A special report by the Economist Intelligence Unit
Closing the Gap: Designing and Delivering a Strategy that Works
Oct 3, 2017
To understand why many organizations fail to bridge the
gap between strategy design and delivery, The Economist
Intelligence Unit (EIU), sponsored by the Brightline Initiative,
undertook a global multi-sector survey of 500 senior
executives from companies with annual revenues of $1
billion or more. This special report draws on the survey and additional in-depth
interviews with 13 corporate leaders and academic experts.
Strategy has little value until it is implemented. In a world where disruption can happen overnight, moving rapidly from
strategy design to delivery is critical. Yet too many companies go only halfway, putting their best resources into design
and in effect ending up treating delivery as an after thought. As a result, strategies fail, customers leave, key talent
is lost and financial performance suffers.
To understand why many organizations fail to bridge the gap between strategy design and delivery, The Economist Intelligence
Unit (EIU), sponsored by the Brightline Initiative, undertook a global multi-sector survey of 500 senior executives from
companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more. Their responses confirm that implementation shortfalls are widespread
and corrosive: 90% of respondents admit that they fail to reach all their strategic goals because they don’t implement
well, and 53% agree that inadequate delivery capability leaves them unnecessarily exposed to competitors (see the sidebar,
“About the Research”.)
Yet many C-suite executives struggle with how to bridge the gap between strategy development and implementation. This EIU
study, Closing the gap: Designing and delivering a strategy that works, draws on the survey and
additional in-depth interviews with 13 corporate leaders and academic experts. The survey findings identify a group of
companies—classified as Leaders—that report they fare best at achieving their strategic objectives.
The report highlights the problems businesses face in closing the gap between strategy design and delivery and suggests ways
that companies can solve them. Its key findings include the following:
Most companies struggle to bridge the gap. 59% of survey respondents admit that their organizations
“often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and its practical, day-to-day implementation”. On
average, organizations fail to meet 20% of their strategic objectives because of poor implementation. No single barrier
to success dominates the survey’s responses, and simple solutions to improve performance are not obvious.
Yet bridging the gap is possible and the rewards are substantial. A small group, just one in 10, of
survey respondents—the Leaders—report that failures in strategy delivery at their organizations, if they exist, did
not impede achievement of any strategic goals over the last three years. These companies also significantly outperformed
their rivals financially.
For the Leaders, strategy design and delivery form a
continuum, allowing both to evolve as conditions require. At these companies, strategy developers understand
the challenges of implementation and the need for a capable and comprehensive delivery approach. Information on the
strategy itself and the progress of implementation efforts— including their impact on customers and markets—flows
in a continuous feedback loop across these organizations.
Leaders continually monitor their external environment
and update both strategy and delivery as new information
emerges. Although most survey respondents track trends happening around them, Leaders differentiate themselves
in using that information to modify strategy delivery. In particular, Leaders engage those outside the formal boundaries
of the company—especially customers and business partners—to help them reach their strategic goals.
Leaders balance clear direction with responsiveness. The best companies combine a dynamic and
flexible delivery capability with long-term vision. They are adept at moving quickly to make necessary changes
while avoiding shortterm distractions and overreaction to transient shifts in the environment.