Strategy is strange. It’s one of the most talked-about concepts in business – yet one of the least understood. Corporate titans tout “strategies” of infinite variety every day; never mind that most are not strategies at all. At best, many are simply sets of goals. At worst, they are recipes for disaster or perpetuated mediocrity.
The good news is this: Strategy is an area where small firms and startup entrepreneurs have an opportunity to out-think their big-business cousins. And it starts by simply grasping what strategy really is – and is not.
While there’s no official “strategy playbook” or universally accepted definition, my favorite description comes from Richard Rumelt, a professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management, who is considered one of the world’s top authorities on business strategy.
It’s your business on the line. But if you were to pick just one word to get at the essence of strategy, it would be “action.” Define all the vision, values, goals, customer pain points and revenue opportunities you want. Those are the “what” of the situation. A strategy is your “how,” and that requires action. Successful entrepreneurs understand this because they’ve not only seen a need, they’ve articulated a specific, rationale series of activities to satisfy that need and achieve their goals.
Here are some secrets to avoiding common pitfalls and creating a successful strategy for your small business:
• Strategy also means choosing what not to do. Strategy is about making choices. In short, you can’t do it all, so you need to pick what’s important. Some business owners find it easier to start the strategy-development process by first deciding what types of activities their business will avoid, either because those activities just don’t fit with the vision and goals, or because others already use them.
• Good strategies are rarely obvious. Don’t expect strategy to come easily. If it’s obvious, others have probably done it already. You may need to summon all of your creativity, insight and innovation in order to find the best strategic fit for your business. Your differences need not be radical. Even subtle, yet distinctive differences can magnify your actions and lead to success.
• Your strategy is an ecosystem. A strategy isn’t one thing or one activity. It’s many activities – some day-to-day, some less frequent – customized to fit into and implement your strategy. And just as in nature’s ecosystems, each part plays an important role in preserving the system (your strategy) as a whole.
• Strategy can be lost – and regained. Businesses both large and small lose track of their strategies all the time. It happens slowly, as successful companies lose focus and drift into incremental approaches that were never part of the core. •