Strategy and Delivery: A Marriage in Trouble?

by Edivandro Conforto & Ricardo Vargas

What It Takes to Make It Work

“Our organization often struggles to bridge the gap between strategy development and its practical, day-to-day implementation” recently admitted almost two-thirds of the respondents in the Brightline Initiative’s Survey, conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU, 2017).

According to the research, excellence in strategy implementation is way off balance in comparison to strategy design. The gap between them is growing exponentially. Moreover, the harsh truth is that strategy itself shows little value until it is successfully implemented. In a fast-moving business world, where a lot can happen in the blink of an eye, assessing and realigning quickly from strategy design to delivery is what it takes to succeed in the market.

Several corporations allocate their best resources to strategy design, but strategies are failing at a greater rate, customers are unsatisfied, or sometimes leave, talent is wasted and finances bleed. Moreover, all the while, projects continue to fail because some organizations lack the implementation capabilities required to bring strategy into its expected fruition.

So, if implementation carries on being overlooked and not given the attention and priority it requires, breakdowns will continue to hold companies back from achieving their strategic goals.

Based on Brightline Initiative’s research (EIU 2017), senior executives confirm that the gap between strategy and implementation are widespread and corrosive: 90 percent of the respondents admit they fail to achieve all of their strategic goals, and 53% agree that such breach left them at a disadvantage and exposed to their competitors. On average, at least two out of ten strategic projects fail implementation (EIU 2017).

Here is what some senior executives say according to the EIU (2017) study:

The complexity of implementation

Fixing the breakdown in strategy and delivery is a multifaceted job with no single ruling challenge. There is, instead, a vast variety of issues, demanding equal attention, and combined in different ways, within the context of each organization, which raises the bar even higher for such a challenging process. Put differently, the marriage between strategy and delivery relies upon collaborative efforts to tackle such daunting, multiple obstacles.

  • “The biggest challenge over the last few years for us was that we asked people to do things that seemed conflicting, such as to grow and to take out costs. It is easy to understand at the top, but on the front line, these different priorities become confusing” (HSBC Group Head of Strategy, Daniel Klier).
  • “A strategy might look good on a PowerPoint presentation, but it is only as good as its execution” (Peter Toth, Global Head of Strategy at Rio Tinto).
  • “If you do not get implementation right, all you are doing is developing documents” (Bob Collymore, CEO of East African telecoms company Safaricom).
  • The CSO of Cisco, a US-headquartered multinational technology company, Hilton Romanski added: “a lot of mature companies have business models that have been optimized for a certain set of circumstances,” he explains. When the circumstances change, the business model must shift as well, and the resulting strategy might require new incentive structures, different people, and even finding out if “there is a new operating model you can get your arms around,” says Mr. Romanski, according to the EIU study.

What it takes to close the gap

Organizations that master a wide range of implementation capabilities achieve their strategic objectives much more frequently, and deliver stronger monetary outcomes in comparison to their less capable peers, according to corporate leaders and experts, revealed the EIU study. The research also shows that:

They ensure that:

When effective and dynamic execution complements the right strategy, the chance of success is much higher.

What some leaders DO to close the gap (EIU, 2017)

  • Strategy and delivery are planned as one seamless field
  • They stay on top of disparities between strategy and implementation
  • The data from implementation is continuously assessed and matched to the strategy
  • Changes are rapidly incorporated into the strategy
  • Strategy designers are actively involved throughout implementation
  • They assist teams across the organization with the implementation progress
  • Communication up, down and in all directions are in place
  • There is timely feedback addressing what is working versus what must be realigned

Ultimately, to close the gap, organizations need to master a diverse set of competencies, have the right talent, resources and key processes and practices in place.

Are you closing the gap?

Consider this quick and simple test based on the EIU 2017 study insights.

Considering your strategic initiatives, please rate each statement based on a scale: 0 = False, 1 = Somewhat/Partially True, and 2 = True.

  1. Strategy designers and strategy implementers work collaboratively to set strategic goals and realistic implementation plans.
  2. The organization has the necessary resources and program delivery capabilities to implement its strategy.
  3. The organization actively looks out for divergences between strategy and implementation.
  4. There is constant and on point feedback about the match between strategy and implementation projects and programs.
  5. Unpredicted changes are rapidly adjusted and incorporated into the strategy design and implementation cycles.
  6. The organization supports effective communication to be up, down and in all directions.
  7. The organization supports project implementation teams with necessary resources and to stay focused on what is critical to the strategy.

Check your score and discuss the results with your team:

  • 0–4 = The organization is struggling with the strategy-implementation gap
  • 5–9 = The organization is adopting some practices to reduce the gap
  • 10–14 = The organization is on the right path to reduce the gap

Do not fall into the delusion that a potentially perfect strategy is all it takes. Realize that the organization needs strong delivery capabilities, and the market´s reality will not follow your own agenda .

Read the research report and additional articles at

Originally published at on February 8, 2018.



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Ricardo Viana Vargas

Ricardo Viana Vargas

Passionate about transforming ideas into action ◆Principal — Macrosolutions ◆ Board Member ◆ Author ◆ Venture Capitalist #projectmanagement #transformation