CE#274: Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution

Published: November 22, 2010
Author: Robert Simons

Harvard Business School

Working Knowledge

Business leaders can’t develop and execute effective strategy without first gathering the right information, says Harvard Business School professor Robert Simons. In his new book, Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution, Simons explains how managers can identify holes in their planning processes and make smart choices. Here’s an excerpt outlining the seven questions every manager should ask.

1. Who Is Your Primary Customer?

The first imperative—and the heart of every successful strategy implementation—is allocating resources to customers. Continuously competing demands for resources—from business units, support functions and external partners—require a method for judging whether the allocation choices you have made are optimal.

Therefore, the most critical strategic decision for any business is determining who it is you are trying to serve. Clearly identifying your primary customer will allow you to devote all possible resources to meeting their needs and minimize resources devoted to everything else. This is the path to competitive success.

It’s easy to try to duck the tough choice implied by the adjective primary by responding that you have more than one type of customer. This answer is a guaranteed recipe for underperformance: the competitor that has clarity about its primary customer and devotes maximum resources to meet their specific needs will beat you every time.

2. How Do Your Core Values Prioritize Shareholders, Employees, and Customers?

Along with identifying a primary customer, you must also define your core values in a way that ranks the priority of shareholders, employees, and customers. Value statements that are lists of aspirational behaviors aren’t good enough. Real core values indicate whose interest comes first when faced with difficult trade-offs.

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