Set Clear Expectations

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the July 2021 issue of Produce Business.

In order to establish a clear path for your operations as we move into the “new” world of Produce Retailing, the successful produce executive will review and analyze what is expected to be accomplished by your operations. Upper management sometimes feels that this is a waste of time as they have set strategic goals for every operation in the store and expect the individual departments to follow through on those goals.

Given that management almost always formulates its strategies by using previous year’s numbers and other static measures, these goals that have been set do not take into account the unique and challenging nature of the produce operation. This is nothing new for upper management in the changing times we are facing, and once again only shows that “they just don’t get it!”

The importance of setting clear expectations for your operation cannot be overstated. Without this targeted direction, all segments of the operation will suffer from lack of execution. No aspect of the operation should be overlooked when setting these expectations and outlining the expected execution as well as the consequences of noncompliance.

No aspect of the store operation should be overlooked when setting expectations and aligning them in a complete program to achieve the desired operation and profitable presentation of the department.

Too often, we sent lofty expectations of performance without any direction on how to execute them properly. Additionally, any expectation of performance without assigned consequences is worse than doing nothing at all. Given the difficulties we have just endured during the pandemic, this exercise must be accomplished and set in motion as soon as possible. Otherwise, we run the risk of continuing a gradual degradation of store operations.

The first place to start with clear expectations is in the store operation. Everyone on the produce team should be clear on what is expected of them in terms of the proper operation of the department and its resulting presentation to the customer. Clear and concise direction and communication concerning each aspect of the operation from back room to sales floor is absolutely essential to forming strong expectations and successful execution of department goals. We also need to make it clear what would be the consequences of not following through or meeting the expectations that are set for the department. It is critical that the enforcement of these consequences not be simply “lip service” but carry the weight of responsibility to everyone in the department.

No aspect of the store operation should be overlooked when setting these expectations and aligning them in a complete program to achieve the desired operation and presentation of the department to enable the successful achievement of the produce department’s sales and profit goals. The final step in this area would be to clearly communicate these expectations to store management so they can help you evaluate and promote the execution of your expectations.

The second area to set clear expectations is in the backstage support of store operations. This would include your direct staff, buyers, and your merchandisers overseeing the stores. Everyone ag headquarters and regional offices should have a clear understanding of the expectations for the stores but also the expectation that you have set for their performance in support of the operation. Once again, the key is to establish expectations that are clear and concise as to their execution but also have consequences of accountability for their performance.

An additional aspect of the backstage operation expectations would be scheduling a meeting with other areas of store support, especially trucking and warehouse management. This meeting should be one of providing updated information on what expectations you have for store operations and how they can help to achieve these expectations with their performance and support. Once these internal meetings within the total operation are completed and have successfully communicated the expectations to everyone directly involved with the produce operation, be sure to clearly communicate and recruit the full support of all retail management so that they can be aware of these expectations and can help you observe and enforce your expectations.

One last area in which to set expectations is with your suppliers. Be absolutely certain that you and your buyers are clearly communicating the expectations you have for all product that they are purchasing in terms of size, quality, maturity, and the value equation. This initial step at the start of the supply chain will help to achieve your expectations all the way through the process to store level. Your suppliers will certainly appreciate this clarity of requirements for your operation and should be evaluated on how well they meet your expectations.

A concentrated effort on setting and communicating expectations (and the consequences of not complying) for all aspects of your produce operation will pay immediate dividends by improving and reinforcing your vision for your produce operation to the consumer. In a time when is far too easy to try to return to the status quo and let our operations drift toward mediocrity, the successful retailer will resist this temptation and select the course of action that will positively affect and grow the results of his or her operation.

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