conducive to the development and establishment of strong people management and development policies in the CEE countries. Contracts of employment and job descriptions are common but the job descriptions often lack precision in what is required of the individual. Of the 14 country reports presented at the conference 10 the services in Kyrgistan and Nizny Novgorod are the only ones who say that they conduct formal staff performance reviews. Kyrgistan also provides a degree of staff motivation by offering 3 year contracts.

As clients become more sophisticated in their demands so the demand for better qualified advisers will increase. It is therefore important that managers of the extension services pay more attention to staff development and ensure that the advisers are highly motivated and obtain good job satisfaction. In this way, provided salary levels are competitive, they will retain good staff and attract high quality recruits.

Arguably the most difficult task of the manager is to motivate the staff to achieve the results required. The starting point is to ensure that all staff :

In other words they "own" the objectives. The next stage is to ensure that the staff are aware of the values of the organisation and again accept these as important and necessary to contribute to the achievement of the objectives. These values are such things as approach to customers, speed of response to enquiries, quality of work, integrity, impartiality, keeping client information confidential, politeness, dress code, standard of presentations, cleanliness of vehicles etc. People need to know what is their own role, what are their personal objectives and they want to feel involved in the decision making process. They need to feel appreciated. This section looks at some of the aspects of how these needs can be met.

Contracts of employment and job descriptions
The contract of employment is the formal document that will set out the terms and conditions of the employment. It includes salary, holidays, sick leave, pension, opportunity to engage in other activities related to agriculture (or politics if a state service), disciplinary procedures, and to whom the person reports, etc. It should also include sections on the objectives and shared values of the organisation and where the individual may go for advice on personnel and welfare matters that he or she may not wish to discuss with the line manager. The job description describes tasks the adviser is expected to undertake to contribute to achieving the objectives of the organisation. It should include the level of performance expected, and the support, including training that the adviser can expect from the organisation. Both documents are essential and should leave the minimum chance of misunderstanding about what the employer expects of the employee and what the employee will receive from the employer. While the terms of the contract of employment do not normally change or if they do change then the agreement of the staff member is required, the job description may be modified quite often.

Performance review and forecasting
Performance review is often confused with assessment of suitability for promotion. The two are interlinked but different. Because a person does a job well does not necessarily mean that they are suitable to do the job of the next higher position. On the other hand it is unlikely that a person who fails to achieve the necessary levels of achievement in the present job will perform well at the next higher grade. In a large organisation the performance review is a very structured process designed to minimise the differences in standards that inevitably occur when many managers report on very many staff. When there are a large number of disciplines within an organisation fair comparison is even more difficult. In the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the UK the manager assessed each of their team for a range of qualities and characteristics or competences considered desirable in a civil servant. This report was then considered by a group of managers who had some knowledge of the individual. The reporting manager might well be requested to amend some of the marks and comments. The amended report was then assessed and counter signed by the manager's manager. The completed report was then shown to the member of staff and discussed with him/her by the reporting manager. If the manager was doing a good job nothing in this report came as a surprise to the member of staff. However if the member of staff disagreed with the content then they had the option to give their reasons either on the report or by sending a letter later. It was undoubtedly a bureaucratic, expensive and lengthy procedure but it was probably the best that could be achieved in such a large organisation. It minimised discrimination, whether intended or not, and gave a reasonably even assessment system across the country. Most staff considered it fair.

Discussion and decisions on what was to be done by both manager and adviser in the coming period followed the appraisal interview. What work was to be achieved, what support, particularly training was to be supplied, particularly training to overcome any deficiencies in performance, what other action was to be taken to help the adviser to develop his or her career? The meeting closed with an agreement on when the next appraisal would be. Where the adviser was inexperienced or having problems this might be in one, two or three months. When the adviser was well established and successful then it might be in a year.

As well as assessing performance the report also commented on the suitability of the individual for promotion. This was disclosed to the adviser.

The description of the staff reporting above is given, not because it is an ideal model that would fit all situations but because it shows how one organisation met many of the essential requirements for good people management. That is:

Staff training
Substantial training programmes have been undertaken in all the CEE countries, usually with the help of international consultants. These programmes comprised formal training courses, study tours and "on the job" training. They concentrated on extension methods and farm business management. Less attention has been paid to identifying whether advisers have the right technical knowledge for the new farming situation and even less to management skills. Typically training needs analyses were conducted early in the establishment of the extension services, usually by external consultants employed by the aid programme projects, and these have not been revised subsequently. A review of training needs should be conducted each year and be incorporated within the staff appraisal system.

There has been significant development in the provision of training in agricultural extension methods. Several universities have established or strengthened their extension departments and provide undergraduate and postgraduate courses for potential advisers. Good basic training in extension theory and practice before entry to the working grades of the extension service will prove a sound investment for the organisation as the staff will require less support when in work. At present both the staff of the university and those in the extension services would probably benefit from more in service training of advisers.

If the extension services are to be a powerful force for change in the agricultural industry of the CEE countries then managers will need to pay more attention to the development of structured training programmes and career development planning.

External donors operate to tight time schedules that has sometimes resulted in excess training demands on individuals and groups. Aid programme managers should pay more attention to the volume of training that can be absorbed and achieves maximum benefit.

Motivating people - Management by walking about What motivates people? Perhaps the most important thing is to be recognised as an individual and to have one's efforts appreciated. Pay is important, and especially so when the pay levels are very low as in many of the CEE countries, but there are many other things a manager can do to motivate the staff. Surveys have found, for instance, that staff appreciate better office furniture, a better car or more holidays. Above all they appreciate the manager taking notice of them, remembering that they were ill last week, that their wife/husband was involved in an accident, that a new baby has arrived and especially they like to be thanked and praised when a job has been done well. If the job has not been done well then a constructive approach of "how can we do better next time?" is much more satisfactory than castigating the person concerned.

Staff are more highly motivated when they believe that their manager knows what is happening and what they are doing. This means the manager of an extension service cannot do an efficient and effective job by sitting behind the desk, tempting though that might be. The chief executive of the most successful supermarket chain in the UK spends much of his time visiting the stores to see what the conditions are like there. He does not rely only on the reports from his managers. One management consultant called this "Management by Walking About" - an apt description.

Another aspect of the manager's role in motivating staff is the support he or she is perceived to give when outsiders challenge either the organisation or the individual. The manager is responsible for all the actions of the staff related to their work. If these fall short of the expected standards then he or she must admit responsibility and not push the blame on to the employee, unless of course there has been genuine negligence or criminal intent. In this situation the manager may need to admit that there was inadequate control and that action is being taken to rectify the position.

The public persona of a manager can be extremely motivating to the staff. If he or she is recognised as a knowledgeable leader and opinion former in the industry, staff, even if they do not agree with the views expressed, will at least consider it a good reflection on the organisation that their manager has such a recognised position. Public presentations by the manager on television, radio, in the press or at meetings really need to be polished, effective and genuine. For those to whom this does not come naturally, time invested in presentational skills training is well worthwhile.

The tradition of, and the resources put into, research has led to researchers in CEE countries being well respected and having considerable status. The new profession of agricultural adviser has not yet achieved the same status. Many advisers in "the West" would say it has not achieved the status it deserves in "the West" either. Status is important to most people and affects their motivation. Managers have a role in building up the status of advisers by ensuring they adopt professional standards and promoting these to all the relevant stakeholders.

Click here to go to Part II



SD Homepage Back to Top FAO Homepage