The Wealth Cast Ep 37 - Dan Barnett

On episode 37 of The Wealth Cast, Charles Boinske talks to Dan Barnett, the creator of Make or Break Execution, and current CEO and owner of The Primavera Company. Dan’s experience in heading companies spans across several of the world’s largest corporations, and it has informed his Make or Break strategy. He talks to Chas about the importance of determining what the Make or Break is for your own company, in order to find the most expedient path to success.

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Hello, and welcome to The Wealth Cast. I’m your host, Charles Boinske. On this podcast we bring you the information that you need to know in order to be a good steward of your wealth, reach your goals and improve society.

Today, I’m joined by Dan Barnett. Dan is a well recognized expert on achieving exceptional results through people. Dan has headed companies for some of the world’s largest and leading corporations, including Nestle, Pillsbury, Weyerhaeuser, and Constellation Brands. In addition, he’s made regular appearances on CNBC, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal. When I first heard Dan speak several months ago, I immediately asked him to be a guest on the show. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Dan, welcome to The Wealth Cast. I’m so pleased to have you here to talk about your Make or Break Execution concept.

Thank you, Chas, for inviting me to be here.

Well, you’re very welcome. You know, Dan, we first met during your Vistage presentation to our group in State College a month or so ago, and I was really impressed by how you organize the conversation around the Make or Break, and some of the topics that we discussed were really valuable from my perspective.

So before we get into some of those details, why don’t we talk a little bit about just the overall concept of Make or Break and maybe how that fits into your career and your background, and how it was developed?

Yeah, my experience has been that in terms of executing well, in an organization, there are so many things that we need to do day in and day out in a company. You know, we don’t stay focused on the most important things. So the concept of the Make or Break is how do you identify the single most important thing in your organization that will most cause you to get to your vision? And once you know what that is, how do you organize your organization where everybody gets focused on that, and they work together on that, to get you where you want to go?

So there’s two ideas there. One is, what’s the most important thing? And the second is, how do you execute against the most important thing consistently in an organization?

So there’s two parts: there’s the identification process, and then there’s the execution process, which are obviously joined at the hip. 


But you have to focus on both of those issues.

Yes. Haven’t you found that in life and in business, that the bulls are actually pretty easy to spot? That it’s the little things that really trip us up?

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Chas, have you ever come to work on a Monday morning, all intent on working some really big important thing, something that really will move your business forward—but by nine o’clock in the morning, you’re up to your rear in alligators. And all day long, that’s what you end up dealing with. And Monday can turn into Tuesday, Wednesday—sometimes weeks or months go by. You look back on that big important thing, and you go, “I never made that much progress on it.” I mean, if you ever had a Monday morning like that?

Far too often.

I’ll tell you, you’re not alone on it. You know, when I was at Vistage, which is the world’s largest CEO membership organization, we did a survey of all of our members around the world. We asked them a question—we said, “What are the biggest pains and challenges that you have leading an organization?” And this is like 18,000 CEOs around the world. Top three in every single market around the world was staying focused on strategic things, and not being distracted by these urgent daily crisis I almost spend my whole day on every day. It’s something that we all struggle with as leaders.

So the concept of the Make or Break is well, how do you identify the most important thing, and make sure that is happening, week in week out in your organization? It’s what it’s all about.

Yeah. And so that’s where the first concept of squirrels and alligators ties in, right? That’s your first sort of hurdle or concept?

Yes, because the squirrels and alligators are those little things that jump up at you every day. Something that we all struggle with as leaders. They were top three in every market around the world. So people struggle with this. You have to deal with those things.

But the place you always start when you’re working on your Make or Break is with “Where are you going?” I think all good performance starts with clear direction. So you want to know where you’re going. So a lot of people have visions for their organization, you know—what they want to accomplish in the future. But so few people actually make it clear, specific and measurable, and if you don’t have a vision that’s measurable, you don’t know if you’re making any progress towards it. If you make it measurable, you can show progress towards it, which builds confidence in your organization, because people can see they’re doing something important. It also builds confidence.

And I like what Warren Buffett says about confidence. He says, “When there’s confidence in a company, it’s a little bit like oxygen. It’s really important. But people don’t think about it that much. But if you take it away for two minutes, it’s all they think about.” Because when you think about it, when confidence leaves an organization, what tends to replace it, in your experience? What replaces it when confidence leaves an organization?


Which is paralyzing to most companies if it’s there for very long.


So one way to build confidence is to show progress towards your vision. If you make your vision, clear, specific and measurable, unlike most visions, which is “just become the best at something,” which you have no measurement towards, alright? But if you make a clear, specific and measurable vision, you show progress towards it, it builds energy and confidence in an organization.

So you always start with, “What are you trying to accomplish? What’s going to be different about your organization? How do you describe the future of your company?” You get clear and specific and measurable about that, that sets you up to develop the most important things that you have to do that will keep you on track towards that, which is what your Make or Break is all about.

How important, in your view, is it to balance the desire to have the perfect Make or Break, versus one that is directionally correct and significant—that you can work towards and make an adjustment down the road if you gather additional information? How do you balance those?

Well, anything that you pick in your organization that you think is the single most important thing, and you go to work on that and you start executing that well, it’s never going to hurt you. Because why? You’ll start executing something way better.

If it’s not your Make or Break, you’ll know, and you’ll know this way: If the change that you’re making as you execute this doesn’t start moving you towards your vision at the pace you want to, it wasn’t your Make or Break. It’s not going to hurt you—you’re going to execute something else well. But if you find that as you start to execute your Make or Break in your organization, if it is not moving you towards your vision at the pace you want to, it wasn’t the right one.

So just go to the next thing that you thought about—maybe your number two idea—and start executing that well. And within, usually the first time people figure it out. But if it isn’t the first time, the second time, you’ll get it, and it’s not going to hurt to you one way or the other, you’re still going to be executing something well

So people get so upset about picking the perfect Make or Break. I say don’t worry about it. A lot of times you’re guessing at first. But once you begin to execute it, if it isn’t moving you towards your vision at the pace you want to, you know it’s something else. So that’s the way I look at that.

I think you had mentioned Red Scott’s quote about good decisions come from wisdom etc.


Let’s talk about that for a minute. Because I think that’s germane to this part of the conversation.

Well, Red Scott taught me something really, really important, which is the power of learning from your mistakes. And Red Scott made a comment one time I was talking to him; he’s good friend of mine. Red Scott won the Horatio Alger Award, which they give the one person in the world once a year—rags to riches, someone who’s pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps from nothing, that phenomenal success.

And I had made this big mistake, and I was talking to him about it, and he says Dan, he says, “You know, good decisions come from wisdom. And wisdom comes from experience. And experience comes from making bad decisions.” You know, I was thinking, there’s a lot of wisdom in that. I don’t know about you. But sometimes I think I learn more from my mistakes than I do from my successes.

One thing that I’ve learned over time, we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. We all have failures and losses. But it does not define us. What defines us is what do we do with it? 


Did we learn something and change the way we did business as a result of it? If we hurt somebody, did we apologize and try to set things right? Do we get ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep going? That’s what defines us, not the mistake.

So anytime I make a mistake or a bad decision or a failure or loss. I always look for what Red Scott was talking about, you know, which is what can I learn from that? That lesson is always in there. And so it’s about leadership. You don’t always do it right but you learn when you don’t do it right. And that’s the key to keep moving forward.

And this, I think, is a big issue for many folks in leadership. Because in my experience, folks in leadership, sometimes, it’s a big hurdle to start worrying less about making a mistake, and more about actually just making a decision, and learning from those decisions that turned out to be mistakes. That hurdle is really tough for many people. How do you coach people past that?

Well, as leaders, we feel fear all the time. And here’s the thing about fear: is when you make a decision, when you’re feeling that fear, there’s a pretty good chance you’re either going to be frozen by that fear and just not make a decision, or you’re going to overreact to the fear—one or the other.

I say, when you’re feeling the fear, step back for a second. Ask yourself what’s really going on. Talk to some people, you know? Bring it to people that can give some perspectives, because you don’t want to overreact or underreact, and that’s what fear does for you. You know? And just recognize it’s okay. We feel fear, you know, because we, you know, the situations that we live through as a leader. You know, you got to make big decisions about people, about strategy, about the way you’re doing things in a company, you know? And so you can feel this.

I’m just saying, when you do, don’t make your decision—step back, talk to some people, figure out what’s going on, so that you’re not either frozen or overreacting to it, you’re making an appropriate decision for what you’re feeling at that point in time. Very important aspect of leadership.

Is it fair to say that the cost of indecision is potentially much larger than the cost of making a decision that’s a bad one?

Usually, yes. Because you see leaders like this all the time, that really just can’t seem to make a decision. And what happens in a company where the leader is afraid to make a decision? What happens? You tell me what happens in a company where a leader is afraid to make a decision?

Well that becomes really contagious.


And it paralyzes the organization.

Exactly. Nothing happens. So as a leader, a lot of times, you don’t really know the answer, for sure. And if you’re waiting for trying to find the exact answer. I mean, when you think about it, what works better for you? Is it to do something “about right” now? Or to do something exactly right later, in your own experience? Chas, what works better for you?

“About right” now works better.

Yeah. You know why? Because exactly right later is perfection. If you’re waiting for that, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to do it. I say get started with it. It may be about right when you first start, but get started with it. And if it isn’t exactly right, it’s okay. You know, you’ll adjust off of that.

You know, Eisenhower, who was one of the greatest planners in history, he’s the guy that planned D-Day, you know, and the whole overlord thing, just an amazing planner. And he said, “Plans are nothing.” He said, “Planning is everything.” You know, it’s the idea of just actually thinking it through, putting a plan together, and then doing it, because it’ll always change once you start to actually execute it. So the key is to, you know about right now, put a plan together, talk to some people, think it through, figure out what you want to do, involve your organization in [it] so they’re connected to it, then do it. And it may not be perfect at first, but you can adjust off of that. That’s what the planning does. It allows you to adjust off of the real world once you actually execute something.

Before we go back to Make or Break—for an example, is it fair to say, in your experience, that the more significant the decision, the less likely you are to have perfect information about that decision for an organization?

Well, I don’t know about that. That is very possible, but sometimes you have a lot of good information. Even though it’s a very big decision, you still have a lot of good information. And so you take that information, you process it, you make a decision, and you keep going, and it could be a very, very big idea where you really have.

I mean, a good example was when I was at Pillsbury, Van de Kamp’s frozen fish. And what we needed to do was figure out what the consumers most wanted from us. And we did a big study. It’s like a thousand consumers, and what’s the most important thing when it comes to frozen fish, which was our main product? And it came back very simple and very clear: It basically was the freshest tasting product will win. That’s what to get swimmers really want when it comes to fish, is freshness.

So we brought that to our organization and made that really, really clear. We said that is our Make or Break. That’s the one thing, if we can do it really well in this company, we can make some progress against these big tough competitors. And we had competitors that were two and three times our size, owned by big companies, highly successful, with lots of resources. How were we going to gain on them when they were like three times our size? But the key was to get focused on the most important thing, in this case, it happened to be freshness.

So it’s a very big decision, we had a lot of information. And we just made the decision. And we brought that to the organization in a way that it was clear to them that this is the most important thing, which is about the leadership that you bring to your organization. Once you figure out what you’d like the organization to focus on—and it doesn’t all come from you. You work with your people. You figure out what’s the most important thing for us. And as you arrive on what that is, then it’s up to you as the leader to bring that to your organization with clarity and passion as a leader.

Yeah. Yeah.

By the way, this thing about passion, Chazz, let me ask you a question. Do you think that you are passionate and inspirational as a leader?


You know, a lot of leaders when I ask that question, answer what you just did, which is yes. But you know what, there’s a lot of leaders that don’t feel that way about them. And you know why? Most of us I think when we think about passion and inspiration and leadership, I think we think of this Tony Robbins, kind of charismatic stuff that he does. In my experience it’s never like that.  But you talk to a good leader for two minutes about where they’re going, what they’re trying to accomplish, how they’re going to make the world a better place? The passion is always there. 

My experience is it’s almost always understated. You’ll rarely see this charismatic stuff. But you don’t need to see that. 


But you want to know what it is. When you think about inspiration, Chas, who do you think you can most Inspire? As a leader? You said, You think you’re inspirational, but who do you think you can most Inspire?

Well, that’s a good question, I would hope it would be the rest of the leadership team, to get the momentum and sort of echoing of the mission and vision throughout the organization.

Yeah, and that’s important. And you can do that. But you know what, I would argue that is not that person you can most inspire. What I would argue, the only person you can really inspire is yourself.

Mmm hmm.

But if you’re inspired by it yourself, it spreads to everyone around you—you don’t need this charismatic stuff. Be inspired by yourself. Because when you bring this to your organization, they need to know that you really believe in this—that this is important, that you’re inspired by it. And if you’re inspired by it, it spreads to everyone around you. This is why I think the leadership of your Make or Break is just as important as defining what it is. Because when you bring it to your organization, if you make it really clear that this is the most important thing, and you want everybody to execute well around this, you’ll be just pretty amazed at what can happen in your company. Because people throughout your organization are going to be thinking through what they can do to move this thing forward, and amazing things will begin to happen.

So that whole idea of recognizing you don’t have to have this charismatic thing, but really believe it yourself, and when you bring it to your organization, make it clear. And I just think you’ll be amazed at what can happen in an organization through that kind of leadership.

I think those are really good points. You know, in my experience in leadership—if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, if you really don’t believe it in your heart and soul, it’s going to be sniffed out really quickly by whomever, whomever you’re trying to convince that it’s true.

And, you know, those of us that have been fortunate enough to be able to find a vocation or a mission, that is something that they really believe in, are much better able to execute throughout the organization. And that’s just my experience.

You know, you make such a good point there. I mean, the reality is that, you know, as a leader, the way that you actually bring stuff to your organization makes just such a huge difference. You know, you really, if you want your people to get their arms around your vision, and to execute the way that you want them to, and you don’t believe it, people will see that. You can’t really hide it. This is really your authenticity. If you really don’t believe in where you’re going. If you’re not excited by it yourself. People will see that. And it’s hard for me if I’m working for you, Chas, to get my arms around your vision if I know you’re not committed to it.

So when you’re figuring out what your Make or Break is, you always want to step back and ask yourself, does this matter to you? Would you be happy if this happened? And if you can say, “I would absolutely be happy if that would happen,” then it’s easy for your people, because they will know if it would make you happy. You can hide it for a little while, but not for very long, they will know it won’t make you happy—hard for them to commit themselves, you’re just going to change your mind.

Yeah. Right.

But if it would make you happy, they’re going to see that as well. And they could get their arms around and commit themselves to that very important aspect of you know, bringing these things to an organization is, you know, be sure it makes you happy that you believe in it. And you really want to see this happening in your company.

Yeah, I think one way to look at it, from my perspective is, what constituents are you trying to—who are the stakeholders you’re trying to help? 


And you know, in a, in a service business, that would be the end client, principally. And, and working back from that end result that you’re trying to achieve for that person or organization, back into the operations of your company, is really important. 

I like to think of always, what end result I’m looking for, and then work back what has to happen, for that end result to occur. 


That’s how I’ve always identified what you call “Make or Break.” We didn’t really have a good term for that. I’m going to totally usurp Make or Break from now on. But that’s sort of how we went through growing our own business. And it’s harder sometimes in a service industry to identify the one thing, like freshness.


But it’s doesn’t mean it’s any less important.


And working towards that over time, it is an iterative process. At least in my experience, it can be an iterative—probably should be an iterative process. Because if it’s a Make or Break that is really easy to identify, it probably means other competitors have identified it, and there may be people with more resources than you have to address it. Whereas if it’s a complicated end result that you’re trying to get to, perhaps an iteration, you can develop a process or, or a solution that is very hard for someone else to replicate. That’s just my—

Well, and that complicated thing that you do better than everybody else? That’s kind of your competitive advantage, typically, in companies. And I would say most successful companies have some kind of a competitive advantage over their, you know, their competitors, they can do something better than them.

But I’ll tell you something, Chas. A lot of times, that is not your Make or Break. Sometimes your Make or Break is, in fact, your competitive advantage—the thing that you do better than everybody else, which could be as you say, something that’s complicated and very good, that you’re just incredibly good at as an organization.

But you know, sometimes your Make or Break, it’s a weakness. It’s something that you do not do as well as your competitors. And you know what, even though you have a competitive advantage, like most companies do, it is not moving you towards your vision at the pace you want to. Why? There’s a weakness holding you back. So in some cases, you’re looking for the weakness that is holding you back. And you just need to fix that. And once you fix that weakness that’s holding you back, then your strength can work for you and your business can take off like a rocket.

So how do you know whether you should look for a strength or a weakness when you look for your Make or Break? And what I say is you always start by asking yourself, are you moving towards your vision at the pace you want to? And if you are moving towards your vision at the pace you want to, look for a strength, because there’s a great strength that you have that is moving you towards your vision at the pace you want to.

But a lot of companies say “We are not moving towards our vision at the pace we want to,” in which case you would look for the weakness that is holding you back. And if you can fix that weakness, all of a sudden your strengths will begin to work for you. And your business can really take off.

So yes, sometimes it’s that complicated thing. But a lot of times that thing that you do so well, it’s really not getting you where you want to go, because there’s a weakness holding you back. So sometimes you want to look for the weakness and fix that—that will be your Make or Break. And by fixing that weakness, you’ll take off like a rocket, which is exactly what happened to us at Nestle. We had a weakness holding us back. When we fixed that, all of a sudden, we tripled our size in three years, became the number one brand in the US for 100% juice products, then we could expand it globally. That all came from fixing the weakness, which was our Make or Break in that case.

So it takes some experience to identify or to choose at any given time, which you’re going to focus on—is it a weakness or a strength, I imagine. But the central message that I’m hearing from you is, don’t be afraid to change it, don’t be afraid to make an adjustment—adjustments are part of the growing process. is, it’s just going to happen.

It will happen, yeah. And be open to whether or not it’s a strength or a weakness. All I say is if you’re not moving towards your vision at the pace want to look for a weakness that might be holding you back. And if you are moving towards it at the pace you want to, look for the great strength that you have. So that’s how you know whether you should look for a strength or a weakness.

You spend time on clear direction—I think all good performance starts with clear direction—you spend time on that, all right? So that you know what you’re doing, and it’s clear, specific and measurable for your future. Then you figure out what your Make or Break is, which is the most important thing. The key there is to get your whole organization focused on that, so that you can actually get where you want to go, you know? And then bring it to your organization with some real leadership as a leader, where you have passion for it, and your work with your organization, engage them in it, so everybody’s on the same page. And then you can begin to put the executional things that I talked about into place.

Yeah, I think just to touch on one more time before we go into execution—you know, in my experience, working with leaders, and great leaders, people I’ve worked with over the years—what makes them really good is their willingness to admit an error, a willingness to be authentic. None of them have been really charismatic, as you sort of alluded to before, in terms of the Tony Robbins type of charisma. It’s always been folks that are dedicated, focused, willing to admit mistakes, honest about what their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses are, and willing to share credit for the successes and sort of not dwell on the failures.

Yes. I think actually, one of the keys is to work with your organization to figure out what are the activities that a company needs to do that will cause a result to happen?

The problem with most of the metrics that we look at in companies is that they’re backwards-facing. Because we tend to look at results, and all results are backwards facing because by the time it’s a result, it’s over. But if you can step back and say, “Well, wait a minute, we want to achieve this result, what do we actually do day in and day out in this company that causes that result to happen?” So you get down to the activity level. And what you want to do is put those activities together knowing that if you do this activity today, you’ll get a result tomorrow. 

And then once you know what those activities are, you put them into a dashboard so that you track them. And then you can make sure that those activities are happening week in and week out in your company. And if you do the activities today, you get the result tomorrow, and therefore you’re beginning to face forward, instead of facing backwards when you run your business. 

When you only look at results—and results are ultimately important, you got to get the results—but the only way you get those is by doing something. So the key to executing well is to actually identify, what do you do? These results don’t happen magically. What do you do? And when you figure out what you do today that causes that result tomorrow, you put it into a dashboard, and you track those activities, now you start moving towards your vision at the pace you want to.

This is how you stay on track. This is how you execute well, by moving beyond just the results, which is ultimately what you’re trying to get, and you get down to what do you do in terms of actual actions and activities. I call it a value chain of activities that leads to results. And by identifying that, tracking those activities, you’re now looking forward, and you’ll get to your vision at a much faster pace than you would otherwise. And that’s the key to execution.

Yeah, in my experience with dashboards—and I’ve used them extensively in the past—it is a big hurdle sometimes for organizations to go, to step back from the results and start looking at activities. And then it’s another hurdle, once you’ve started tracking activities, to start to realize that well, maybe you’re not tracking the right ones, once some period of time has gone by and you’re not seeing the outcomes that you’re—the results that you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to change the activities that you’re tracking. Maybe you didn’t get it right the first time.

So I wondered if you could comment on just getting started tracking, rather than worried about tracking the perfect thing?

Yeah, I promise you, you will start tracking activities that don’t make any difference. You know? But you know what, you’ll see it. You know? What happens is over time as you look at these different activities—because you don’t know at first you’re kind of guessing we do this, we do that it’ll get us where we want to go—and then you begin to track it. And you’ll see over time, which of those activities really have much less effect on your results, and which of those activities have more effect on the results. And you’ll begin to see that.

When you see that, stop doing those things that don’t have so much impact, and do more of the things that have more impact. And that accelerates you getting to your Make or Break, and ultimately, your vision. You pick up so much when you put these activities together and track them. If they’re really activities that you’ll be facing forward, you’ll know how often you have to do them, and you’ll be tracking that you do them as frequently as you need to. And then over time, you’ll see which ones have less impact and which have more. You do less than some, more of others, and it accelerates you getting where you want to go, you pick up all of that, from tracking activities and paying attention to it.

Yeah what gets measured gets done, right?


So also, tracking the activities, in my experience, sends a clear message to the rest of the organization about what’s important. What does the organization think is important to getting the job done? Nothing is more clear than on a weekly or monthly or whatever basis you’re using, showing the actual activity levels for the things that you think are important that the organization thinks are important to its stakeholders.

Yeah. And I encourage you to do it weekly, because if you wait for a month, you can be too far off track by the end. Stay on top of these. You don’t have to do it for everything, just for these single most important activities. Make sure those are happening every weekend in your organization. I just think it makes a big difference.

In your experience. Dan, having helped lots organizations do this, there’s always a question of how many things should we be tracking?


How should an organization think about that? Is it relative to the value chain? Does it have to do with the complexity of the offering of the product? What do you think?

Well, my experience with most companies—most companies track somewhere between 10 and 20 activities. And if they keep those activities on track, they will get to their vision, because these are the most important things. So somewhere between 10 and 20 is a typical amount for a company.

And what you want to do is, you really want to involve your people in developing this stuff, all right? Because you want everybody to be working towards your Make or Break and your vision in your organization. So by engaging people and involving people throughout your organization, they will understand why this is your Make or Break, why these activities are the most important. And by involving your people, then everybody is on the same page. And get them all together every week from all throughout—all your key players. Not everybody, but just the key players in your company that are going to be leading this, and have them work together. And when things get off track, you can get together and problem solve and get them back on track. So you never get very far off track from where you’re trying to go.

Yeah. Again, in my experience, weekly is what we sort of evolved to, and that worked really well. Everyone was very clear about where we were headed and what the activities were, and it also gave the leadership of the organization the ability to say, “Well, you know, what, this week, we didn’t have quite as many activities. Why was that? Is there some issue that we need to address? How can we make this work better? We think that this is an important component of the value chain—how can we make this operate more effectively or efficiently?”

It was extremely helpful. And I think talking about the value chain a little bit at this point would be helpful to the listeners just to understand how the dashboard and the value chain sort of go together.

Yeah. So a value chain is basically a series of actions that creates value. That’s the way you define a value chain: series of actions that creates value. So when you know what you’re trying to accomplish—in this case, it is your Make or Break, which is really your core strategy, right? And so you want to make that happen, because that’s going to drive you towards your vision the most of anything you’re going to do, alright? So by identifying what those activities are that will cause that to happen, you are now facing forward because you’re doing the activities today that will cause your Make or Break to happen tomorrow. And so that’s the key there, is really, what are the actions that we do today, that gives us the result we want in the future?

And the result you want is your Make or Break. This is the thing you want to be sure is always happening in your company. And if you identify the actions you do today—I call them activities, but it’s really an action that you do today that will cause your Make or Break to happen in the future—then you are now facing forward because you’re doing something today that causes a result that you want to get. And that’s the way that a value chain works.

The whole purpose of a value chain is to stop running your organization by looking backwards. And that’s what most of us do. Most of the reports we get across our desk as leaders are results, because we care about the results. But when you look at results, it’s already over. Once it’s a result, it’s done. We’re behind the eight ball at that point in time. You know, I grew up in a farming community, and to use a farming analogy, the horses are out of the barn—hard to get him back in at that point in time, you know?

So what you want to do is you care about those results, because ultimately, that’s what you’re trying to accomplish, but you’re looking backwards when you look at results. And that’s what most of us see when we’re running our companies. But you got to turn that around and say, “What do we do today—hat’s an activity or an action we do today—that will get us that result in the future?” Once you begin to do that, now you’re executing week in and week out and your organization in a way that causes you to get the results that you want.

So as an organization, let’s assume that we’ve identified our Make or Break, and we’ve created a dashboard to measure the activities that are going to get us along that, you know, along that value chain towards succeeding and executing on the Make or Break. On a weekly basis, what should we be doing as an organization? What do you recommend in terms of keeping momentum going?

Yeah, that’s such a great question. So the whole point there is, on a weekly basis, have a dashboard that lists those activities—those 10 to 20 activities that you might be tracking.

So you get this group of people together that are responsible for them—have them report out to everybody, “Here’s what we’re supposed to do today, and here’s what we actually did,” all right? And so you’re creating real accountability in an organization because people can see that you know, the most important things that you were supposed to be doing, you either did it or you didn’t. So by reviewing it together as a group, you create accountability.

And then you ask clarifying questions, you find out what really the issue was. And once you know what the issue is, you can go into a second meeting—these are very short meetings, you’re talking 30 minutes meetings, all right? And you work on solving any problems that come up. And so every week, you’re reporting out on how did you do with these activities you’re supposed to be doing that week? Are you on track or off track? if you’re off track, you problem solving, get yourself back on track. And you do that together as a team.

And you want to be prepared to put more resources in that area, if you need to, you know, to work together to come up with new ideas, new things to try. There’s a lot of innovation in this process. What can you do differently this week that you weren’t doing last week? This comes out of these weekly meetings, you’re actually looking at the activities and you want to be sure everything is on track—you’ve done it the number of times you’re supposed to. And when it gets off track, which it always will: problem solve, more ideas, more resources, more ways to help get back on track, and put that into place. And it’ll just keep you always moving towards your Make or Break, and ultimately, your vision.

Yeah, resource management is certainly one of the key functions of leadership, right? I mean, identifying—it’s one thing to identify the area that needs work. It’s another thing to dedicate the appropriate amount of resources to that area to eliminate that hurdle.

Yes. And that’s what the meeting—the meeting is about the resources. They’re going to actually do it. So every week, those people, those resources are getting together, and they’re saying, “Here’s how it’s working. And when it’s not working, here’s what we have to change to get it to work again.”

Let’s just touch on dashboards once again. I think those of us that have used dashboards in the past, the first thought is always, “How do we make this really fancy looking dashboard with dials on it, and speedometers and all this stuff, that looks really cool?” But it’s not really necessary, is it? It’s a simple dashboard, made out of an Excel spreadsheet with the data hand-entered, can work?

Yeah. You know, at Pillsbury, we had a handmade dashboard that we built ourselves, you know? And they don’t, they really do not have to be complicated. The key is that you’re tracking that those activities are happening.

They can be very simple, but they can also be very complicated, too, there’s some wonderful tools out there that you can buy that just go into your ERP system or your CRM system, and they just pull that information out. They build the most beautiful dashboards you’ve ever seen in your life. And most of them are cloud-based, and they charge per user. Many are not that expensive.

But you can go either way. It really doesn’t matter whether you build a simple Excel spreadsheet, which I’ve done before, or you’ve used a very sophisticated chart, which I’ve done as well. And they both work equally well. But don’t get hung up by the way that you do it. You can do it simply, you can do it more complicated. It just depends on what works better for you in your organization.

Yeah, some of the most successful folks that I’ve known, and business owners, have kept their dashboard on a three by five index card, you know? That they update weekly just to see where they are as an organization, are they doing the things they need to do? So I think encouraging people to just start dashboarding, rather than worrying about perfection, is very valuable, at least in this person’s experience.

Yeah, about—as we talked about earlier—it’s about right now. It started with it. Again, sometimes ours was a very crude and ugly thing, but highly effective from day one. Other times, we had different systems that were really much more sophisticated, and they work just as well. It really depends on what you have, and the way you want to approach it. But don’t let, you know, again, the complication of trying to do it exactly right, stop you and slow you down. Get started with it.

I think it’s a fantastic advice. And the booklet or pamphlet that you have developed, Make or Break Execution, we’re going to make available in the show notes on on our website. It’s a great sort of primer on getting started, and what the considerations are, and there are some resources there for dashboarding as well—web links, etc., that the listener can go to and and start the process if they’re not used to dashboarding at this point.

But I think, Dan, you’ve given us a really good overview of Make or Break Execution. This is a complicated—but really not, once you really think about it, I think it’s not as complicated as it seems, when you first start having a conversation about dashboards and, and mission and vision and execution.

It all boils down to getting started, and learning from the mistakes that you make, and iterating your way to success. You know, I’ve really found your presentation to the Vistage group that I belong to, to be really helpful. And this conversation has been a further help to me. So I really appreciate it.

Well, thank you for inviting me. And this thing about “complicated”—I’m all about uncomplicating things. So your Make or Break is the one thing. You’ve got lots of things to do. But what’s the one thing if you did it incredibly well, that would most cause you to get there? And so you really want to simplify your business. You don’t want to try to be doing everything every day, because you really can’t. But if you can identify the most important thing, get everybody on board with that, put a dashboard together, and execute the most important thing, i.e. your Make or Break, really, really well, you will move towards your vision at the pace you want to, by actually simplifying things, and making it less complicated, and knowing what you need to do week in and week out in your company, and getting everybody working on that.

You’re really simplifying it. And that’s the key thing here. Don’t worry about all the things that you tend to worry about, and get started with it. And whatever, wherever you’re trying to go. I think if you do this, I think you’ll achieve it. And it’s really the message I always want to bring and leave with people.

It’s interesting that you say—what you say about simplification, because in so many aspects of life, we think the key to success is adding complexity. Whether that’s in sports—you know, I’m a fly fisherman, whether it’s buying 17 fly rods—or whatever the case may be. But in business, it’s the same thing.

You go through this curve where it becomes very steep in the beginning where you think “I’ve got to acquire tools and technology and etc., etc., etc., make things more complex.” And then invariably reach a point where you realize you can divest a lot of the things you’ve accumulated and probably have more success as a result of the lower level of complexity. And it seems clear to me that that’s what you’re advocating here with Make or Break.

Yeah, it’s really doing first things first, week in and week out in your company. Simplify it. Absolutely. I love your fly fishing example.

Yeah, it’s close to my heart, and very, very true in my experience.

So I really appreciate the conversation, Dan. I hope this is the first of many that we have in the future talking about these topics. I appreciate your passion on the subject. It’s clear to me that, you know, your experience has created this energy that fuels your desire to help other people in these areas and it’s really apparent and appreciated.

Thank you, Chas.

Thank you for joining Dan Barnett and me today on the podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation about Make or Break Execution. We’ve added information about Dan—his contact information, etc., are on the show notes on the website. In addition, we’ve provided a copy of Dan’s publication, Make or Break Execution: The Core of Success, that you’re free to download and put to work in your own organization. I hope you found it useful and I wish you the best in the future. Stay well. Thanks for listening.


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About Dan

Dan Barnett, creator of Make or Break Execution, has headed companies for some of the world’s leading corporations including Nestlé, Pillsbury, Weyerhaeuser, and Constellation Brands as well as running smaller private companies. He is currently the CEO and owner of The Primavera Company, a small real estate and natural gas company with operations in three states. Dan has a global consulting and speaking business and is Chair of two Vistage private advisory boards in Reno Nevada.

Barnett has appeared regularly on CNBC’s “Squawk Box”, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal to speak on CEO confidence and leadership. Named “U.S. Speaker of the Year” by TEC Canada, “Overseas Speaker of the Year” by TEC Australia, winner of Vistage International’s “Fast Track” award and recipient of the coveted “500 Club” award, Barnett is an internationally recognized consultant and speaker.

Barnett serves on four boards: TrendSource, a leader in business intelligence; Ziegenfelder Company, the maker of Twin Pops ice-pops; California Fruit Wine Company; and the DRI Foundation, a global leader in environmental research and part of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Dan earned his B.S. from the University of Nevada and his MBA from the University of Maryland.


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