STO — Strategic, Tactical, Operational. These three letters summarize my main challenge as a beef producer. If you were to take a typical day, list all your activities and then assign them to one of these three categories, how much time would be spent in each area?

This accounting was illuminating and scary in our operation, because we found that almost all our time is spent on the operational side of things. Over the last year, 90% of our time was spent in this area, with the remainder mostly being tactical; essentially no time was spent on the strategic. Our philosophy was to strive to do what we've always done better, with the hope that doing better would create better results.

Part of the challenge to spending more time on the strategic and tactical sides of management is simply a lack of time — if the cows aren't fed, nobody gets fed. Yet, to be truthful, the operational side of things is also the easiest to focus on. After all, working on the tactical or strategic side often requires more work and more risk, and presents more challenges.

In our operation, our primary goal of servicing our customers and improving their sustainability, profitability and enjoyment can become a very distant second to our day-to-day operational demands. Yet, we know that it will be the primary driver of our success.

As we look forward to a new year, we're looking to make big changes. I like things simple; to me, operational is the daily to-do list, tactical is taking the time to prioritize that list, and strategic is determining what should be on the list in the first place.

Our goal for 2010 is to spend far more time on the S and T. It's a matter of WITB vs. WOTB (working in the business vs. working on the business), and that distinction and our ability to make it will determine our success in 2010.

Troy Marshall is a contributing editor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free electronic newsletter disseminated each Friday and providing important industry news, analysis and commentary. Sign up at