Ask the Right Questions

Old companies or new, all need a plan. In developing a strategy, "steady as she goes" is an option but may lead to competitive disadvantages and declining results. On the other hand, a highly risky strategy could produce above market results but may also not end well.

When developing a strategy (and if a company has a board, when the board is assessing the risks of a strategy), ask a lot of questions. Challenge management, your advisors and team, and focus on asking the right questions. (And if no one is asking questions, be very worried!)

Depending on the business, there are hundreds of questions to ask. Some general questions for consideration when crafting a plan may include the following:

  • Who are we, i.e., corporate culture, differentiator from competitors?

  • Who is our customer and what do we know about them? How many are there, and can we find more? Who else is after them, or what if they are already there?

  • What is our value proposition, and are we the only ones offering this?

  • What are we trying to accomplish? How? By when?

  • What did we learn from our competitive analysis, and what alternative strategies have been considered?

  • Based on past performance, can profits and/or losses be tied to the proposed strategy, and do they appropriately correspond to the associated risks? What process was used to tie strategy to associated risks?

  • What are our key assumptions? We know what may happen if they are wrong, but what if they change?

  • What capabilities are required to execute strategy and manage risks? What capability gaps exist?

If answering these questions lead to asking three times as many questions -- both for management and for the board -- then we are asking the right questions. We may not hear what we want or what we expected, but if we are open to discovery and willing to listen, the answers should lead to better results. Never stop asking the right questions!

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