A recent HBR article by Robert Simons discusses seven questions to stress test your strategy. There are two aspects of this that I like. The first is the use of questions as an approach to facilitate broader consideration of issues. I have used this in planning sessions where managers were only allowed to frame questions rather than answers to strategic plans (i.e how can we increase market share in the face of increasing competition? how will we assess our delivery of value to our stakeholders?). By sticking to questions it opens up a broader consideration and view of “what” needs to be solved rather than a narrower discussion on “the answers”.
The second aspect I like about this article is a quote by former Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher ..“If employees are treated well, they’ll treat the customers well. If the customers are treated well, they’ll come back, and the shareholders will be happy.” To drive this point home, Kelleher regularly appeared in national newspaper ads under the caption “Employees first. Customers second. Shareholders third.”
Now for hard-nosed commercial managers Southwest Airlines is a low-cost airline and is one of the world’s most profitable airlines, posting a profit for the 37th consecutive year in January 2010. Given few airlines in the world are profitable it makes you wonder about their priorities! More companies putting employees first could really change the management paradigm (see also Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down by Vineet Nayar (Jun 8, 2010).
The Seven Questions are below;
1: Who is your primary customer?
2: How do your core values prioritize shareholders, employees, and customers?
3: What critical performance variables are you tracking?
4: What strategic boundaries have you set?
5: How are you generating creative tension?
6: How committed are your employees to helping each other?
7: What strategic uncertainties keep you awake at night?
A good set of questions.. what others can you think of?