The CEO's Business Strategy Execution Gap... And How To Close It

By Cindy Praeger

The CEO's Business Strategy Execution Gap... And How To Close It

Written by Cindy Praeger and Eskinder Assefa

A fairly significant body of research now clearly shows that the reason why a number of mid-to-large companies face is not that their strategies were not sound, but because they were unable to create a culture of strategy execution to perform well on those otherwise sound strategies.  Successful teams bridge the strategy to execution gap through Intelligent Work.  

Here is a quick summary of some of the research findings:

  • A recent survey of more than 400 Global CEOs found that executional excellence was the #1 challenge they faced, coming at the top of some 80 other issues.
  • In a study of 8,000 managers in more than 250 companies, respondents said they were three times as likely to miss performance commitments due to insufficient support from other units.
  • Another study of 144 C-level executives found that only 10% said they implemented two-thirds or more of their core strategic initiatives in the year.

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Clearly, there is a significant gap between the strategies that the leadership develops, and the execution of those CEO growth strategies as evidenced by the results achieved.  Companies that successfully close the strategy execution gap far outperform that those that don't.  It isn't just about having an excellent strategic plan, it is about building a culture that has A-players that come into work every day wanting to see that strategy come to life and to successfully translate strategy into actions that the team can understand at a high level.  Companies with good strategy execution see the results directly on their bottom line.

And yet, strategy continues to receive far more attention than execution. In fact, a quick search shows that books and articles on strategy outnumber those on execution by nearly ten to one.  The execution gap is where the real problem lies, not in creating a winning 3 year strategic plan.  Good companies have a 3-5 year strategic business plan, great companies also have execution ready quarterly plans to execute their growth initiatives.  

It has always been assumed that strategy is what the executives do, and execution is what the rest of the company does.  However, in today’s environment of continuous disruptions, CEOs cannot afford to assume anything.  The company's strategy needs to be on the minds of every employee, not just the executive team in order to build a high performance accountability culture.

To close the strategy execution gap, the CEO must make both strategy AND execution what everyone in the company does. The rest of this article explores both the problem and the solution in some detail.

What Is The Strategy Execution Gap?

If a company does not achieve at least 90% of its strategic targets as defined in its annual plans, then the CEO has a strategy-execution gap problem.

Business Strategy to Execution Gap

How Is Strategy-Execution Gap Created?

The Departmental Silo Problem

Ironically, the strategy-execution gap is created primarily as a result of a company’s success and growth. In its early years when the company only had a handful of people, everyone knew the strategy (“survive and thrive”) and everyone knew their role in it. to achieve company alignment.

As the company moves out of survival mode and thrives—and hires more people—the new hires are placed under “managers” in a “department”, and the extent to which they know and understand the strategy depends on how well that manager communicates with them.

As more people are hired, and more layers of supervision are added, the strategy gets boiled down to, “here is what I want you to do…”. Any questions are likely to generate, “Let me worry about that. What I want you to worry about is…”

The more this happens, the more fragmented the resources of the company become, the more silos are formed and calcify.  The organizational culture starts to slowly fragment based on departments and teams unconsciously.  

The company has now reached a stage where it is far more concerned with efficiency than effectiveness—everyone does their job perfectly. They are doing things right, but they are not doing the right things.

At this point, the company has begun losing the shared sense of mission that united everyone in the early days. Whatever organic growth the company continues to show comes from a small minority of highly effective people who still focus their energies on doing the right things that matter.  Creating a culture of strategy execution is a process that is well worth the investment.  

This is when CEOs typically turn to mergers and acquisitions (M&As) to generate more growth, as their organic growth has stalled. However, as surveys have shown, the vast majority of CEOs (over 70%) go through the complex transactions of M&As with no prior experience. Which only increases the difficulty of integrating two different companies with two different cultures. In the end, the very reason that slowed a company’s growth leads to a strategy that tends to practically guarantee more silos and execution gaps.

This is a much bigger problem than CEOs typically understand it to be. Unless fixed quickly, the company can run into serious trouble and fall back into the survival mode.

How Do CEOs Close The Strategy Execution Gap?

The challenge CEO’s have is two-fold:

  1. The vast majority of employees in mid-to-large companies don’t know the vision or strategy.
  2. The CEO, and Senior Management in general, don’t know what the vast majority of employees are working on in any given day.

The key to closing the strategy execution gap is to ensure that every employee is focused on effectiveness—doing the right things that make matter and make the most difference. In other words, they understand the strategy, they believe in it, and their efforts are focused on implementing the strategy.  The difference between strategy and execution can be the difference between achieving your goals (and bonus!) and falling short of expectations. 

We call this Intelligent Work.

Therefore, what is needed is a software system or platform that ensures Intelligent Work is done throughout the organization. We call this system an Intelligent Work Platform.  It is designed from the ground up to assist in creating a culture of strategy execution and accountable teams.  This will answer the top question coming out of your leadership discussions: how to align employees with company goals?

Components Of An Intelligent Work Platform


Business Strategy to Execution Components

An Intelligent Work Software Platform seamlessly blends the latest cloud-based digital technologies with 21st century management thinking to close the strategy-execution gap by eliminating silos and fostering better execution of cross-functional growth priorities.

It has three main components that work together to bridge the strategy execution gap and drive successful growth: 

  1. Create a clear execution plan for your growth strategy
  2. Establish the right execution habits
  3. An execution software that ensures employees are focused on Intelligent Work

Rhythm software is the only Intelligent Work Platform built specifically for mid-market CEOs to confidently execute their growth strategies by ensuring that all employees in every department are working synchronously as a single team driving alignment and accountability.  CEO growth strategies are much easier to implement with a Intelligent Work Platform and a culture of accountability.

With Rhythm, CEOs, departmental leaders and their leadership teams have full visibility at the execution level and can focus on what is failing so they can mobilize the necessary resources to fix the problem quickly and what is working exceptionally well so it can be replicated.  The execution gap can be closed with the right Rhythm of Work and the systems and tools to implement it.  Interested?  See if we can help you close the strategy execution gap with a quick discussion with one of our experts.


Free White Paper: Intelligent Work Platform

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Did you enjoy learning about how companies with good strategy execution use Intelligent Work platforms?

Here are additional resources to read:

New Middle Market CEO: 11 Tips to Get Started as a New CEO

Departmental Silos: The Silent Killer

How CEOs Succeed—Achieve A Top Valuation Through Strategy Execution Software

The Five C's of Team Accountability

The Team Accountability Assessment

How to Fix Your Weekly Team Meetings

Don't Confuse Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning

Harvard Business Review (HBR) Paywall has additional resources available on this topic from the Harvard Business School 

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