Jeanne Gray, Publisher of American Entrepreneurship Today (R)

Being strategic is planning a course of action to achieve your goals. This skill is shown to us at a very early age through the childhood game of checkers, an early lesson in thinking strategically. The victor is the one who is able to see a few moves ahead to advantageously jump over opponents and reach the far side of the board in the fewest number of moves.

Business decision making may not be as easy as checkers, but the thought process is fundamentally the same. It is an analysis of the impact that one step will have, identifying the alternatives that may result next and then evaluating each one in relation to the first. This anticipatory process helps one to capitalize on the outcome of the first step.

Thinking strategically can be a very valuable tool in growing your company since it will save time and money. By planning a series of steps to initiate change, thinking strategically lowers the likelihood that progress may stall after the initial step, since the planned succeeding step generates valuable momentum. Many decision makers make the mistake of focusing on one decision at a time with the belief that this focus provides clarity. It does for the immediate issue, but a plan of action will yield greater progress and results---as experienced by the victor in checkers, the champion of thinking strategically.

The business plan is the starting point for thinking strategically and once a plan is in place it is important that from time to time to have an updated "snapshot" of the business' performance. This snapshot requires an honest appraisal of the people and processes of the company. Thinking strategically takes some thinking ahead. Before you plan additional steps to grow the company , you must determine if the company at its present size is functioning well. This is the best time to address deficiencies, so that new demands associated with growth do not compound existing issues.

This periodic snapshot both updates the company's business plan and establishes a near term course of action based on the latest information and data. The snapshot is a essential part of the process of thinking strategically. Such a snapshot is not necessarily easy to accomplish since the business owner often focuses more on their vision than on the details and may be so consumed with daily responsibilities that time is not available. However, since thinking strategically is so essential, a consultant can audit areas of the company which generally includes reviewing the business plan, probing key departments and analyzing the financials to confirm there are no serious issues that would slow or prevent growth. Strengths will also be identified which will contribute to a better strategic plan.

Thinking strategically is a discipline that must be developed. Thinking strategically must be mastered. It is a way of thinking that can be honed and when a foundation of experience has been achieved greater confidence will emerge in planning the long term direction of a business. Take a look at the decisions you are making today and determine whether you have truly thought out the different results that could come from those decisions and if you are prepared take advantage of all options that are presented you.

Jeanne Gray is founder and publisher of American Entrepreneurship Today.   She has built three companies in three differenet industries  In addition to now publishing American Entrepreneurship Today, she consults to entrepreneurs and growth stage companies.

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