How Produce Executives Can Manage Expectations in the New Year

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the January 2022 issue of Produce Business.

A new year is starting, and you are reviewing the goals and objectives that have been projected for 2022. Many of these goals were created to satisfy management’s requirements for results that would move the operation forward. Management often demands that these goals be somewhat aggressive and, in their terms, they are “stretch” goals that lead to higher sales and profits.

Upper management stresses the need for these goals to be set high, to avoid what they call soft goals, or “sandbagging” the targets to make them easy to achieve. Given this self-fulfilling prophecy, many of the targets set down are unrealistic and ultimately unattainable. While upper management doesn’t see things from this viewpoint, a responsible Produce leader must take a realistic and logical look at these goals in order to establish proper levels of expectations for the performance of the operation.

Because management’s stance on the attainment and setting of these goals is usually based on their knowledge and experience with other non-perishable departments, it only goes to show that when it comes to Produce “they just don’t get it!”

The process of reviewing these targets for your operation is vital to setting a proper tone and strategy to obtain and formulate proper levels of expectations for each area of operation. The first step is to look at the goals and separate them into two groups: attainable and unattainable. You are the best judge of what your operation is capable of and what is the potential to reach these various goals. You are the most qualified to determine which ones should be the focus of your efforts.

Typically, many of these goals are financial in nature and deal with sales and profit forecasts. However, the smart retailer understands that there are many facets to each one of these financial goals, and there may be many different ways to achieve these goals within the capability of your operation. Identifying the unique strategies and approaches that can work together to achieve the attainable goals will allow you to set the expectations of performance for all parts of your operation based in reality.

It is a catastrophic mistake to believe that your operation will be able to meet all the goals and targets that were set forth by management. Major damage can be caused to the morale of all your team by unattainable and unreasonable expectations of performance.

This “sum of all the parts” approach to your operation will help you to utilize the very best capabilities and talents from each and every member of your team.

Once you have identified all the options and parts of your operation that can contribute to attaining the reasonable goals you have identified, you now should take a closer look at each member of your team and determine what expectations should be set for them based on their skills, experience, and abilities. In this manner, you can set far more realistic expectations of each individual performance and put together a plan that will mesh all the players’ efforts and successes into a strategy that is destined to drive your operation to success.

This “sum of all the parts” approach to your operation will help you to utilize the very best capabilities and talents from each and every member of your team. It will also provide the impetus for the formulation of a dynamic, resourceful, and motivated group of produce professionals dedicated to the success of not only their own responsibilities but the team as a whole.

Another key benefit would be the establishment of a positive working environment at all levels, where each member can flourish and grow his or her capabilities to be a key asset to the operation.

This process does not mean that you completely ignore the “unattainable” goals for your operation, but it means utilizing the resources in the best way possible to achieve the realistic goals and provide your team with tangible and reasonable expectations for their performance. By establishing these positive goals, you have set the stage for superior performance. The realistic and logical establishment of every member’s performance expectations will allow them to work energetically to meet and exceed these expectations. With such effort, results could begin to approach the level of some of the “unattainable” goals set by management. The process of expressing your confidence in the expected performance of each team member can produce higher levels of achievement in all areas of the operation.

The purpose of all this setting of goals and expectations is to move your operation to the next level and achieve the monetary and fiscal targets that have been established for your operation. The innovative produce retailer will be the one who is able to manage realistic expectations of the performance for each of his team in terms of achieving “attainable” goals, while nurturing an environment that encourages and promotes exemplary effort and performance.

In this way, the overall operation improves and moves to the next level and, while not all goals might be met, the ones that are met may exceed overall expectations and lead to the total success of the operation achieving its overall goal for the new year.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to