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Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution Hardcover – November 16, 2010
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While leaders cannot always have the right answers, they must know how to ask the right questions to drive strategy. Simons captures the power of this leadership approach in a highly inspiring and engaging way. It is essential reading for experienced managers as well as for everyone new to a leadership role.”
Kasper Rorsted, CEO, Henkel Germany
Simons’s book is a concise reminder of the critical questions that successful CEOs must constantly ask themselves in a rapidly changing world.”
John Rowe, Chairman and CEO, Exelon Corporation
Seven Strategy Questions recognizes that every business creates value for customers differently, and sets out a useful framework for challenging strategic assumptions and gaining focus. The book provides invaluable insight for any business leader.”
Ron Williams, Chairman and CEO, Aetna Inc.
I highly recommend this book as a must-read for CEOs and other senior executives. Simons has distilled the essence of competing and winning in the marketplace down to seven hard-hitting, high-impact questions that all of us should have in mind as we manage in the unpredictable and much-less-forgiving new normal.’”
Nils Andersen, Group CEO of A.P. Møller-Maersk
"Simons provides a remarkably insightful path to clarity in defining and executing strategy, guiding us away from distractions and worse. Though closing with a question about what keeps you up at night, this book will help you sleep better."
Arne M. Sorenson, President and COO, Marriott International
About the Author
Robert Simons is the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. For twenty-five years, he has taught accounting, management control, and strategy implementation courses in the Harvard MBA and Executive Education programs. His research has been published in journals including Sloan Management Review and Strategic Management Journal.
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If this sounds familiar it is because it is the more common post-strategy pattern. This is where Prof. Simon’s book adds value. After studying strategy implementation for 25 year he has devised a set of seven questions that companies should be asking to ensure that they are clear on how the strategy will be executed. This questions will also assist in plugging holes in the strategy should they have been overlooked.
The first question, “Who is your primary customer?” has its emphasis on the word “primary.” The need for clarity on this issue is crucial to the allocation of resources and attention. Primary customers should be given more so that their value can be maximized. Amazon, for example, has two sources of revenue, the suppliers who buy space on Amazon’s virtual shelves, and the customers who purchase the goods. Amazon took the view that their customers were primary and have invested heavily making the buying experience as easy and pleasurable as possible. That they chose the correct revenue source is indicated by the fact that Amazon has 6% of the entire US retail market.
Cisco, in contrast, reinvented itself by making their “channel partners” their primary customers with some 92% of sales comes from these intermediaries.
The second question relates to the prioritization of the shareholders, employees and customers. Whose interests should be put first? Simon points out that examples of companies that survive for long periods by putting shareholders first are hard to find. Company needs to give clear priority to either their customers or employees with the latter being the priority mainly in professional service firms.
The third question relates to the critical performance variables you need to track. These variables need to be a carefully chosen few, rather than a slew of measures, and must constitute a translation of the strategy into action. More is never better when the issue is the measure to track. This is because management attention is one of a company’s scarcest resources, and having too many allows the critical measures to get lost in the overload.
The fourth questions relates to the boundaries that need to be set to control strategic risk. Toyota is a cited example of what happens when people are under pressure to perform. In their effort to out-produce GM Toyota violated their quality standards with embarrassing results that tarnished their proud reputation for producing cars that “keep going right.” Their policy of never building a new product in a new factory with new workforce was sacrificed in the race to become the world’s largest manufacturer.
Businesses today, more than ever before, need to be creative. So crucial is creativity to survival that the creative process cannot be left to chance. The fifth question is how are you generating creative tension? As Simon rightly points out, creating an environment conducive to creativity and teaching creativity tools has not been shown to produce creative solutions. Competition between units and people, for example, has been shown to be far more effective.
No strategy can be executed without a concerted effort from all employees to pursue the strategic objectives. So Simon asks as the sixth question how committed are your employees to helping each other? Collaboration rarely happens without been fostered and actively encouraged. John Chambers of Cisco forces staff to work with people they don't get on with, and famously withheld the bonuses of very senior executives for not being collaborative.
Simon’s final question is what strategic uncertainties keep you awake at night?
The seven questions, asked intensely and sincerely at the end of any strategy formulation or review session, will give impetus to the process. The practical clarity that will emerge from the exercise is certainly worth adding the extra day to your next strategy session.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High --+-- Low
Practical High +---- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy
The questions which the author proposes really do get you thinking. There are many different creative possibilities for identifying the "primary customer" of a business, an identification on which you need to base the allocation of resources. There is no one right answer to the prioritization of customers, shareholders and employees, but you need to know whose interest comes first when facing difficult trade-offs. There are many different things about your business which can be measured, but you need to identify a small number of metrics that really are critical to your business success.
Strategic boundaries need to be identified to control strategic risk. An appropriate level of creative tension needs to be cultivated in order to sustain innovation. You need to identify whether your business success is based more on employees' self-interest or co-operation, and set your policies accordingly. To ensure that your business adapts appropriately to change, you need to keep the organization focused on the critical strategic uncertainties.
Most strategy books focus primarily on external marketing strategies. This one focuses more on internal management issues. It is clear, easy to understand, relatively short (around 180 not-very-dense pages) and a pleasure to read, and if you are involved in the management of a business almost every page contains something that will set you thinking about how you could be doing things better. At first I thought the questions were a bit unrelated to each other, but by the end I was convinced that the author's questions really are an excellent set of questions for identifying the strategic issues in any business.
I bought this book as soon as it became available because I am interested in business strategy; however, you are going to enjoy reading the book even if strategy is not your thing. This is not a typical business book in which the author tells you about some clever theory that he or she has devised which may or may not be helpful to your business; it is a book which asks you a series of compelling questions and gives you some guidance to help you do your own thinking and devise your own clever theories.
Good book, good advice and we are currently using this framework within the business so that says something about how much I liked it!