Business Strategy 101: Tips and Tools for Activating the Power of Strategy

Strategy is an intangible yet invaluable part of every business. Dylan Young, Business Planning Advisor and Strategy Coach with Small Business BC, has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs at all stages of business. According to Dylan, there are three key areas of focus that activate the full power that strategy can bring to your business:

  1. Your business strategy mindset
  2. Tools to work on your strategy
  3. Activating your strategy

1. Business Strategy Mindset

Strategy Is For Everyone

Strategy is not meant to be a task for the higher-ups to pass down the chain. Actually, when that happens, staff often feel disconnected from strategy. Worse still, they could be confused about the company’s direction and wonder how their role fits into the big picture.

As a leader, it might be your responsibility to set the tone and find a path for your organization’s success. But you’re not meant to do it alone, nor should your team feel like they must execute something they don’t understand.

As an owner, you can set a vision for your organization and enable your teams to find their own strategies to fit into the larger one. Ownership of strategy happens within individual roles, across teams and departments, and should fit into the larger strategy of an organization.

The practice of strategy involves you and your team working through the process together, shaping the brand of your business and the behaviour you hope to see from your clients.

Strategy Is About Exploring Possibilities

Strategy is not the same thing as planning. When you plan, you are laying out and prioritizing timelines, budgets, projects, and deliverables. When you strategize, you are exploring possibilities and envisioning the future of your business.

Strategy is about big ideas but also deciding how to execute them. This unique combination of creativity and rigour expands your thinking. Once you know what’s possible, it’s time to make a decision on where to move your business forward.

Strategy Is an Ongoing Process

Strategy isn’t about being right, making perfect decisions, and being infallible. Instead, it’s a set of choices designed to solve problems to set a future where your business wins over your customers.

A winning strategy will involve ongoing analysis, attention to data, customer feedback, continuous learning, adaptation, and the flexibility to change course if needed.

Strategy is about finding what works, reinforcing some choices and making better choices when new information comes up. It’s not just “set it and forget it.” And when strategy doesn’t seem to be working, it’s time to change, shift, or pivot to something else that will bring you closer to your goals.

2. Tools for Working on Your Strategy

Using “Design Thinking” for Business Strategy

The Design Thinking process is used across many practices, from graphic and software design to engineering and, more recently, business. To help work through the process, we’ll look at the Strategy Process Map –  a model for framing strategic questions, generating possibilities, testing, and then ultimately making a choice. Here’s what it looks like in action:

  • Identify the problem
  • Frame a strategic question
  • Generate possibilities
  • Think about what would have to be true
  • Understand barriers
  • Conduct tests
  • Choose a strategic direction

Start the process by taking a problem and then framing a strategic question to help generate new imaginative possibilities. This process turns problems, including everything from slow sales to needing new customers, into opportunities.

In this stage, you want to get the team thinking about possibilities for the future. Open up the conversations with “How might we…” questions.

How Might We (Intended Action) For (Primary User) So that/In Order to (Desired Outcome)

  • How might we redesign our website for first-time visitors so that they can navigate through our content effortlessly and find the info they need?
  • How might we start a mentorship program for recent graduates so that they can receive guidance and support in their professional development?
  • How might we incorporate disability-inclusive practices into our onboarding process so that employees with disabilities can thrive at our workplace?

Remember that the sky is the limit. This is the stage where you’re thinking big, and the creative process is in full swing. It’s not the time to judge ideas or think about the lack of resources and funding. It’s time to push for bigger ideas and create the future you want for your business regardless of your budget. The time for rigour will happen later, but it’s a separate stage.

The stage where we apply rigour to understand our constraints, roadblocks, and practicality is where we ask a different question – “What would have to be true?” Asking these questions will help your team gain a better understanding of a world where the new strategy can take hold.

3. How to Activate Your Strategy

Your first step to activating your strategy is to create engagement. Remember, strategy is not just for owners and leadership. Everyone should get involved.

You can create a team to generate new ideas and bring them in as part of the thinking and strategy design process. Even if you’re a solopreneur, you can generate ideas with your network, with customers, and via social media engagement.

Secondly, you want to build confidence. Remember, strategy isn’t about being “right.” The faster you can test your ideas and gather data, the sooner you will be able to move forward with strategic decisions and uncover what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t think of strategy as needing one significant result. Instead, confidence builds over time with positive reinforcement. Being right about many small things has bigger consequences than being right once.

Then, it’s time to enable action. Allow teams to pursue their ideas and the choices made. Activating strategy is about moving forward, getting feedback and deciding to keep going or change track.

Small Business BC is Here to Help

Connect with an expert to get started on  Business Strategy Planning for Business Growth to jumpstart your winning strategy.

SBBC is a non-profit resource centre for BC-based small businesses. Whatever your idea of success is, we’re here to provide holistic support and resources at every step of the journey. Check out our range of business webinars, on-demand E-Learning Education, our Talk to an Expert Advisories, or browse our business articles.