December 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW3

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A Management Approach to County Extension Programs

Local Extension programs can be enhanced by applying basic principles relating to business management. Stronger programs can be created by paying attention to the interrelationships among planning, organizing, staffing, and directing. The three elements of a plan are discussed. Then the relationship of the plan to the organizational structure, staffing needs, and directing function are illuminated. These concepts are defined and explained within the context of Extension programs. The article concludes with a brief illustration of these principles in practice.

Rebecca J. Cropper
Extension Agent, 4-H/Youth and Community Development
Ohio State University Extension
Georgetown, Ohio
Internet address:

Management Principles

Too often Extension professionals feel too busy to practice what they know. They train others in effective leadership, but sometimes fail to apply the basic principles of business management to their own jobs. This article reminds Extension educators how the principles used by many successful chief executive officers can be applied to Extension programs. The principles discussed are (a) planning, (b) organization, (c) staffing, and (d) directing.


Planning is the basis from which all other functions are spawned. Without a congruent plan, organizations usually lack a central focus. There is little basis upon which to generate and judge new programming ideas without a plan. Old programs might be continued beyond their usefulness, and the organization may be unnecessarily inefficient. Thus, precious time is wasted when time is not taken to create a plan. Many forget that a plan is more than simply deciding what programs should be scheduled and when. A plan is more than a to-do list. Rather, a plan consists of three elements.

The first element clarifies the organizational mission. This part of the planning process includes looking at the present mission and determining what the organization should look like in the future. While the agent or specialist may clearly understand the mission, it also is important that the volunteers and paid staff be familiar with the mission. These partners need to help shape the future mission, and they cannot do so if they are unaware or confused about the current mission. Consequently, it is useful to review the mission periodically with staff and volunteers.

The second part of the planning process specifies goals consistent with the mission. Goals can be articulated that are congruent with areas of interest and expertise of the Extension professional, the staff, and volunteers, or that address particular needs of a county. Once the goals are articulated, the professionals, paid staff, and volunteers can evaluate and prioritize them. There are usually more worthwhile goals than hours to accomplish them. Deciding which goals are worth pursuing needs to be a collective decision. The creation of specific goals can keep staff from stretching themselves in too many directions.

Programs are methods by which the goals determined in part two are reached. Therefore, the third phase of the planning process is to identify existing programs and create new programming to help achieve the goals. It is during this phase decisions to discontinue old programs can be made. Even pet projects should be evaluated to see if they meet specific goals or are simply there because of tradition. Remember that it is easier to suggest a program than it is to do all the work necessary to see it to fruition. Not all good ideas have to be implemented in any given year.

Planning allows the stake holders to address current issues and trends. The professional can enhance the process by helping committees and others develop a strong understanding of the planning process. Planning not only saves headaches, it saves time and provides a congruence to program that allows all involved to feel less fragmented.


Business managers use organizational charts to help them implement their plans. Extension can do the same. A diagram that overlays the plan with organizational structure is a good beginning. List the goals of the organization at the top of the diagram. All programs relating to a particular goal are placed below it. The committees assigned to each program are listed below that. The functions of the committees are specified and the responsibilities of staff and volunteers are listed. Many plans are for naught if there is not an organizational structure sufficient to the task.

Review of the organizational chart usually indicates if there are sufficient personnel, either paid or volunteer, to execute the plan. It is the responsibility of Extension professionals to make the necessary adjustments either in the plan or in the organization if the two are out of sync. The organizational diagram can be a visual indication if there are sufficient programs and committees to meet the goals. Programs unconnected to goals are easily seen on the diagram. Programs that may be under-served by committees will be noticeable, and priorities can be set when programs conflict. The diagram allows the professional to see areas of over-lap among committee tasks that might have otherwise resulted in duplication.

The organizational chart can be used to match volunteers to committee responsibilities. As committees add and delete responsibilities, the diagram is modified and appropriate volunteers assigned.


Business managers know that to maximize productivity, they need to match the right person to the right tasks. Extension needs to have procedures in place to do the same since paid staff and volunteers are central to success. Mechanisms such as volunteer applications and interviews can help make the right decisions. Extension educators need to remember that even though they may have been involved in the same program for years, this may not necessarily be the case every volunteer or staff member. Orientation and training are essential. Providing opportunities for staff and volunteers to grow are vital to maintaining their levels of commitment. Encouraging the staff and volunteers to take on more responsibility is one way of letting them know they are crucial to the success of the programs. Involving all participants in the planning and organizational design is another way of recognizing their expertise. We should never be too busy to praise a job well done.


The final basic management principle of concern to Extension personnel is directing. Directing is less about telling people what to do than it is about motivating, communicating, and working with them in groups. Higgins (1994) describes this function of management as leading. Leadership helps volunteers and paid staff fulfill the organizational mission. A participatory management style is recommended with the Extension professional serving as a focal point to helping the team achieve results. The professional must know how to motivate others and how to communicate with them. A good manager understands group dynamics and the importance of assisting and not simply telling others what to do. The manager's role is to take a group of soloists and create a symphony of highly trained and skilled personnel working toward a common goal.


During 20 years with the Ohio State University Extension, the author used these business principles to develop a stronger 4-H program. Committees were restructured after a strategic planning process was implemented and new goals and mission were identified by volunteers and paid staff. The team worked together to determine goals and created programs to achieve these goals. The process helped the team realize necessary directional changes for the local program to achieve the mission and defined goals. To enhance staffing, job descriptions outlining specific tasks were created. Volunteers were matched to various jobs based on skill, interest, and talent. Training and orientation strategies were used. Volunteers worked on specific programs to meet objectives. Volunteers and staff all worked within their comfort zones. Additional training was provided to update them with current information and to challenge them to grow and develop as individuals and as leaders.

It was clear from the organizational chart that additional staff were needed. To increase the effectiveness of staff and volunteers, grant moneys were sought and obtained to hire additional staff and multiply program impacts. The paid staff provided some of the training for the new volunteers. The staff learned the importance of planning and the involvement of volunteers in creation and implementation of the mission. The author paid close attention to her own leadership style, attending a variety of seminars to gain an understanding of leadership as it relates to motivation, communication, and working with groups.

Today, the county has 65 middle manager volunteers who have been carefully matched by interests and abilities helping implement our shared plan. A county Extension program can be greatly enhanced through the incorporation of basic management principles as the professional carries out the mission of the land grant institution.

A high performing team can only exist if the directing or leadership function of management are incorporated. Present leadership theories involve the use of situation leadership. Fiedler (1967) addressing continency theory and Vroom and Yetton's (1973) normative theory are examples of using situational leadership to enlist staff and volunteers. The effective manager/leader combines the knowledge gained in motivational theories, communication strategies, and group dynamics to inspire and assist others.

Through the direction function of management, the goals and objectives become more than just a song, but a symphony of highly trained and skilled persons performing their tasks and duties. The 4-H program will be enhanced by the careful management and staffing patterns. Even in the staff process, those involved must never lose site of the mission and objectives for which the organization exists.


Fiedler, F. E. (1967). A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Higgins, J. M. (1994). The management challenge. Down Mills, Ontario: McMillan.

Vroom, V. H. & Yetton, P. W. (1973). Leadership and decision-making. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.