In the aftermath of World War II in Korea, a department store owner named Koo In-Hwoi founded a trading company that had a very popular and successful face cream product called “Lucky.” Addressing a problem with the product container lids, he started up a division focused on plastics. Plastics turned into radios and fast forward 50 years to today, that company is now LG, the 2nd largest TV manufacturer in the world.
There are lots of books and writers who explore stories like this – How did it come about? Who made what decision when? Was it pure luck or something else? One of my favorite books on the subject is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, who looks at the combination of right place, right time, and right decision.
What I like about these stories is tracing the forward-looking decisions that were made. I prefer to think of them as “decisions made today to shape tomorrow.” Most people just call them strategic decisions. Unfortunately all too often, we get myopically focused on making tactical decisions. These are decisions that are good for today.
Don’t get me wrong. Good tactical decisions are critical to operations. Project management? That requires good tactical decisions. Making sales quotas? Good tactical decisions again. But the decisions that are positioning for tomorrow are a little trickier to see coming and even more challenging to execute successfully. Strategic decisions, when played out over time, position you for more success than if you only made excellent tactical decisions, and I love that!
My favorite college football team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, recently played a team from a weaker division the week before our big season-ending rivalry game against the hated yet formidable Auburn Tigers. Football games are full of tactical decisions, from game logistics to play-calling. Interestingly, though, the game itself was a result of a strategic decision made the previous year. Alabama specifically scheduled the weaker division team because they run an offense similar to Auburn. When Alabama began preparing to play that team, they were essentially getting a week’s head start on preparing for Auburn’s offense. That’s a strategic decision coming to fruition.
At this point, you are probably asking “What on earth does any of this have to do with workforce management or scheduling in hospitals or any of the normal things you blog about?!” Fair question. Stay with me.
I recently visited one of our hospital clients to facilitate a leadership forum on hospital scheduling software vendor selections. We looked at how the vendors think about scheduling and timekeeping, went through a high level and then detailed look at some prominent vendors, and finished with talking about vendor selection best practices. The topics were very timely for this hospital and the leaders came away buzzing about some of the things they learned.
My goal in the forum was simple: Position the hospital to make a strategic decision about where they want to be in the future, as it relates to hospital scheduling. These leaders were smart, capable, and getting ready to tackle the tactical process of performing a vendor selection. However, if only tactical decisions were made during the process, two years from now they may not have been happy with where they were, even if each tactical decision was excellent.
By going through this exercise with them, we laid out a big picture for them on what vendors were doing in the marketplace and—this is key—where the marketplace is going. Laying out the long term plans and vision of each vendor for the hospital leaders empowers them to make a strategic decision in addition to all the immediate tactical decisions. As a result, they will still be reaping the benefits of those tactical decision years from now.
Looking back at the founder of LG, if he had stayed focused on making the best hand cream possible, then I’m sure his company would have been successful for many years in that arena. But instead, a series of strategic decisions positioned him to grow into plastics and then into electronics. That’s making decisions for tomorrow, today.