Purpose ‐ This paper seeks to develop a coherent model for small business principals to understand their management behaviour, with the intent to move their focus from an operational to a strategic perspective. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Action research (AR) was undertaken to develop the model. Findings ‐ AR is utilised to develop a model that explains in conceptual terms how a business can be deconstructed such that the structure of any business can be explained. By deconstructing the business, small business principals are able to understand the nature of their managerial behaviour. This behaviour is almost entirely operational. They must also understand the nature of strategy and how they can think about their firms from a strategic perspective. Practical implications ‐ Small business principals are provided with the opportunity to recognise their reliance on operational solutions to their business problems and opportunities, and accept the proposition that they must also think strategically. Originality/value ‐ The paper discusses the AR development of a unique tool to support the needs of small business principals move from an operational to the strategic level of their business.