Bridging the Strategy Gap

A new study from The Economist Intelligence Unit reveals that strategies are missing the mark because of poor implementation, according to global business leaders.

A recent survey of 500 global, senior business executives shows that companies struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and its day-to-day implementation. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed admitted they fail to reach all of their strategic goals because they do not implement well.

The study, commissioned by the Brightline Initiative and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, proved there is a clear disconnect between those designing strategies and those being called on to implement them, something that is potentially losing companies millions of dollars and giving their competitors an advantage. Some 59 percent of respondents admitted that their organizations “often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and its practical, day-to-day implementation.” Furthermore, 62 percent agreed that implementation is seen as an operational task––rather than a distinct, strategic one.

Interviewed as part of the study, Benoit Claveranne, Group Chief Transformation Officer at AXA, a French-based multinational insurer, admitted, “How you go from strategy to implementation is the question that keeps us awake at night on the leadership team.”

The study was supplemented by in-depth interviews with leaders from companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Volkswagen to identify best practices in resolving these issues, which range from poor organizational communication to mismanagement of resources. Today’s business landscape moves quickly. Leaders must be nimble and versatile in their strategy development, as well as make timely course corrections based on both consumer and competitive insights to succeed.

The research also identifies a small cadre of companies—classified as Leaders—that report faring best at achieving their strategic objectives. Some best practices of this elite group include the following:

  • Getting intelligence to those who can do something about it. More than half of Leaders say their organization provides effective feedback to allow those implementing strategy to take into account information from the evolving competitor landscape (compared with 35 percent of other respondents). Fifty percent of Leaders say they collect and effectively distribute information on changing customer needs (versus 34 percent from others).
  • Balancing responsiveness and long-term vision. Leaders move quickly to adjust strategy and implementation to exploit changing opportunities and risks. At the same time, they keep an end goal in sight, to avoid being knocked off track by overreacting to short-term developments.
  • Viewing strategy design and delivery as a continuum. At Leaders, interaction between those implementing strategy and those responsible for designing it leads to an ongoing evolution of the strategy itself, as well as to program delivery approaches that are most effective for putting it into practice.

Gilda Stahl, editor of the report, says, “The C-suite frequently sees strategy implementation as a separate activity, a putting in place of changes ordered from above. This leads to nothing but pain. Leaders need to be engaged in strategy delivery because it is inextricably linked to strategy design. The two must co-evolve.”

The report brings to light the vastness of this strategy gap across global business and it will be interesting to see how leaders begin to correct these issues in the coming years as the landscape of business continues to shift rapidly in this age of ever-evolving media, consumer preference and technology.

Ricardo Vargas is executive director of Brightline Initiative. Over the last 20 years, Vargas has been responsible for more than 80 major transformation projects in several countries within the oil and gas, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications, information technology and finance industries, covering an investment portfolio of more than $20 billion. Brightline Initiative™ is a coalition of leading global organizations from business, government, and not-for-profit sectors, including the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the Project Management Institute (PMI), and the Agile Alliance, with a mission to provide a knowledge and networking platform that delivers insights and solutions to successfully bridge the gap between strategy development and strategy implementation. Vargas has written 15 books on the subject of project management, published in Portuguese and English with translations in French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Danish, which have sold more than 300,000 copies globally.





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