Strategic Thinking

It has been a busy month at Amerivet Services, and I can’t believe it has already been that long since my last blog entry. I’ve got plenty of things on my mind, and in June I implemented a couple of changes that have given me even more to think about. Beyond the daily tasks and customer needs I’ve always got plenty to think about. So much in fact, that I really don’t have enough time to think about it all. This happens a lot in business so it’s important to prioritize everything, even your thoughts.

Luckily my military background has given me training and experience that allow me to reasonably prioritize most things in my life (even thinking), and hopefully get the best mileage and benefit from it all. With everything we have going on around here, priorities are huge and change quickly.

This is where my military background comes in. Back when I joined the Air Force, we had two “fighting” commands: Strategic Air Command, and Tactical Air Command. There were other “support” commands, but the way to win the Cold War amounted to thinking (and operating) from strategic and tactical mindsets. In a bit of oversimplification, “strategic” amounts to what’s needed to win the war, and “tactical” amounts to what’s needed to win the battle.

The military still operates somewhat that way today, though there are new commands that have to think and plan from both strategic and tactical directions to accomplish their objectives. This is because the 90’s budget cuts forced the military to operate lighter and more flexible.

This is how Amerivet Services operates. We have to think tactically and strategically all at once. Our “war” is to be a long term reasonably successful business. We’re here for the long haul and aim to still be here solving problems if you call us in 2025. That means we need to achieve the knowledge and equipment that will be needed along the way, and meet financial and marketing goals to support the effort. Our daily battles amount to solving the problems for customers and making sure our current knowledge and equipment base is ready for action.

When pricing a project, if I say “well, the cost of the next 5 minutes’ effort doesn’t really cost that much,” I’m looking down a tunnel that doesn’t show the whole picture, and this is a mistake I’ve made many times. The thing is, it’s easy to forget the investment that was made to put this company together, and it’s easy to forget the investment it will take to keep it going. That investment is only partially financial. SOME of that investment amounts to 30 years of my life, running around like a vacuum cleaner learning every skill and idea I can find. Some of that investment also includes having a wife that buys into my ideas and encourages me to achieve them. A little more of that investment comes from the connections I’ve made with other skilled people who can advise, coach, and actively solve problems for my customers. Then there’s a big investment in tools and equipment to make it all happen. So this is a case of tactical thinking gone wrong, because it doesn’t meet strategic objectives.

As far as strategic thinking goes, I have to define a set of goals on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. And those goals have to consider a set of five year goals. Where do I want to be in five years? How do I get there? What milestones to I have to set and meet in order to make it happen? Considering that I manage to wear out a truck every five years, that’s an easy goal to set. Others are a little more elusive and require some thought.

Tactical thinking seems easy, right? Well it probably would be if your only objective in life was to win the battle. “We’ll just serve a few customers today and then be really happy if any more of them call tomorrow.” It sounds like a really blissful life, except that no customers will call tomorrow if you don’t make the right steps today. So tactical thinking is about getting through the day, but it’s also with consideration for the “Strategic Plan.”

How do you make daily customer demands fit your strategic plan? First of all, you have to plan your marketing effort strategically and hardly ever tactically. Having a lot of customers doesn’t mean you’re able to make a profit from them. They have to be the right fit, and your marketing needs to attract the right customers. Amerivet Services is such a dynamic business that his is a hard nail to hit, but I’m getting a lot better at it.

When I get the phone to start ringing, I’m still in tactical mode but the strategy has to be in mind. If a customer isn’t the right fit, I always try to help them through their problem anyway because that’s what we do. Problem solving is our main line of work!