Strategy Execution: How to escape the 80% failure rate

They all say it. Strategy execution fails more often than not. Kaplan & Norton, Jeroen de Flander, Kotter: Numerous studies paint a gloomy picture of execution management.

I have seen it in numerous organizations and I believe it’s very human: It’s easy to state where your company should be in 12 months and to write a strategy to get there.

But when it comes to executing the strategy, the necessary actions are often sparsely planned and thus employees lack time, resources & attention when needed the most. The result: Failure in strategy execution.

There is a better way.

By Victor Veloso, Senior Consultant & Partner

I used to be a strategy consultant. I was brought in to help companies move from their existing situation to a better place. When the strategy was ready and agreed upon, I did my usual handover of slides and documents and everyone was happy. Three months later the execution was often halting and six months later it was worse still.

I started doing a lot of research on Execution Management and learned through numerous studies* that my clients weren’t the only ones struggling with execution.

Strategies may be well researched in terms of market opportunities and resources in the organization. But to execute well, people need to prioritize and have resources at hand – especially when preconditions and circumstances change. That requires action planning.

Hand things over. Please.

I worked out a strategy with a client several years ago. We made a plan with 15 objectives. For each objective there were numerous initiatives to carry out.

One objective was to open more outlets in a new region. The CEO kept this objective on his table. He opened a few shops, but got buried in administration, so progress stopped.

He felt it was too cumbersome and time-consuming to communicate and hand over the details to all the people who each had a part to play. So the CEO ended up doing everything himself.

Allocate enough resources

Another objective was to increase the amount of solution selling, because the clients were requesting that at the time.

This time I was lucky to get involved in the action planning and when breaking down this objective into milestones and actions, we realized the need for a full time person to drive the project successfully and thousands of euros in marketing costs to build the brand.

The company was surprised at the resources needed to successfully execute the plan, but decided not to hire and instead attempt to run things internally with existing personnel.

Implementation slowed and time to market increased, because of the lack of resources. The financial crisis struck and the demand shifted away from the intended solutions and eventually closed the window of opportunity that had been open for 2 years.

What should we have done instead?

In hindsight:

A) The 15 objectives should have been narrowed down to the 3 most important ones.

B) Then the following questions should have been answered thoroughly:

  1. What will it take to implement all these milestones and actions in terms of time, resources and money? That’s “action planning”, the most important step from strategy to successful execution.
  2. Do we still want to do it?

C) If yes, then prioritize. Allocate the budget and get people committed to the plan by involving them. Agree on tangible and realistic KPIs.

D) Execute: Follow up, get things done and follow-through.


Analyze the market opportunities, identify goals and prioritize a few “must win battles”. Do proper action planning for the implementation: Spend a reasonable amount of time to find out how to align, cascade and communicate the plan. Commit enough resources to reach your goals. Otherwise stop! Inadequate execution is a waste of your company’s time and resources.

Three fundamental steps to better execution

1. Got a deadline? How about a starting date?

When it comes to planning, everybody is focused on the goals – on deadlines. 80% of the action plans I have encountered had no agreed starting date on the initiatives. If people are very busy already and you don’t communicate clearly when you expect them to focus on your new initiative, then failure is almost guaranteed. The solution is to schedule the initiatives in a plan with sufficient time & resources.

2. Plan your actions

Take your planning to the next level: Consider which milestones need to be reached by when.

Simply telling an employee “Your target next year is 10% above this year’s performance” without agreeing how & when is the road to frustration. Why not plan it realistically and get real commitment from the people who will do the day-to-day execution?

You only need to repeatedly ask a simple question: What is the most important thing to succeed with first and what is the next step after that?

3. Follow up

Sounds easy. But to efficiently follow up, managers need to know what is going on and where follow-up is most needed. That requires structured and easy reporting and a well researched plan.

4. This extra fourth step is helping a growing number of organizations execute:

Try out ActionPlanner, if you feel you are missing the “how” in your plans – or if following up numerous initiatives is a pain 

Click on the links to read more on why strategies fail, and how to make them happen:

Strategy Execution