How to Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap

Having a strategy on paper is easy. But executing against it is hard—that’s why 60% of strategies fail to even be implemented. Avoid these three pitfalls, and yours will stand a much better chance.

How to Bridge the Strategy-Execution GapHow to Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap

If you are a CEO, GM, or functional leader at your company, there’s a good chance that you spent time in Q1 gathering your team together to create a full year or H1 plan to help you navigate the current economic environment—to prioritize profitable growth, to do more with less, and to hyperfocus resources on the highest-value opportunities.

And there’s an equally good chance that most of those plans failed—not because of bad strategy, but poor execution. The “strategy-execution” gap is a real problem for organizations, one that leads to missed milestones, wasted resources, and lost opportunities.

To help with your H2 planning, I’ve outlined the most common reasons teams struggle to convert their plans to execution, and what to do about them.

Execution Fail #1: Your plan lacked strategic clarity

More than 90% of a company’s employees, on average, are either unaware of, don’t understand, or can’t articulate their company’s strategy. When you have a plan that no one in your company knows exists—or one that’s too long or complicated to understand—you have a strategic clarity problem.

So take time to create a simple, digestible one-page summary of your strategy for your team, then socialize it and revisit it often—in town hall presentations, business updates, team huddles, even performance appraisals. Strategies that sit on the shelf or in a rarely-seen slide deck don’t get operationalized.

Execution Fail #2: Your plan lacked organizational alignment

A large enterprise company was doing a retrospective on why their latest product launch had failed. When they dug in, they discovered the issue: the new product had been priced to take share, but the salesforce’s compensation was structured to incentivize reps on profit contribution. As a result, sales focused its efforts on the products that best aligned with their goals. That kind of misalignment between functions, or between leadership and the frontlines, happens all the time.

Instead, the top team needs to co-develop and agree on one unified set of objectives for the company as a whole, rather than each silo developing her or his own plan. And second, make sure frontline staff—anyone in contact with customers—can connect the company’s goals and strategy to their day-to-day work. If your plan doesn’t explicitly align the pillars of the plan to sales, customer service, and other frontline activities, you’re setting it up to be ignored.

Execution Fail #3: Your plan lacked operational focus

You can take the stairs or the escalator—but you can’t take both at the same time. And yet companies do it all the time. The pressure to grow and demonstrate traction causes them to spread themselves too thin in too many directions, which is why a lack of operational focus is the most deadly of the three strategy killers.

When Cirque du Soleil launched in the 1980s, it likely had a lot of compelling reasons to include large animals in its show: animals were seen as indispensable to traditional circuses at that time. But getting rid of animals altogether allowed the company to focus all of its attention on creating a new theatrical experience that ultimately appealed to a much wider range of audiences and opened up new avenues for growth.

Sometimes you have to subtract activities to unlock the resources and focus you need to drive your strategy forward. So ask yourself, what are the circus animals in your business? Meaning, are there parts of your service suite, product line, or customer base that burn critical resources and pull your team out of formation, but are nonetheless really difficult to shut down. Find those circus animals and fire them—humanely.

By ensuring strategic clarity, organizational alignment, and operational focus, your team can overcome common execution failures and maximize your potential.

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