Robert Simons

Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration

Bob Simons is the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Over the last 30 years, Simons has taught accounting, management control, and strategy implementation courses in both the Harvard MBA and Executive Education Programs. During 2014/2015 he is teaching a second-year MBA course, "Designing Competitive Organizations," a module in the Owner/President Management Program, and "Driving Corporate Performance," a program for financial executives and general managers.  A book based on this work, Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution, was published in 2010 by Harvard Business Press.

Simons' previous book, Levers of Organization Design, was published by Harvard Business School Press in 2005. In addition, he has written two other books. The first, Levers of Control (HBS Press, 1995), describes how effective top managers balance innovation and control. This book won the Notable Contribution to Management Accounting Literature award. Simons' other book, Performance Measurement & Control Systems for Implementing Strategy (Prentice-Hall, 2000), provides an integrated set of accounting-based techniques for implementing strategy.

In addition to his books, Simons' ongoing research into the relationship between business strategy, organization design, and management control systems has been published in journals and books such as Capitalism and Society, Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, Strategic Management Journal, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Contemporary Accounting Research, Accounting and Management: Field Study Perspectives, and Journal of Accounting Literature. His articles in Harvard Business Review include "Choosing the Right Customer" (March 2014), “Stress-Test Your Strategy” (November 2010), "Managing Risk in the New World" (October 2009), "Designing High-Performance Jobs" (July 2005), "How Risky is Your Company?" (April 1999), "How High is Your Return on Management?"(January 1998), and "Control in an Age of Empowerment" (March/April 1995).

A Canadian Chartered Accountant, Simons earned his Ph.D. from McGill University. Simons has served as a consultant to a number of corporations on strategy implementation, organization design, performance measurement, and strategic control. He has testified as an expert witness in U.S. Federal Court and before State Public Utility Commissions.

  1. Choosing the Right Customer

    All companies claim that their strategies are customer driven. But when “customer” means any number of entities in a company’s value chain—consumers, suppliers, retailers, even internal units like R&D—managers tend to lose focus, and their firms become vulnerable to competitors who have clearly defined who they serve and how.

    In this article, Robert Simons of the Harvard Business School presents a framework that can help companies develop strategies that are truly customer-centric.
  2. Seven Strategy Questions

    To stay ahead of the pack, you must translate your organization's competitive strategy into day-to-day actions that will enable your company to win in the marketplace. This means channeling resources into the right efforts, striking a balance between innovation and control, and getting everyone to pull in the same direction. How do you accomplish all this?
  3. How to Stress-Test Your Strategy

    What are the biggest problems companies face in executing their strategies? Robert Simons explains why management teams must ask themselves tough questions, like "What could cause our business to fail?"

  4. The Business of Business Schools: Restoring a Focus on Competing to Win

    As business leaders worry about the decline of American competitiveness, business schools are responding by changing their curriculums. But are the topics and approaches taught in today's business schools part of the solution or part of the problem? In this paper, I explore the possibility that four trends in current MBA curriculums—theory creep, mission creep, doing well by doing good, and the quest for enlightenment—are teaching students to be uncompetitive in today's global markets. If this hypothesis is true, I argue that business school curriculums should be re-centered around the tough choices needed to compete—and to win.

  5. The Entrepreneurial Gap: How Managers Adjust Span of Accountability and Span of Control to Implement Business Strategy

    This HBS working paper focuses on the relationship between business strategy, organization structure, and diagnostic control systems. The project analyzes data from 75 field studies to illustrate how managers adjust span of accountability and span of control to motivate different levels of innovation and entrepreneurial behavior. Six propositions are derived inductively about when, why, and how managers make these choices.

  6. Levers of Organization Design

    The design of an organization—the accountability system that defines roles, rights, and responsibilities throughout the firm—has a direct impact on the performance of every employee. Yet, few leaders devote focused attention to how this design is chosen, implemented, and adjusted over time. Robert Simons argues that by viewing design as a powerful and proactive management lever--rather than an inevitable outcome of corporate evolution—leaders can maximize productivity across every level of the organization.
  7. Levers of Control

    Based on a ten-year examination of control systems in over 50 U.S. businesses, this book broadens the definition of control and establishes a critical bridge between the disciplines of strategy and accounting and control. In addition to the more traditional diagnostic control systems, Simons identifies three new control systems that allow strategic change: belief systems that communicate core values and provide inspiration and direction, boundary systems that frame the strategic domain and define the limits of freedom, and interactive systems that provide flexibility in adapting to competitive environments and encourage organizational learning. These four control systems, according to Simons, will provide managers with the basic levers for pursuing strategic objectives.
  8. Performance Measurement and Control Systems for Implementing Strategy

    For undergraduate Management Control Systems courses and other MBA Management Accounting and Control electives. This book represents an innovative new approach to management control systems, based on the latest research and practice. Using a carefully integrated structure, it shows how today's managers use both financial and non-financial controls to drive strategies of profitable growth in rapidly changing markets.