Natural Foods Merchandiser

Welcome, class, to strategic management and planning

About five years ago, I was asked to start teaching the capstone course in the School of Business at Langston University in Langston, Okla. The course, titled "Business Policy and Strategy," is designed to not only give students an introduction to the concept of strategic management, but also to pull together many major business disciplines: finance and accounting, marketing, information technology and management. It is a challenging course for students and a twice-a-year highlight of my academic life.

For quite some time, I've struggled with how to share some of these vital concepts in a way that would most benefit the readers of Natural Foods Merchandiser—and I think that I may have come up with a way to do it.

This is the first of what will be a series of 10 columns about strategic management and planning. But most of the "articles" won't be found here in the printed pages of the Natural Foods Merchandiser, but rather on my blog on the NFM website. The goal here is twofold. The first is to allow me to include more content for you, including links to other websites for quick access to references and resources. The second is to allow me to treat this subject as a dialogue rather than a monologue. You can submit comments and questions on the blog, and not only can I provide a response, but others in our industry can as well. I hope this will allow us to progress beyond a dialogue into a group discussion.

Expanding this a bit further, I will be involved in seminar presentations at Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., in March where we will discuss the concept of strategy in business, especially in our current tough economic times.

I hope this multi-platform approach to strategic management—and the amount of space that we are devoting to it—gives you some solid ideas to consider for your business.

Asking the right questions and digging for the right answers is hard work.

To begin, let's talk about what we mean by strategic management. One way to rephrase it would be "managing on purpose" or "managing proactively." On the surface, being proactive sounds better than being reactive. (Of course, being reactive is better than doing nothing.) It is not good to put your hand on a hot stove. Reactivity is moving it away, while no activity is waiting for someone to turn the stove off. Proactivity is doing some basic research about the stove (that is, checking its temperature) before putting your hand near it.

While strategy is about being smart, it is not about being innately smart, something available to only those fortunate enough to be born that way. It is about being smart as a result of doing research and processing information to make good decisions. It is about working hard, learning about your environment and your competition, and then making informed decisions as a result of the knowledge you gained from your research.

While we will embrace the concept of working smarter, not harder, I want to be sure to mention early on that working smarter is hard work. Asking the right questions and digging for the right answers is hard work. (If it were easy, more people would do it.)

I have heard that Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It is hard to argue with that. Part of my goal for our online discussion is to give you new tools and ideas to look at things differently so you act differently—and achieve different results.

Look for the next column online Feb. 10 at

Bill Crawford, director of retail custom programs at New Hope Natural Media, spent 12 years on the management team of a major natural products chain. Contact him at [email protected]

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