Article | Harvard Business Review | November 2010

Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask

by Robert Simons

Abstract

An economic downturn can quickly expose the shortcomings of your business strategy. But can you identify its weak points in good times as well? And can you focus on those weak points that really matter? I identify seven questions all executives should ask in order to ensure their strategies' success. Have you identified your primary customer? Decided whether shareholders, employees, or customers come first? Narrowed down which performance variables to track? Have you set creative boundaries? Are you generating creative tension? Are you promoting cooperation among your employees? And at the end of the day (and in the middle of the night), are you thinking about the right issues as you ponder how the future will change your business? The answers to these questions can be tough, and their full implications are not always immediately clear. I provide a real-world guide to the various alternatives and their risks, illustrating my points with examples from companies including Home Depot, McDonald's, Merck, and Pfizer. There is no magic bullet that can target the pitfalls of your business strategy, but you must engage in ongoing, face-to-face dialogue with those around you concerning emerging data, unspoken assumptions, difficult choices, and, ultimately, action plans. You and they must be able to give clear, consistent answers to the seven questions if you want to be sure that your strategy is firmly on track.

Keywords: Business Strategy; Creativity; Success; Customers; Employees; Business and Shareholder Relations; Performance; Risk and Uncertainty; Decision Choices and Conditions;

Citation:

Simons, Robert. "Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask." Harvard Business Review 88, no. 11 (November 2010): 93–100.