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Strategic Thinking

Eagle will complete its 10th year in business in August of this year. We certainly are not a multi-billion dollar global company, but we have managed to grow to be a $100 million national company. Often I am asked for reasons why we have had some success, and one of the things I point to is our quarterly "strategic planning sessions".

Strategic planning is probably the wrong name because we don't go through a formal strategic planning methodology at each of these meetings. In truth, we don't even really operate strategically at all of these meetings. I would suggest that twice a year the management team looks very tactically at the challenges we are facing, and together spends some time coming up with solutions. The other two meetings are more strategic.

What does that mean? I sometimes see the eyes glaze over when I talk about this subject while people say, "Oh yes, that's a great idea" not really knowing what the heck I'm talking about!

My definition of strategic thinking (not from any dictionary) is basically taking the view of the business up to a higher level. For instance, if we are having trouble meeting our numbers in a branch the tactical (not strategic) answer might be to push the sales team to get more orders, and push the recruiting team to respond to more orders. That is a tactical response to an issue ... the management team might be able to help with tactical suggestions about how to achieve the increased productivity but it is still not strategic thinking. A strategic approach to the problem might be to step back and understand our approach to that market. We probably can't fix the issue for this year with strategic thinking, but we can position us for greater success into the future.

Strategic thinking might cause us to change our direction on a product offering. An example in our industry might be "payrolling" which is a very low margin, high maintenance offering that our clients expect us to handle as a part of our role as a staff augmentation company. Yet, we can prove to our clients that, despite their belief, this is actually consistently more expensive as a solution than engaging us to find resources! So ... perhaps a strategic direction we could take would be a higher level of education at our clients, with proof that payrolling is not good for them ... or us!

Strategic thinking might have us look at our business and evaluate the profitability of certain branches, or service offerings and find alternate approaches.

Strategic thinking challenges the conventional wisdom that becomes part of a company's culture. If you are not prepared to rethink how you do business today, then guaranteed you will find yourself in trouble.

The kinds of questions we ask ourselves challenge our business model, the very business that we are in and the geography that we operate in. These are questions that are usually very uncomfortable and make the management team think in a way that is different from addressing the everyday challenges of running a staffing company. They are the kinds of questions that make your head hurt ... but if you find great answers then just maybe they are the reason why you will be successful tomorrow!

For any company, strategic thinking has to be a part of the culture, and it can only be achieved by getting out of the day-to-day operation and asking the hard questions. Many companies find outside consultants to help with this process, some use advisors or board members from other industries to get fresh thinking ... whatever works, but as Nike (and I bet they plan!) says "Just Do It!"