Business strategy is the road map that helps a company get where it wants to go. A typical strategy covers the next three to five years. It shows how to achieve the company's goal, whether the goal is to double sales or simply to stay in business. A business' "strategic posture" helps it choose and shape its strategies.

Potential Postures

When a business prepares for the future, it can adopt one of three strategic postures. One is to shape the future, becoming an industry leader and influencing the direction of the entire industry. Another is to adapt, reacting to industry changes without trying to force or lead them. The third is "reserving the right to play." This is for cautious companies that want to stay in business without committing to a specific path immediately.

Analysis and Action

Successful businesses don't pick their strategic posture out of a hat. Instead, a company analyzes the market, then adopts the best posture. If, say, the analysis shows the market is unpredictable, a company may decide to adapt: It can stay alert for opportunities that match its strengths or be ready to exit the industry if it can't cope with the changes. If the analysis indicates the market will stabilize soon, the company might prefer a reserve posture, investing in technology it can use to compete once things calm down.

Strong and Weak

A company also has to analyze its strengths and weaknesses before committing to a posture. A company that doesn't have the money for extensive research and development or that lacks a strong customer base may not be able to take a leadership position. If the firm has excellent knowledge in its field, though, it may be able to adapt fast and compete even when the market changes. A mismatch between ability and posture can cripple a company's strategy.

Success or Defeat

After adopting a posture and a strategy, a company has to make regular analyses to confirm it's working. Microsoft, for example, once hoped to develop a proprietary electronic network that would compete with and surpass the internet. That didn't happen. The company didn't give up its posture -- shaping the future and dominating the market -- but it changed its strategy to chart the successful course of winning within the established internet structure.