An excellent set of questions for identifying the strategic issues in any business

Executing strategy successfully requires tough, often uncomfortable, choices based on simple logic and clear principles, according to Harvard Business School Professor Robert Simons in his book Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution. However, the correct solutions to complex business problems are different for every business. That is why he wrote the book in the form of simple questions designed to help the reader focus on the key issues that underpin important decisions.

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.

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