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Mind the Gap: Why Strategic Execution Fails and What to Do About It

Concerned about strategy execution? You’re not alone. Here are tangible ways you can fill the gap.



Creating a great strategy takes hard work, but it can seem like the easy part compared to actually applying it. A Gartner poll revealed 70% of strategists worry they won’t be able to close the strategy execution gap. Many business leaders struggle to make their well-crafted plan take root during implementation.


While our last article delved into strategy’s value, this article explores what causes the strategy execution gap and how your company can overcome it.


The Grand Canyon Between Strategy and Execution


Here are some common missteps businesses make that cause them to stumble, trip, or even fall into the gap between creating a strategy and producing the desired results.


1. Not Enough Execution Focus


While many organizations focus on developing strategies, few carry that same energy and effort into execution. Company plans can’t survive without support at all levels. By not devising tactics to put the strategy into action and working together to supervise implementation, most plans won’t make it far.


2. Lack of Leadership and Strategy Confidence


According to Strategy&’s study involving over 6,000 corporate leaders and senior managers, only 35% believe “their strategy will lead the company to success.” If an organization’s leaders aren’t buying into a plan, why would their teams? Higher-level individuals demonstrating well-placed confidence and leadership in the company’s strategy reassures other employees, inspiring increased effort and motivation.


3. Communication Blunders


Miscommunication or poor communication is the bane of business. Employees need goals to follow and an understanding of the larger vision. Progress stalls when individual strategy steps and different departments’ roles are not clear or routinely shared.


4. Misalignment of Resources


Another reason execution fails is due to funds, time, talent, and other resource allocations misaligning with strategy needs. Examples include bad time management (double work or inefficient meetings), investments not being priority-focused, or wasting coworkers’ talents by not having them in positions that properly utilize their abilities.


5. Rigid Strategy


Inflexible plans break under pressure. As we discussed in our previous article, a powerful strategy evolves. Refusing to look into any possibilities outside the original proposal blinds you to new opportunities and hurts your chances of overcoming unexpected situations.


Creating Strong Bridges


You can’t jump across the Grand Canyon and expect to reach the other side. The same goes for the gap between strategy and implementation. Before starting, you need the proper tools, materials, and work roles to build an enduring bridge. As Quantive states, “Execution starts before anyone moves a muscle.”


Identity


A study by the Harvard Business Review investigated what made some major companies (including Amazon and Apple) strategies successful. Instead of going every which way the market wind blows, these businesses commit to an identity and focus on what they do best, drawing on their differentiating capabilities.


With this strong sense of identity comes confidence and purpose. By prioritizing your strengths, vision, and unique products and services, your ability to strategize increases—driving results that create motivation for employees and clients.


Concrete Steps


Establishing clear, easy-to-understand steps and goals is vital. Further Harvard Business Review research reveals “the highest-performing executive teams invest 54% more time in setting initial direction, crafting their vision, and transcribing it into clear, tangible objectives before moving to action.”


Just like you wouldn’t start building a bridge before getting the necessary materials and tools, strategy objectives and actionable steps should be clearly communicated before anything else.


Work Roles


From CEOs to entry-level employees, everyone in your organization needs to understand their part in the company’s strategy. Convey roles, responsibilities, and deadlines. Prioritize proper training for all positions, especially if new knowledge or skills are necessary for strategy success.


Crossing the Gap to Reach Your Goals


Now that you’ve built a durable bridge, you must cross the canyon. Here are key action steps to focus on as you finish executing your strategy.


1. Clear Priorities


Prevent priority chaos by limiting urgent tasks and making sure people in your organization understand the company’s focus and how it influences work decisions. Break priorities down into solid, measurable actions. What can we do every day to advance toward these goals?


Communicating pressing needs is also a priority in and of itself. Employees who know where to center their efforts increase efficiency, feel more invested, and may even provide ideas about better ways to reach goals.


2. Performance Management


Consistently review progress. Use performance management systems to study key metrics, maintain accountability, and monitor performance. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which we reviewed in this article, can also be a valuable tool. Organizations can use this goal-setting and achieving method to plan and measure strategy outcomes.


To create worthwhile OKRs, think about objectives (well-defined end goals) as what needs to be improved and key results (evidence) as outcomes the business can measure on an ongoing basis. This system allows companies to know whether improvement is happening or it’s time for adjustments.


3. Efficient Correction


Whatever performance management system you use, the ability to quickly shift directions and make changes when needed is crucial. Keep strategy data visible, support conversation and feedback, and ensure all leaders and departments know their decision rights.


4. Encourage Growth


Strategy and company culture should allow for innovation. Motivate and reward constant learning, new training, and an environment where individuals feel safe sharing new ideas. This culture can inspire and lead to changes that support enhanced strategy execution.


Stepping Onto the Other Side


The hole between strategy and execution can be intimidating—especially when it feels like the size of the Grand Canyon! Too many companies are unprepared for implementation and don’t have the insight to manage performance effectively. By minding the gap, you can carry out your strategy with confidence.

 

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