By Olwen Dawe, owner of Irish Business Intelligence
Normally, at this point, a blog about strategy will contain a pithy clipping from Sun Zu’s “The Art of War” … (“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” is a favourite).
It’s hardly surprising that this recurring theme appears, given that Sun Zu’s statements of strategy and tactics contain very resonant themes when it comes to strategy in business.
However! The question for most businesses – SMEs in particular – is how or why strategy applies to their business (queue mutterings of “I just want to get on with it…” or “that sounds very corporate to me”). The reality is, as Sun Zu infers, not knowing why your business is heading in any specific direction (or the role resources, objectives and plans are playing in it) is almost definitely going to bring about the wrong outcomes. In some cases, rather unfortunately so. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, or a start-up operating from a shed in your back garden… without strategy, you’re likely to be setting out on a collision-course of risk and disappointment.
So, what is the real meaning of strategy in business? Opinions vary, and strategies change to suit different times in a business’s trajectory – guiding focus and resources to suit its point in the life-cycle. From my experience, here are some key roles for any business strategy:
- To provide you, your team and any other relevant stakeholders with clarity regarding the purpose, focus and objectives of the business
- To ensure financial, marketing, sales and operational targets are met – clarity, again, being the key focus
- Communication, collaboration, and cooperation: to develop buy-in, commitment and focus within your team (if you have one – if you’re a sole trader – to ensure buy-in from key stakeholders, partners, funders etc.)
- To shore-up growth by highlighting a clear path for the future and allocating the right internal and external supports in realising same
- To provide an effective means for challenging, evaluating and re-strategising decisions, objectives and growth – as well as business model, marketing, financial planning and other key operational mechanisms.
Obviously, there are other associated positive outcomes for businesses implementing clear strategies. For starters, they don’t suffer from the ‘fear factor’ as often: mainly because if something lands, meteor-style out of left field – their business strategy is resilient enough for them to ‘pivot’ (as Eric Ries talks of in Lean StartUp) or adjust the sails. Growth becomes easier to map-out and manage: every business experiences ‘growing pains’, but they are easier to manage when the growth trajectory is clear.
So, what could strategy mean for your business? Well, you could open yourself up to the opportunities that are potentially hidden from view right now (the clarity argument), you might also be able evaluate your ‘message’ (the purpose argument) and all of a sudden, your team, stakeholders and other valuable individuals may begin to facilitate your trajectory because they get it.
Strategy acts as the blue-litmus test for your business, not simply by being put in place, but through evaluation, regular progress reviews and continual objective appraisals… re-strategising the strategy, if you will!
Don’t shy away from the ‘s’ word, it could revolutionise your business.