The One Question to help Leaders Focus on Strategy-Lesson from Intel

When you think of Intel, you most likely think of the its dominance in the microprocessor industry. Most of us have forgotten how Intel broke into the market depending primarily on the production of its memory chips. This shift in product strategy altered the brand, making Intel a household name. What was the one question that helps leaders focus on strategy?

As the story goes, CEO Andrew Grove and company leader Gordon Moore were facing a rapidly changing landscape in the technology industry and global competition. They realized they could no longer churn out the same products and services and survive. According to the Wall Street Journal, Groves and Moore asked themselves one question helps leaders focus on strategy.

Groves: “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?” Mr. Moore answered that a new CEO would get Intel out of the memory-chip business. “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?” Mr. Grove retorted. He then did just that, reshaping Intel from a memory-chip producer to a microprocessor maker.

HR professionals can help leaders focus on strategy with one question: If you were to be replaced, what would your replacement do be successful?

The Leadership Conundrum

Leaders are often bombarded with information to process and decisions to make. The noise around them can prevent them from focusing on strategy causing the business to struggle. The value HR consultants can bring is clarity through asking this question.

Another aspect of the leadership conundrum involves the difficulty associated with changing course. I have found even when leaders I’ve consulted answered the question, they struggled with committing to action. The idea of changing course seems like admitting defeat or can be so complicated, it exhausts the leader.

How HR can help leaders focus on strategy

When you find your client struggling to focus on strategy, help them refocus by asking the question. Step back and allow them time to process the question. You may even help by conducting a brainstorming session with them, allowing the client leader to hash their ideas out. As the HR partner, you’ll have to not only be the coach but also the manager to help your client make the right move.

Once you feel the session has produced a feasible strategy, urge the leader to think next through implementation/execution. Play devil’s advocate to push the leader to consider all aspects. Identify the objections and obstacles but also help find ways to overcome them. This is where many HR professionals fail. The only identify the risk but fail to help their clients work through them.

Remember, if this is the strategy to help the business succeed, you are just as vested in its success as the manager. This is a great way to prove your value to your client and will strengthen your relationship with them.


Sometimes HR partners must help leaders get out of their own head. This one question helps leaders focus on strategy and less on the noise around them.

Just imagine if Groves and Moore had not asked themselves this question. Would Intel have suffered the same fate as Kodak, Blockbuster and other who were unwilling to focus on the right strategy to succeed.

Do you have a “Silver Bullet” Question you ask your client leaders to help them focus on strategy? If so, I’d love to hear it!

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