Market View

Market View: Don't Just Do the Right Things; Do Things Right

Just as football teams practice blocking and tackling, we need to make execution and implementation a priority.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Consumers are changing and so is the food industry. Millennials and Gen Zs are shopping and eating very differently than previous generations. They are demanding more convenience, more taste and flavor and more fun.

Competition is changing, and everybody is selling food. There is more consolidation, more dominance of a few, and more alternative channels for food. With all the talk of change, an executive would likely believe that tomorrow is going to be nothing like yesterday.

However, change is slow. Millennials didn’t just appear overnight, nor did dollar stores start selling food, or Blue Apron mailing dinner home start overnight. I believe that all these changes are real and are having an impact on the food business. However, one must be careful not to be distracted by the changes and forget about the things that remain constant.

One factor that is often lost in the hoopla of change is the successful implementation of plans and strategies. Food companies seem to be more interested in creating or changing their plans, but they should be more concerned about implementing the plans that they've already made.

This is the time of year when the football training camps conclude and the season is about to start. What have these teams been practicing are the basics of “blocking and tackling.” They realize that any team can become so engrossed with the excitement of the game that they fail to correctly do the basics.

We need to follow some of the same rules. We need to make execution and implementation a priority regardless of what is changing or what is not changing.

One excuse I hear is that the executives are professionals and they know what they are doing. Well, these professional athletes are equally professional and they still go over the basics. Ironically, the more things change the more important following the basics becomes. Think of the quote attributed to Gary Player: “The more I work and practice, the luckier I seem get.”

A large wholesaler had a meeting with its sales force to explain a new strategy to adjust for the new competitive landscape. It was well thought-out and even interesting to the sales force. But during the Q&A one salesperson said, “Before we try this new approach, could we just try to get the orders correct and on time?” The blocking and tackling of the business needs to honed, not only new plans and strategies.

I’m not sure how the industry took its eyes off implementation. Maybe there has been less training and less mentoring of young people every year as budget cutting has given everyone too much work. Budget cuts often come first to the “softer” line items such as training. At the same time, downsizing leads to the loss of some of the more experienced people who were involved in the implementation and execution activities. They're being replaced by younger (a.k.a. cheaper) people.

Or maybe as much fault rests with the planners and strategists as they often have little tactical experience and seem oblivious to the issues of implementation. Many of the young MBAs consider it a badge of honor not to have been in the field. How many times have people responsible for implementation said, “What were those people thinking up there?”

This is why I recommend to all my students who are going out to get jobs that they start in the field. I know most don’t want to end up there, but that is where the rubber hits the road. All the possible errors or bad decisions show up at the shelf. It is my opinion that people who worked in the stores have a much better view of the food business than the Ivy League MBAs.

It remains to be seen if technology will make the implantation task more effective. Things like robots to monitor planograms and out of stocks, and Augmented Reality to put signage in stores, etc., may bring managers closer to what is happening in store. But as John le Carré wrote, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

There is no doubt the world is changing and many if not all of the changes discussed in previous articles will be realized. There is also no doubt that, as manufacturers, distributors and retailers, we will have to change to meet the new reality head-on, and we will have to make a lot of changes if we are to stay in business.

However, making changes should not distract anyone from the business basic that stays constant: implementation. Regardless of what things change, it should be clear that every food company needs to get back to the basics and not just do the right things but do things right.