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How Top Companies are Closing the Strategy Execution Gap

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16 min read
Transparent overlapping, gapped squares with checkmarks to demonstrate how to close the strategy execution gap concept

Maybe this sounds familiar: 

After months of meetings, a CEO and her team finalize an ambitious business strategy. They sell the vision to the board and roll out the details to employees, generating much excitement. They work in eager anticipation, watching for all of the moving parts to click into place, hoping for successful outcomes.  

Over time, however, lackluster results trickle in, and misalignments become evident. The strategic plan created months ago has lost relevance, stripping the company of its competitive edge. 

With a mismatch between the developed strategy, its execution, and current circumstances, leadership loses traction with employees, energy wanes, and everyone loses confidence. The resulting strategy execution gap makes it hard to muster fresh hope for the next round of strategic development. 

If this resonates with you, you’re not alone.  

  • Only 1 in 3 leaders agree their company has a “well-defined” strategy 
  • 70% of strategists are concerned they’re not able to close the strategy execution gap 
  • Slow strategic execution is a leading frustration for executives year after year 
  • 40% of companies are classified as “adrift” in terms of strategy and execution 

If your strategy isn't delivering the expected results, keep reading. This article explores how business leaders can close the strategy execution gap, ensuring that the developed strategy aligns with the internal and external dynamics impacting your business. 

Before diving in, let’s understand the strategic components we’re trying to connect: Strategy development and execution. 

What is strategy development?

Strategy development involves evaluating how your business fairs within its internal and external landscape to help create a strategy in alignment with your mission, vision, goals, and overall environment.  

Core aspects of strategy development include: 

  • Crafting strategies customized to your business, accounting for its ambitions, resources, competitive landscape, customers, and broader business environment 
  • Identifying and addressing risks, scenarios, and trade-offs to ensure resilience and adaptability 
  • Creating a communication and execution plan with defined goals and success metrics to provide a roadmap for the organization 

Read more on strategy development in our bite-sized FAQ 

a green bullseye graphic representing strategy development

What is strategy execution?

Strategy execution involves making the devised strategic plan actionable and executing it to meet your organizational goals on time, on budget, and on target.  

Execution may cover the following: 

  • Translating the strategic plan into concrete steps for all levels of the organization 
  • Identifying and allocating the resources needed to meet the objective(s) 
  • Assigning roles, responsibilities, and deadlines 
  • Prioritizing and reprioritizing, then clearly communicating the changes 
  • Determining how to measure success best 
  • Tracking progress with data 
  • Inevitably deviating from the original plan  

Now that we’ve covered these two components let’s see what goes wrong when they’re disjointed — enter the strategy execution gap.  

What is the strategy execution gap?

The strategy execution gap is the disconnect between a company's strategic aims and the strategy’s practical implementation. It’s typically the result of businesses struggling to translate their objectives into actions that suit market needs, causing issues related to alignment, resource allocation, communication, and adaptability.

What causes the strategy execution gap?

The strategy execution gap can be caused by many strategic development pitfalls — a lot of which are driven by weaknesses in the traditional approach to strategy development and execution. Outdated approaches create misalignment between strategic plans and their practical application, resulting in stagnant, inefficient, and poorly executed strategies. 

Some of the leading causes of the strategy execution gap are: 

  • Not aligning business strategy with company vision and values 
  • Failing to sync strategies with the actualities of the business including its resources, customer trends, and shifting landscape 
  • Poorly defining priorities or having too many of them 
  • Basing plans on biases or faulty assumptions, including bad data or poor interpretations 
  • Neglecting to translate objectives into clear and actionable steps 
  • Allocating insufficient resources (e.g., time, money, talent) 
  • Failing to communicate consistently, leading to disengagement or misaligned targets 
  • Inadequately training, supporting, and resourcing managers  
  • Creating a rigid plan that hinders employee ownership, ingenuity, and flexibility 
  • Failing to assess strategic performance regularly 
  • Updating strategies irregularly, with annual or sporadic updates leading to dated plans upon implementation 
  • Ignoring employee sentiment and well-being, contributing to cynicism, disengagement, and change fatigue  
  • Inadequate follow-up and monitoring post-deployment, resulting in a lack of assessment of strategy effectiveness 
  • Infrequent strategy adjustments in response to market changes, causing strategies to become disconnected from the business's current state 
  • Delay in translating strategic decisions into a clear execution plan, causing these decisions to become outdated by the time of execution 

How to close the gap between strategy development and execution

As you can see, companies fail to close the strategy execution gap for a lot of reasons. To help you turn these struggles into successes, we’ve created a step-by-step plan for taking your strategy from development to execution.  

This seven-step approach to closing the strategy execution gap includes: 

  • Step 1: Develop a strategy suitable to your business’ environment 
  • Step 2: Align execution to strategy 
  • Step 3: Share priorities widely 
  • Step 4: Measure outcomes, not activities 
  • Step 5: Make progress visible 
  • Step 6: Continuously evaluate, adapt, and evolve the plan 
  • Step 7: Embrace a growth mindset 

Step 1: Develop a strategy suitable to your business’ environment

Closing the strategy execution gap with an ill-suited strategy isn’t a win. Your strategy should be relevant, rooted in your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and market circumstances while emphasizing quick execution. To achieve this, you must consider the following dimensions:. 

The market environment

Conduct a thorough but timely analysis of market trends, industry dynamics, and competitor strategies for insights into opportunities and threats. By understanding the competitive landscape and market forces, you can tailor your strategic plan to capitalize on these and stay differentiated. It’s essential that your thorough analysis is still up-to-date and relevant by the time you use it to make strategic decisions. Therefore, completeness and comprehensiveness must also be paired with speed and adaptability. 

Internal capabilities and resources

Evaluate your business’s internal capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and resources to ensure your developed strategy not only capitalizes on your competitive advantages, but also addresses potential gaps. 

Key stakeholder perspectives

Engage with stakeholders across various levels and functions within your organization for valuable insights into their perspectives, concerns, and priorities. This helps you double down on your strategy’s relevance while driving buy-in, alignment, and ownership of the strategic plan. 

Agility and flexibility in strategy design

Incorporate agility and flexibility into strategy design through iterative planning, a culture of innovation, and open communication. This keeps your strategy adaptive, allowing you to seize opportunities and navigate challenges effectively. 

Step 2: Align execution to strategy

It’s tempting to think that a great plan naturally leads to clear action steps and execution. But that’s not a given. In fact, 74% of executives admit their strategies are not well-translated into concrete actions, and 79% are concerned their organization doesn’t allocate sufficient resources to implement their strategy. 

The bottom line? Without alignment between your strategic plan and next steps, even the best employees miss the mark. 

Alignment happens when everyone in the organization — from top to bottom — understands the plan, the actionable steps needed to execute it as expected, and the resources necessary to make it happen.  

So, assuming you’ve already got a first-rate strategy, how do you make it practical while staying true to your goals?  

Clearly define priorities

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. You need to clarify what’s important to everyone involved, ensuring collective action focuses on what matters.  

As part of this, check and continually re-check that priorities are moving your organization toward its vision.  

Make priorities actionable and measurable

You see it everywhere because it’s true — what gets measured gets managed. Providing numerical, time-bound reference points is the only way to know if you’re on track.  

Adopt a framework, such as objectives and key results (OKRs), for defining success. Use another, like key performance indicators (KPIs), for real-time measurement. Doing so ensures actions are trackable and aligned with your goals. 

Not sure how they work together? Check out our article comparing OKRs and KPIs

a circular illustration representing OKRs vs KPIs

Identify the resources, infrastructure, and support required 

Many great plans have been brought down by a failure to allocate resources wisely. You must ensure the resources deployed align with the strategy.  

A few critical questions asked early on can help: What will it take to see these objectives become reality? New technology? Additional training? A bigger workforce? Increased funding for a particular geographical region or department?  

Step 3: Share priorities widely

It’s hard for employees to feel invested in what they don’t know or don’t understand. That’s why executives at the top of their performance game spend 12% more time creating alignment through frequent communication. They break down strategy into pieces, pushing messages of clear, practical steps down the entire organization. This ensures all the organization’s moving parts work in a complementary fashion. 

Here are some things to think about as you develop your communication plan:  

Why communicate

If most employees don’t understand what the business strategy is or how it impacts them, they won’t be able to execute it. You need to be transparent about your organizational objectives, why they’re important, and how you plan to achieve them. This enhances focus while building trust between company leaders and team members. 

What to communicate

Work on sharing more than you think you must. Some essential things you’ll want to communicate include:  

  • Your business’s strategic approach 
  • Company vision 
  • Goals, metrics, and targets 
  • Roles and responsibilities 
  • Leadership structures 
  • Timelines 
  • Process maps 

While this is not an exhaustive list, it's a great starting point.  

With whom to communicate

Start with managers, leaders, and other key stakeholders. Cast your vision, share the strategy, check for understanding, invite buy-in, and encourage them to steer employees in that direction.  

The goal is to equip leaders with all the details they need to empower teams. 

How to communicate

The more communication channels you use, the higher the likelihood that the message will reach its target audience. Use everything from all-hands meetings, 1-on-1s, emails, and communication platforms like Slack to ensure clear communication. Focus on delivering your message in a concise and empowering way. 

When to communicate

Once there’s a clear understanding of the strategy, you’ll want to keep stakeholders involved through all stages of strategy execution, from pre-rollout to evaluation. Your communication plan for every phase should be established before telling employees what’s coming. 

How often to communicate 

Repetition is key. Constant communication keeps the strategy top-of-mind, ensuring everyone’s up to date on how it’s unfolding and where it’s headed. But it’s not just about keeping your strategy aligned with the business vision and mission. It’s also about ensuring it’s adjusted to what’s happening in the present through an ‘always-on’ approach. 

Step 4: Measure outcomes over activities

Outcomes are evidence. Daily activities and tasks do matter, but on their own, they won’t indicate how close you are to meeting your goals. 

This is where a goal-setting framework like OKRs comes in. In addition to helping you define your end goal using an objective, creating OKRs involves selecting data-based metrics, with measurable key results supporting each objective. These OKRs are tracked weekly or biweekly using check-ins to ensure consistency and accountability. 

Once you’ve established your objectives and key results, you can draw the line between Point A and Point B, deciding which activities best help you achieve your goals. Let’s look at how you could use OKRs to support and measure your company’s strategic progress. 

 An example of OKRs in action

Let’s say an executive team’s company strategy includes global expansion. They create a clear, actionable objective to move the organization in that direction: 

  • Objective: We will have an established presence in the Australian market 

To measure this, they create two-to-four measurable key results tied to a time frame. These include: 

  • Key result 1: Host 15 events with prospective customers by December 2024 
  • Key result 2: Hire 50 employees to support operations by July 2024 
  • Key result 3: Complete 950 transactions in our Australian branch by July 2024 

Activities like choosing the type of events, creating the guest list, defining the best new employee, and establishing how transactions will be processed are all tasks you'll figure out. For now, what matters is that the ultimate end result (the objective) has been set, and the evidence of success (the key results) has been determined. 

Once overarching company OKRs are established, managers use them to develop lower-level team objectives and key results. These team objectives can look like, “Our team will secure a location and initial staff in Sydney by October of 2024.” Employees within the team are then assigned individual key results to keep them accountable.  

Yet, it’s important to note that while key results may be allocated to individual contributors, the whole team is responsible for overall OKR success. As part of this, managers conduct OKR check-ins to support and coach teams and employees, alongside overseeing goal progress. 

See more examples of how OKRs drive aligned strategic action 

“Good ideas with great execution are how you make magic. And that’s where OKRs come in… OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over…They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most.”  

- Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google 

Step 5: Make progress visible

Regularly tracking and reporting progress keeps everyone informed, allowing faster, smarter strategic pivots without wasting time, effort, or resources on misguided decisions. That’s why high-performing teams spend 14% more time measuring strategic progress using key metrics. 

Part of measuring and reporting on progress involves asking the right questions:  

  • What data do we need to track goal progress? 
  • What do we not need? 
  • Who will gather, interpret, and convey these numbers? How often? 
  • How will we share progress with everyone involved? 

For example, at Google, all OKRs (including executives’) are completely visible to every employee. This kind of transparency in OKRs has several benefits. It: 

  • Creates a collaborative mindset 
  • Highlights team and departmental interconnectedness  
  • Fuels urgency 
  • Keeps the big picture front and center 

To improve progress visibility and communication around goal progress, leading organizations adopt OKR software like Quantive Results. As a centralized platform for setting, tracking, and monitoring OKRs, Quantive Results streamlines transparency and collaboration around OKRs and KPIs with features such as: 

  • Whiteboards: Facilitating collaboration on strategy and goals 
  • Alignment view: Enabling you to visualize how teams and individual employees contribute to one mission 
  • Integrations: Powering dynamic updates using data from your favorite tools to ensure accurate reporting, reduced errors, and minimal administrative burden 
  • Built-in artificial intelligence: Helping you define the best possible strategy, goals, key results, and supporting plans 
  • Check-ins: Creating conversations around progress to drive alignment, collaboration, and visibility on the work and how it links to outcomes  
  • Real-time reporting: Keeping you informed with immediate access to data on strategic progress

Not convinced? See how Quantive Results fares against other OKR software tools.  

“When team members are armed with clean, accurate, relevant, actionable data, presented in an easily consumable format, they’re equipped to make daily decisions that advance the organization towards its objectives — present and future.”  

- Nick Kelly, strategy consultant  

Step 6: Continuously evaluate, adapt, and evolve the plan

Effectively moving from strategy development to execution requires you to navigate the unexpected adeptly. Economies, markets, and customer preferences change rapidly. Strategic projects can get complicated and then delayed. Key employees may leave for other opportunities.  

Given the constant unpredictability, a one-time pivot in response to a single disruption won’t suffice for long-term business sustainability. What's essential is a built-in mechanism for agility — one that fosters enduring success through ongoing evaluation and adaptation. This iterative process creates a virtuous circle of strategy-execution-evaluation, keeping the business agile and prepared to seize new opportunities while adapting to unforeseen challenges. 

But how can you create this within your business? 

McKinsey identified five characteristics of agile organizations 

  1. A North Star vision communicated throughout the organization  
  2. Empowered, autonomous, and connected teams  
  3. Fast decisions and learning cycles  
  4. A people model that capitalizes on passion 
  5. Systems, technology/tools, and training that make work workable 

A North Star vision communicated throughout the organization

Leadership defines what the vision is. This vision should be narrow enough to provide direction and inspiration but broad enough to allow teams to determine their own objectives. 

Empowered, autonomous, and connected teams

While a stable, top-level structure is maintained, the traditional hierarchy is replaced with a flexible network of accountable and empowered teams. This strikes a balance between individual freedom and collective coordination. 

Fast decisions and learning cycles 

Agile organizations thrive on uncertainty, quick experimentation, and adaptability. Rather than relying on managers to define detailed plans and minimize risk, they optimize their strategy using rapid, iterative, and experimental cycles. This enables quick, efficient, and continuous strategic optimizations, allowing for greater effectiveness and responsiveness in an ever-evolving environment.  

At Quantive, we advocate for continuous improvement as the foundation of effective strategy execution, championing the Always-On Strategy model as a core approach to closing the strategy execution gap. The Always-On Strategy model is a dynamic strategic framework that employs quick, cyclical iterations of strategy development, execution, and evaluation, ensuring strategy remains relevant through real-time insights. 

Stay adaptive — discover the power of the Always-On Strategy model 

an image depicting always-on strategy

A people model that capitalizes on passion 

Managers establish strategic alignment by linking actions to priorities, prioritizing objectives, and recognizing, celebrating, and rewarding effort and achievement.

Systems, technology/tools, and training that make work workable

Successful strategy execution requires strong performance management to power impact. Supply your managers with the tools, training, and data they need to keep their teams on track.  

Step 7: Nurture a future-ready mindset

Your strategy today will likely not work for you five years from now. Successfully closing the strategy execution gap requires a culture that promotes risk-taking, failing forward, and adapting fast. In short, you need to constantly look ahead, building toward the future by anticipating market trends, challenges, and opportunities. 

To do so, you must cement future-readiness into the fabric of your business. According to Harvard Business Review, becoming future-ready means: 

  • Regularly shifting know-how: Update your knowledge base and skillset to stay ahead of competitors, investing in R&D, keeping on top of industry trends, and fostering a culture of learning and innovation  
  • Maintaining a healthy balance of exploration and exploitation: Dedicate resources to exploring new markets, technologies, and business models, as well as optimizing existing operations for maximum efficiency and profitability 
  • Focus on finding new viewpoints: Engage diverse stakeholders to gain fresh insights and challenge conventional thinking, using an inclusive approach to uncover opportunities and mitigate blind spots 

SAP insights revealed that the most resilient, future-ready firms are more willing to use intelligent technologies. They found that 46% of participants identify intelligent technologies as a primary driver of growth, being more inclined to use them to enhance processes and decision-making than less future-ready companies. 

As a strategic evaluation software that uses real-time insights, forecasts, and built-in intelligence, Quantive Signals is made to keep your business ahead. It leverages domain-specific machine learning and AI-powered analysis to forecast business performance, pinpoint root causes of successes and challenges, and identify growth drivers. By helping you align resources behind strategic outcomes, Quantive Singularity empowers you to continuously adapt, innovate, and thrive in the current dynamic market. 

Read more on Quantive Signals' capabilities. 

Bridge the gap between strategy development and execution today

Closing the strategy execution gap can be a complex journey. It demands a well-thought-out plan, a leadership team that communicates clearly and consistently, and a workforce that remains aligned while keeping an eye on the future. Yet, the right technology can give you that much-needed edge, helping you double down on actionable, applicable, and timely results. 

Whether through software tools that drive collaboration, deliver data-driven insights, empower AI-augmented decision-making, or predict future performance, a suitable technological infrastructure is essential for translating your strategic vision into tangible outcomes. Quantive’s suite of solutions — Quantive Results and Quantive Signals — provides an integrated ecosystem enabling you to integrate past, present, and future perspectives into your strategic choices, prioritizing agility to bridge the strategy execution gap once and for all. 

Learn how the right platform can help you close the strategy execution gap

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Quantive empowers modern organizations to turn their ambitions into reality through strategic agility. It's where strategy, teams, and data come together to drive effective decision-making, streamline execution, and maximize performance.  

As your company navigates today’s competitive landscape, you need an Always-On Strategy to continuously bridge the gap between current and desired business outcomes. Quantive brings together the technology, expertise, and passion to transform your strategy from a static plan to a feedback-driven engine for growth.  

Whether you’re a visionary start-up, a mid-market business looking to conquer, or a large enterprise facing disruption, Quantive keeps you ahead — every step of the way. For more information, visit www.quantive.com

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