The world is changing very quickly right now and that may mean a new business strategy is needed. Businesses are searching for new ways to flourish and thrive. While some may wait to see what changes happen, strong leaders are creating their own path forward and developing change best suited for their company. For change to be successful, new strategies must be designed and implemented.
Let’s start by clearing up the confusion between a business strategy and a strategic plan. While they are interrelated, they are different. Too often people confuse these and think that if they have a plan, they have a strategy – not true. You can have a plan without a strategy, but a strong business strategy will include a strategic plan.
Business strategy is a framework for making decisions. This includes everything from resource investment decisions to operational priorities to marketing direction, and everything in-between. Strategy identifies what game you are playing and the rules for the game.
Your strategic plan outlines how you will execute the game-play. It is the step by step instructions that indicates which actions are to be taken by who and by when and with what in order to win the game.
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Mark Zuckerberg
Developing Your Business Strategy
There are some key factors to be explored as you begin to develop your business strategy. This is where you begin the process.
Know Who You Are
So often, businesses start by creating a vision around what they want. Where they should be starting is with what their customer wants. Business need to begin by identifying what problem they solve, how they solve it, who they solve it for, and why they are the best option to provide this solution.
Think of it this way. If you want to be the best grocery shopper in the world, you don’t focus just on picking out the best products for the best price. You start by figuring out what you want to cook, what you need to cook it, the skill of the preparer (what will be from scratch and what needs to be bought pre-made), and then you get to the act of shopping. If you focus on shopping first, you may not be getting the right things for the right people at the right time.
Keep It Real
Problem – Solution – Market – Business Identity. These four things are the foundation for your business strategy. Don’t pull them apart, they are all connected. Examine them as a cohesive unit. Don’t ever stop thinking about them. Always pay attention to changes in the customers problem and how you can best solve it. This means that you are constantly data checking the trends of the customers and how you are ranking in addressing those trends. You can’t know your business without knowing the facts related to its strategy.
Unfortunately, You don’t set a strategy once and then be done with it. You must continually be monitoring the information used to design your strategy and your business’s ability to achieve that strategy. Your strategy is only as good as the data used to define it. That means looking at internal and external factors that effect your business. If your data is not accurate, your strategy will miss its mark. Staying grounded in reality allows you to see change as it is developing and provides you the opportunity to adapt, adjust, pivot, or do whatever else is needed to stay in the game.
Own Your Uniqueness
There is always competition. Others will be providing solutions to your same audience for the same problem you are addressing. You must be able to identify and articulate what makes your business and your solution unique and more desirable. Being unique is what will set your business apart. Being the same as everyone else will not bring you business success. You need to stand out from the crowd and show what the something extra is that you bring to the game.
“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” Michael Porter
People – business leaders, employees, customers, partners, etc. – must buy into, belief in, and carry out the business strategy. As you create your strategy, there are a variety of helpful products or tools you will create for people to embrace your strategy. Here are the most common products developed to support strategy.
Typically, a vision is set when the business is established. It states why the business exists in broad terms. It is a memorable and futuristic statement such as “to end hunger” or “to eliminate homelessness”. Everything the business does should somehow work towards that vision. The vision does not have an end date associated with it as it should be designed to be timeless.
The mission is a short statement about what you do, in general terms. It describes what industry the business is in both now and projecting into the future. The aim is to provide focus. A solid mission statement can help you determine if you are setting the proper goals. It’s a reminder about what’s important to you, and at a minimum, direct you to questions you need to ask yourself before making a choice.
The purpose is a longer statement about what you do, in specific terms. It details the day to day work being done. The purpose expresses the business’s impact on the lives of those it serves.
Values are what guide your business decisions. They describe the desired culture. Values provide the compass and defines the principles that give employees a set of behavioral expectations.
It is important that any plan you develop align with your vision, mission, purpose and values.
Again, this is your playbook. It outlines all your goals, strategies and tasks for executing your strategy. The plan details what will be done and how it will be done.
Note. A plan that doesn’t move you towards your vision and mission is likely to waste precious resources and time without any clear benefits. If it doesn’t match your purpose and values, it will be exceedingly difficult to generate motivation and support from those tasked with implementing the plan.
“Execution is the ability to mesh strategy with reality, align people with goals, and achieve the promised results.” Larry Bossidy
Benchmarking is a process for identifying and measuring accomplishments. The more complex the goal, and the greater number of objectives, strategies, and tasks you have, the more important benchmarking becomes. Benchmarking not only lets us know where you are in the process of implementing y plan, it allows you to determine if you need to make any adjustments to the plan and provides reasons to celebrate your journey to success.
Putting It All Together
Whether you’re looking to set new business priorities, outline plans for growth, determine a product road-map or plan your investment decisions, you’ll need a strategy. Concluding that your business needs one is easy. Actually creating a strategy is more difficult. Leaders who take the time to plan out their strategy and create the products that articulate their strategy are generally more successful.
With all the changes currently taking place, customer needs are shifting, new problems need to be solved, and business must navigate new ways of operating. This is your opportunity to create a new strategy that will help you to control the changes and their impacts. Don’t be a victim of circumstance; be a leader of a new and better future.
Revised September 2022. Originally published under The OD Pro in May 2020.