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 "The One Strategic Bet You Have to Make" (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. Overview

    Professor Simons is currently studying how executives make their businesses more competitive by using innovative structural designs and performance measurement systems. He has a number of ongoing research projects on this topic, and teaches an MBA course, “Designing Competitive Organizations,” that bring these insights to life through new case studies and theories.

    Keywords: strategy execution; organization design; Management Control Systems; performance measurement; competitiveness;

  2. Designing Competitive Organizations

    Professor Robert Simons’ research encompasses three areas of management accountability that are the foundation for successful strategy implementation: organization design, performance measurement and control, and risk management. In addition, Simons is interested in the role of management and management education in society. Professor Simons’ publications in each of these areas are listed below.

     

    I.Strategy Execution - Imperitives

    Simons has summarized key strategy execution issues from his previous research in the following book and related article:

    Simons, R. Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution, Harvard Business Review Press, 2010.

    Simons, R. “Stress-Test Your Strategy,” Harvard Business Review (November 2010): 92-100.

     

    II. Organization Design for Executive Strategy

    Simons’ work focuses on understanding the role of organization design as a key determinant in the successful execution of strategy.

    Simons studies four key variables—customer definition, critical performance variables, creative tension, and commitment to others—that serve as the basic inputs to effective organization design. Using an integrated framework, his work shows how managers can design unit structures, diagnostic control systems, influence networks, and shared responsibilities to build a foundation for profitable growth. This work is reported in the following publications.

    Books and Articles:

    Simons, R. Levers of Organization Design: How Managers Use Accountability Systems for Greater Performance and Commitment, Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

    Simons, R. “Creating High-Performance Jobs,” Harvard Business Review 83, no. 7 (July-August 2005): 54-62.

    Case Studies:

    'Agero: Enhancing Capabilities for Customers.' Harvard Business School Case 113-001

    'Asea Brown Boveri.' Harvard Business School Case 192-139.

    'ABB: Accountability Times Two (A).' Harvard Business School Supplement 192-141.

    'ABB: Accountability Times Two (B). 'Harvard Business School Supplement 192-142.

    'DIENA.' Harvard Business School Case 102-001.

    'J Boats, Inc.' Harvard Business School Case 197-015.

    'Siebel Systems: Organizing for the Customer.' Harvard Business School Case 103-014.

     

    III. Performance Measurement and Control for Executive Strategy

    Simons’ research in a variety of industries illustrates how innovative firms apply the levers of control to ensure profitable, sustained growth. By analyzing core values, risks to be avoided, critical performance variables, and strategic uncertainties, Simons’ work shows managers how to use beliefs systems, boundary systems, diagnostic control systems, and interactive systems to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, yet protect the firm from unanticipated franchise risks. This work is represented in the following publications:

    Books and Articles:

    Simons, R. Performance Measurement and Control Systems for Implementing Strategy. Prentice Hall, 2000.

    Simons, R. and A. Davila. 'How High Is Your Return on Management?' Harvard Business Review (January-February 1998): 71-80.

    Simons, R. 'Corporate Performance.' In The Handbook of Technology Management, edited by Richard Dorf. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1998.

    Simons, R. 'Control in an Age of Empowerment.' Harvard Business Review 73, no. 2 (March 1995): 8-88.

    Simons, R. Levers of Control: How Managers Use Innovative Control Systems to Drive Strategic Renewal. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1995.

    Simons, R. 'How New Top Managers Use Control Systems as Levers of Strategic Renewal.' Strategic Management Journal 15 (1994): 169-189.

    Simons, R. 'The Strategy of Control: How Accounting Information Helps to Formulate and Implement Business Strategy.' CA Magazine (March 1992): 44-50.

    Simons, R. 'Strategic Orientation and Top Management Attention to Control Systems.' Strategic Management Journal 12, no. 1 (1991): 49-62.

    Simons, R. 'The Role of Management Control Systems in Creating Competitive Advantage: New Perspectives.' Accounting, Organizations and Society 15, nos. 1-2 (1990): 127-143.

    Simons, R. 'Analysis of the Organizational Characteristics Related to Tight Budget Goals.' Contemporary Accounting Research 5, no. 1 (1988): 267-283.

    Simons, R. 'Accounting Control Systems and Business Strategy: An Empirical Analysis.' Accounting, Organizations and Society 12, no. 4 (1987): 357-374.

    Simons, R. 'Planning, Control, and Uncertainty: A Process View.' In Accounting and Management: Field Study Perspectives, edited by W. J. Bruns Jr. and R. S. Kaplan. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1987.

    Simons, R. and K. Merchant. 'Research and Control in Complex Organizations: An Overview.' Journal of Accounting Literature 5 (1986): 183-203. (with K. Merchant)

    Case Studies

    'American Red Cross Blood Services: Northeast Region.' Harvard Business School Case 190-078.

    'ATH Technologies, Inc.: Making the Numbers.' Harvard Business School Case 197-035.

    'Automatic Data Processing: The EFS Decision.' Harvard Business School Case 190-059.

    'Automation Consulting Services.' Harvard Business School Case 190-053.

    'Becton Dickinson--Designing the New Strategic, Operational, and Financial Planning Process.' Harvard Business School Case 197-014.

    'Cafes Monte Bianco: Building a Profit Plan.' Harvard Business School Case 198-088.

    'Central Maine Power Co.: Goals and Objectives Program (A).' Harvard Business School Case 190-065.

    'Central Maine Power Co.: Goals and Objectives Program (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 190-105.

    'Citibank: Performance Evaluation.' Harvard Business School Case 198-048.

    'Codman & Shurtleff, Inc.: Planning and Control System.' Harvard Business School Case 187-081.

    'Compagnie du Froid, S.A.' Harvard Business School Case 197-085. Simons, Robert L., and Antonio Davila.

    'Cross Country Group, The: A Piece of the Rock (B).' Harvard Business School Case 100-044.

    'Guidant Corporation: Shaping Culture Through Systems.' Harvard Business School Case 198-076.

    'Henkel: Building a Winning Culture.' Harvard Business School Case 112-060

    'IBM Corp.: 'Make It Your Business'' (A).' Harvard Business School Case 190-137. 'IBM Corp.: 'Make It Your Business'' (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 190-138.

    'Marriott Corp.: The Internal Audit Function.' Harvard Business School Case 191-007.

    'Mary Kay Cosmetics: Sales Force Incentives (A).' Harvard Business School Case 190-103.

    'Mary Kay Cosmetics: Sales Force Incentives (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 190-122.

    'MCI Communications: Planning for the 1990s.' Harvard Business School Case 190-136.

    'Nordstrom: Dissension in the Ranks? (A).' Harvard Business School Case 191-002.

    'Nordstrom: Dissension in the Ranks? (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 192-027.

    'Polysar Limited.' Harvard Business School Case 187-098.

    'Purity Steel Corporation, 1995.' Harvard Business School Case 197-082.

    'Tennessee Controls: The Strategic Ranking Problem.' Harvard Business School Case 191-083.

    'Turner Construction Co.: Project Management Control Systems TN.' Harvard Business School Teaching Note 191-124.

    'USA Today.' Harvard Business School Case 191-004. Simons, Robert L.

    'Vyaderm Pharmaceuticals.' Harvard Business School Case 101-019.

    'Walker and Company: Profit Plan Decisions.' Harvard Business School Case 197-084.

     

    IV. Risk Management

    In the area of risk identification and control, Simons has studied how various types of risk—including operational risk, asset impairment risk, and competitive risk—can destroy business reputations and franchises. This work is represented in the following publications:

    Books and Articles:

    Kaplan, Robert S., Anette Mikes, Robert Simons, Peter Tufano, and Michael Hofmann Jr. "Managing Risk in the New World." Harvard Business Review 87, no. 10 (October 2009): 68–75.

    Simons, R. Performance Measurement and Control Systems for Implementing Strategy. Prentice Hall, 2000, Chapters 12 and 13.

    Simons, R. 'How Risky Is Your Company?' Harvard Business Review 77, no. 1 (January-February 1999): 85-94.

    Harvard Case Studies:

    'ATH Technologies, Inc.: Making the Numbers.' Harvard Business School Case 197-035.

    'American Cancer Society: Access to Care.' Harvard Business School Case 109-015.

    'Bausch & Lomb, Inc.: Pressure to Perform.' Harvard Business School Case 198-009.

    'General Electric: Compliance Systems.' Harvard Business School Case 189-081.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (A).' Harvard Business School Case 189-009.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-010.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (C).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-011.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (D).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-012.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (E).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-013.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (F).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-014.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (G).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-015.

    'General Electric: Valley Forge (H).' Harvard Business School Supplement 189-016.

    'Hamilton Financial Investments: A Franchise Built on Trust.' Harvard Business School Case 198-089.

    'Kidder, Peabody & Co.: Creating Elusive Profits.' Harvard Business School Case 197-038.

    ‘Merck: Managing Vioxx (A).’ Harvard Business School Case 109-080.

    ‘Merck: Managing Vioxx (B).’ Harvard Business School Case 109-081.

    'Nordstrom: Dissension in the Ranks? (A).' Harvard Business School Case 191-002. 'Nordstrom: Dissension in the Ranks? (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 192-027.

    ‘Pfizer: Letter From the Chairman (A).’ Harvard Business School Case 110-003.

    ‘Pfizer: Letter From the Chairman (B).’ Harvard Business School Case 110-004.

    'Sydney IVF: Stem Cell Research.' Harvard Business School Case 109-017.

    'Tennessee Controls: The Strategic Ranking Problem.' Harvard Business School Case 191-083.

    'Westchester Distributing, Inc. (A).' Harvard Business School Case 191-118.

    'Westchester Distributing, Inc. (B).' Harvard Business School Supplement 191-119. IV. Role of Management in Society

     

    V  Simons also studies and writes about the role of management and management education in society. This work is represented in the following publications:

    Simon, R. 'The Business of Business Schools,' Mimeo, October 2011.

    Simons, R., H. Mintzberg, and K. Basu. 'Memo to CEOs: The Five Half- Truths of Business.' Fast Company 59 (June 2002): 117-121.

    Mintzberg, H, R. Simons, and K. Basu. 'Beyond Selfishness.' Sloan Management Review 44, no. 1 (fall 2002): 67-74.