When I was a staffing executive, I faced a crucial decision that would determine the fate of our organization. Our largest client had given us an ultimatum that would require me to completely restructure our organization to meet their service requirements. In addition, they were demanding lower margins with the promise of higher volume in the near future.
What our client was demanding was a complete transformation of our organization putting at risk our financial model, our culture, and most importantly our philosophy of a quality driven staffing company. If we decided not to sign the new agreement we would lose our largest client, and have to find a way to replace almost 20% of our gross profit. We decided to walk away from the client, and built an aggressive sales strategy that replaced it with lower volume, higher margin business. After everything was said and done I convinced myself that our decision was the right one, and any company who chose otherwise was making a crucial strategic mistake.
A few years later I had dinner with a company that challenged my thinking. This company was put in the exact same scenario with the same client with no more resources than we had at the time. However, they decided to agree the client’s terms. They then proceeded to transform their organization by focusing on hiring junior level recruiters and investing in training. In addition, they streamlined their processes and managed very closely to activity metrics. While it took a while for those efforts to pay off, they are now reaping the rewards with strong topline growth and a healthy bottom-line.
Listening to these leaders speak about their success provided a clear example of the relationship between strategy and execution. Choosing the right strategy isn’t as objective and clear as we might like to believe. Oftentimes choosing a particular strategy is less about the right and wrong “way” and more about our vision and values as individual leaders. Our leaders had no desire to build a transactional staffing organization, and I truly believe if we went in that direction we would have failed. Instead we chose a direction that we could passionately support and leveraged our strengths.
In making crucial strategic decisions, don’t forget to ask yourself the following questions:
- Will our team passionately lead the strategy?
- Does the strategy play to our strengths?
- Do we understand the scope of change required?
- Do we have the discipline to see the transformation through?
There may be some strategic decisions that provide a clear advantage and are therefore easy to make but from what I have seen, those are few and far between. Instead, it is not the strategic decisions we make, but it is our focus, passion, and discipline around its execution that provides the greatest competitive advantage.