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Avoid the execution trap

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 30 September 2016

Three key components of any successful team are its people, strategies and execution. For Jack Harkins, many teams focus too much time on execution.

Among his many interests, Harkins, of Harkins Leadership Development Corporation, Portage, Wisconsin, works with high school and college sports teams and consults with dairy farm management teams who supply milk to Grande, a Wisconsin-based cheese manufacturer.



He finds many common attributes of leadership on the sports field and dairy farm.

From his perspective, too many teams focus on execution, especially when things go wrong, Harkins told attendees at the National Mastitis Council regional meeting, June 30 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“Anyone in position of leadership or influence must remember to dance between the people, strategies and execution. But be careful of the execution trap,” Harkins said. “Much of your success will depend on your ability to attract and retain quality people. The more time you spend with people, the less time you have to spend on execution.”

Harkins urged leaders to analyze the people on their team, giving grades of A, B or C based on attitude, not necessarily aptitude.

“Great organizations attract and retain great people,” he said. “Look to avoid hiring C players or remove them. You can get a C player to be a B player, but you’ll never elevate them to become an A player.”


“‘A players’ want to know expectations, work in a positive environment, seek respect and demand feedback,” he said.

Harkins offered several recommendations regarding strategies and execution once the right people are in place.

  • Determine the results you want, then manage behavior. Results are products of human behavior, so be clear about your definition of acceptable behavior and manage it daily.

Harkins urged managers and leaders to analyze their own behaviors. “The employees’ camera is on you at all times,” he said. “You set the tone for the culture of the organization. Leaders exude positive energy, look in the mirror when things don’t go right and strive for improvement but do not become satisfied.”

  • Be clear about expectations. Both the expectations of the owner/employer and employee must be considered. Don’t have “unwritten” rules. Define expectations and hold people accountable.

  • Provide measurable goals and objectives. Show employees what to do, how to do it and explain why. Develop a deal: Identify what you want from them, and recognize what they want from you.

  • Communicate. Types of communications include many forms of verbal, written and visual. “The more ways you communicate, the better,” Harkins said. “Repeat your message over and over.”

  • Accept discussions of problems – but not complaining. Problems and challenges can be addressed; complaining creates a negative work environment.

  • Recognize and praise success. Harkins urged people in leadership and management positions to “catch people doing things right.”

“That which gets rewards gets repeated. And you’ll feel better when you compliment people,” he said.  end mark