8 Essential Questions for Every Corporate Innovator

Identifying New Growth Opportunities

  1. What problem is the customer struggling to solve?
  2. Which customers can’t participate in a market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions?

Identifying the Threat of Disruption

  1. Where are we overshooting the market by providing features that users don’t care about and don’t want to pay for?
  2. If you were going to disrupt your company, how would you do it?

Designing Compelling Offerings

  1. Who has already solved the problem you are trying to address?
  2. What can you do that few other companies in the world can do?

Commercializing Your Idea

  1. What assumption are you making that, if false, would blow your strategy up?
  2. How can you learn more affordably and efficiently?

Source: Eight Essential Questions for Every Corporate Innovator by Scott Anthony | HBR Blog Network

3 Buying vs. Building Questions

Three essential questions can help companies determine when buying rather than building makes sense for them:

  1. Does someone else have a capability that would enhance your business? There are many different kinds of capabilities—technologies, sales channels, operations in particular geographic areas and so forth. If no one else has the capabilities you need to strengthen or adapt your business, you obviously have to grow them yourself. If the capabilities are available, they may be candidates for acquisition.
  2. Is the risk-adjusted rate of return higher if you buy the capability than if you build it internally? Every acquisition carries risks, but every investment in organic growth also carries risks. The challenge for companies’ financial teams is to create apples-to-apples comparisons for expected returns on investments in organic vs. inorganic growth, factoring in the risks on both sides as accurately as possible.
  3. Do you have a “parenting advantage” in managing the capability? Capabilities don’t exist in a vacuum; they exist in organizations. If your organization is better than anybody else at managing a particular capability—perhaps because of your experience with similar ones—you have a built-in advantage over other potential acquirers.

Source: The Renaissance in Mergers and Acquisitions: What to Do with All That Cash? by David Harding, Karen Harris, Richard Jackson and Satish Shankar | Bain & Company

10 Questions that Take the Pulse of a Company’s Inventory Health

  1. Are you able to break down your operating inventory into the three major categories when reporting levels—safety, replenishment and excess or obsolete stock?
  2. Is your company using the most effective method to calculate your safety stock levels?
  3. Do you recalculate safety stock levels on a regular basis to ensure they are up to date?
  4. Who decides key inventory-related policy such as striking the right balance between customer service and cost-effective product inventory levels?
  5. Who determines the optimal frequency for producing or ordering products?
  6. How do you determine the frequency for ordering and inventory production if it’s not set solely by factories or the supply organization?
  7. Is the optimal order or production frequency calculated on a regular basis as part of a continuous improvement process?
  8. Do you have regular visibility into excess and obsolete stock, and is it linked to targeted action plans to sell off or reduce this inventory?
  9. Do you perform root-cause analyses on excess and obsolete stock and know how they are linked to action plans that curb more excesses from being created?
  10. Do you apply the above practices to all parts of your inventory (finished goods, raw material, works in process and spare parts) and in all organizational entities?

Source: Ten ways to improve inventory management by Ronald Fink, Pratap Mukharji, Sam Israelit, Francois Faelli, Thierry Catfolis, Raymond Tsang | Bain & Company, WSJ.com

Big Data Collection and Use Questions

Real opportunity exists to create differentiation and set new “community standards in honoring the spirit of personal privacy and property rights while enhancing and protecting the value of a brand and enterprise. Some policy questions to be considered:


  • Do customers understand how our company uses the data gathered from their interactions and transactions?
  • If customers knew the full extent of its use, would they agree to it?
  • Does our enterprise have the capability to remove customer data if requested or required?

Enterprise Risk

  • Has our enterprise assessed the potential consequences of pending data usage regulations, legislation and lawsuits? Are the potential franchise or reputation risks mitigated? Does the board of directors agree with our assessment?
  • Are controls in place that increase the likelihood that data collection platforms are used appropriately? Are metrics gathered and shared with our executives and board of directors that confirm that we are not impairing our brand or franchise? Is our enterprise empowered to enforce appropriate usage?
  • Does our organization use external data, and do we have the actual usage rights? Are we infringing on personal property rights in any direct or indirect way?
  • Do we monitor our site to prevent outside companies from tracking customers without our knowledge?
  • What exposure do we have to inaccurate data regarding individual subscribers?

Operations and Compliance

  • If customers chose to opt out, or if we are required to offer this option, how will it impact our franchise? Do we have the capability to remove their information from our databases?
  • If we were forced to compensate customers for the data we gather or have gathered from them, how would this impact our business model?
  • Does our compliance function appropriately address data rights, or is it narrowly focused on data security and data privacy, such as personally identifiable information (PII)? When can data be subpoenaed if stored in country X while reflecting actions in country Y?
  • Does our organization monitor for direct and indirect misuse of our data and data platform?
  • For each country the company operates in, do I understand and follow the societal norms of property and privacy rights? Do we understand and are we responsible for where data end up being used?

Source: Gold Rush by Thomas Galizia, Trevor Gee, Ken Landis | Deloitte Review

9 Questions Boards Should Ask about Technology

  1. How will IT change the basis of competition in our industry?
    • Who are our emerging competitors?
    • How is technology helping us win against traditional and new competitors?
    • How can we use technology to enter new markets?
  2. What will it take to exceed our customers’ expectations in a digital world?
    • How does our customer experience compare with that of leaders in other sectors?
    • What will our customers expect in the future, and what will it take to delight them?
    • Do we have clear plans for how to meet or exceed their expectations?
  3. Do our business plans reflect the full potential of technology to improve our performance?
    • Has the P&L opportunity and threat from IT been quantified by business unit and by market?
    • Will our current plans fully capture the opportunity and neutralize the threat?
    • What is the time horizon of these plans, and have they been factored into future financial projections for both business and IT?
  4. Is our portfolio of technology investments aligned with opportunities and threats?
    • How well is our IT-investment portfolio aligned with business value with regard to opportunities and threats?
    • How well does the portfolio balance short-term and long-term needs?
    • Do we have effective value-assurance processes in place to mitigate execution risk?
  5. How will IT improve our operational and strategic agility?
    • How does our business and IT agility measure up with that of our competitors?
    • How do our IT plans increase our business and IT agility?
    • Are our sourcing relationships increasing or reducing our agility?
  6. Do we have the capabilities required to deliver value from IT?
    • Do we have the capabilities needed to drive full value from our existing IT systems?
    • What are the weakest links in our capabilities?
    • Do we have enough IT-literate executives?
    • What is our plan for upgrading capabilities?
  7. Who is accountable for IT and how do we hold them to account?
    • What is our operating model for IT, and is it aligned with our business priorities?
    • Who is accountable for delivering business value from IT—both overall and by activity?
    • Are those accountable being measured using business-friendly scorecards that create the right incentives?
  8. Are we comfortable with our level of IT risk?
    • Do we have a comprehensive understanding of the IT risks we face?
    • How is our level of IT risk measured, and is it aligned with the company’s overall risk appetite?
    • How are we reducing our IT risk on an ongoing basis?
    • Who is responsible for overseeing the level of IT risk?
  9. Are we making the most of our technology story?
    • What are the key messages we should communicate?
    • How, when, and to whom should they be communicated?

Source: The Do-or-Die Questions Boards Should Ask About Technology by Paul Willmott | The McKinsey Quarterly

Big Data Public Policy Questions

The potentially all-knowing capabilities of companies and organizations that collect data raise questions.

  • What are an individual’s privacy rights given the particular and dynamic dimensions of the digital world: the amount of data, the real time processing of and actions taken based on the data?
  • Should there be limits as to how data can be collected or used?
  • Who owns the data?
  • Who should benefit from the value it generates?
  • How can personal information be reclaimed by the individual once it’s dispersed?

Source: Gold Rush by Thomas Galizia, Trevor Gee, Ken Landis | Deloitte Review

Multi-Channel Marketing Questions

In order to serve this channel-savvy, highly mobile, multidevice-happy consumer, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have their work cut out for them. These CMOs need to have an accurate understanding of consumers—their intentions, impressions of products and services and their behavior; to pinpoint exactly which marketing channels—online or offline—are yielding maximum MROI.

For example, knowing the impact of paid search engine marketing (SEM), online display media, natural search marketing based on search engine optimization (SEO) or affiliate partners, on both online and offline customer behavior. Or understanding how email, mobile-optimized websites, online video ads, social media, mobile display ads and the like, work together with offline media. For that, CMOs must have accurate answers to questions such as

  • How did a particular sale happen?
  • Who should get the credit for it?
  • How much credit should be attributed to each consumer interaction across channels, and on what basis?
  • How should the investment be apportioned across channels?

Source: Multichannel Attribution: Measuring Marketing ROI in the Digital Era | Accenture

Strengths-Based Questions

If you’re involved in activities that you’re already naturally inclined to do well, your attitude toward work is different and you contribute more to your workplace compared with someone who may have similar skills but less natural ability. Doing what you do best is essential to being a star performer at work. As an employee, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know what I do best every day?
  • What do I enjoy most in my day-to-day activities at work?
  • How much time do I spend doing what I enjoy most?
  • What part of my current role energizes me?
  • What were my greatest accomplishments in the past six months?
  • Can I connect my talents to my accomplishments?
  • Do others know what I do best every day?
  • Am I communicating to the right people about what I do best?
  • Have I gathered input and feedback from the right people on how to apply my talents in my role?
  • Is there a career path that my manager and I can agree on that builds on what I do best?

Source: Why Strengths Matter in Training by Aniruddh Haralalka, Leong Chee Tung | Gallup Management Journal

12 Questions from Jim Collins

Jim Collins has spent a career probing the inner workings of great companies. Below, he boils 25 years of research into 12 questions that leaders must grapple with if they truly want to excel. Collins’s advice: Be systematic. Every month, have your leadership team discuss one of the following questions. Repeat the process annually for five years.

  1. Do we want to build a great company, and are we willing to do what it takes?
    It begins by making a choice, with a clear understanding of what that choice entails.
  2. Do we have the right people on the bus and in the key seats?
    You need to decide whom you do and don’t want to have with you. You should do that even before deciding exactly where you want to go.
  3. What are the brutal facts?
    You can’t make good decisions if you don’t confront the facts, especially the most troubling ones, those that could represent a serious threat to your survival. The key is to do it without losing faith.
  4. What is our hedgehog: What can we be the best at, with an economic engine, and for which we have unbounded passion?
    “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” wrote Isaiah Berlin. Your hedgehog combines your passion and your special talents with what you can make money doing.
  5. What is our 20-Mile March, and are we hitting it?
    That is, what is the specific performance goal you’ve made a commitment to meeting year in and year out, in good times and bad, and how are you doing with it?
  6. Where should we place our big bets, based on empirical validation?
    You should devote major resources to a new initiative (fire a cannonball) only if you already know it’s likely to succeed. That means first conducting low-cost, low-risk tests on a range of possibilities (shooting bullets).
  7. What are the core values and core purpose on which we want to build this enterprise for 100 years?
    The challenge is not just to build a company that can endure, but to build one that is worthy of enduring.
  8. What is our 15- to 25-year BHAG?
    To build a great, enduring company, you need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that is tangible, energizing, and highly focused and that people can understand immediately with little or no explanation.
  9. What could kill us, and how can we protect our flanks?
    Paranoia is productive when it helps you survive the inevitable bad surprises that will come along and avoid the disasters that they are capable of producing.
  10. What should we stop doing, to increase our discipline and focus?
    In creating a culture of discipline, it’s as important to determine what you should not be doing as it is to know what you should be doing.
  11. How can we increase our return on luck?
    All companies experience both good and bad luck. It’s what you do with your luck that counts. How can you get the most benefit from it either way, and how can you minimize any damage that a run of bad luck will cause?
  12. Are we becoming a Level 5 leadership team and cultivating a Level 5 management culture?
    The fifth, and highest, level of leadership builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Are you providing it?

Source: Jim Collins: Be Great Now by Bo Burlingham | Inc. Magazine

4 HR Analytics Questions

We have identified four critical areas where organizations can focus their time, energy, and resources to more effectively use analytics to improve workforce productivity and capability.  Answering these questions is critical to demonstrating how the human resource function can add substantially to the strategy and operations of the company.

  1. Based on the organization’s strategy, what is the work that needs to be done, and are the processes, structures, and roles designed to efficiently and effectively accomplish it? This analytic approach shifts the focus of executives away from simply reducing head count and costs to understanding how an organization can become more productive and competitive—knowing where to invest in their organization and workforce and what the benefits of these investments will be.
  2. Is the human capital supply chain filling those roles with people capable of doing the work at the quantity, quality, and cost required of the business model? This question moves the focus of workforce decisions away from the cost of hiring, training, and developing workers to one that addresses how best to meet the demand for labor required to execute the strategy of the company.
  3. Once in place, is the workforce fully engaged and motivated to meet or exceed performance standards? This analytic approach migrates from quick and narrowly defined performance management fixes to ask a broader but basic business question: what do we expect from our workers and what do we need to provide them to meet those expectations?
  4. Finally, since change is ubiquitous, how can we detect the need for change, test innovations and disseminate those throughout the organization? This approach focuses on understanding how organizations and people can share insights and innovations that allow them to be more productive, while reducing the risk of poorly designed or executed change.

Source: Workforce Analytics: Making the Most of a Critical Asset by Eric Lesser and Carl Hoffman | Ivey Business Journal