9 Reasons Organizations Fail at Successful Strategy Execution


Good Strategy Execution, or the ability to translate and implement business direction quickly and effectively, has never been more important than it is now. Change is the new normal and resources are precious. The ability to continually sense and respond to change ensures that an organization can continue to survive and thrive.

Successful Strategy Execution Plays a Vital Role in the New Normal of Business Today. Effective strategy execution is now your single most effective competitive advantage source. Most CEO’s, Leaders and Entrepreneurs agree wholeheartedly with this, so why is it that the failure rate is so high, when this is so vital to a corporation’s livelihood?

Embracing this perspective and acting upon it, though, is not necessarily a straightforward activity. Challenges with strategy execution are so commonplace that we seem to have become immune to them. Statistics such as “66% of HR and IT organizations develop strategic plans that are not linked to the enterprise strategy” abound (as cited by Robert Kaplan, Harvard Business Review).

Challenges commonly experienced by organizations include:

  • The understanding of strategy is unclear and becomes diffused or even misinterpreted as it filters down throughout an organization. Fact: 95% of employees in most organizations do not even understand their organization’s strategy (as cited by Robert Kaplan, Harvard Business Review).

  • Strategies within an organization (e.g., corporate level, business unit level, digital) may be conflicting or misaligned, in both translation of the strategy, or even within the actions of the departments and professionals themselves.

  • Busy work, little reward. Prioritization can be challenging, which can result in the mistake of everything becoming a priority which stretches resources and therefore the strategy cannot be executed.

  • Making decisions without all the data for prioritization reasons, or other decision making that may be skewed towards certain outcomes and may not be taking the overall strategy into account.

  • Redundant, conflicting, inconsistent solutions are implemented.

  • Sloppy execution, lack of strategy execution skills will not achieve business strategies and objectives and may lead to sub-optimizing parts of the business versus doing what is best for the entire organization.

  • Disciplines and teams are disconnected and lack the motivation and mechanisms for whole enterprise collaboration.

  • Many organizations measure success based on meeting timelines or budget goals, instead of actual results. Others use benchmarking (versus new innovative thinking) as a success model and unfortunately as a result, they unknowingly give their competitors the power to dictate their business success or failure, which is not sound strategy.

  • Perhaps the biggest root cause underlying these challenges is that the translation of strategies into business and technology solutions and plans is performed in siloes. Ultimately, these challenges can lead to inconsistent, fragmented, or unsatisfactory customer experiences, as well as organizational redundancy and complexity, which increases cost and decreases future agility.

Good news. There is another way, it is called Innovative Thinking.

Imagine if organizations treated strategy execution as if it were a critical function that delivered competitive advantage? What if there was deliberate design, transparency, and ownership end-to-end? What if translating business direction was approached from an enterprise perspective instead of in silos? What if changes were shaped into initiatives with harmonized scopes and sequence in a way that leveraged the organization’s precious resources in the most optimized way? What if clear direction created alignment so self-organizing teams could work more autonomously and coordinate with each other? From Strategy to Reality™.

There are a few characteristics of an effective strategy execution approach, and they are possible to achieve, as other organizations have done. Here is what it takes:

  • Strategy Execution Takes a Village. CEO’s and teams realize this fact and build close partnerships between other teams to deliver value wherever possible and build the integration points necessary to create cohesive strategy execution.

  • There needs to be clear intent, leadership, and commitment to the journey to make such an approach real. This is why Whynde Kuehn at https://www.s2etransformation.com/ helps companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to set up in-house Strategy Execution Offices with accredited Strategy Execution Leaders™ (SXL) at the helm, whose focus and sole function is to execute the strategy through all levels of an organization.

  • In an ideal situation even when business direction is formulated in business units or other silos, there is intentional collaboration, especially in cases where multiple areas are interpreting enterprise-level direction.

  • There needs to be a crystal-clear translation of the Strategy, and how it relates to EACH department, silo, leader, and manager.

  • Each initiative, whether large or small, is framed by the capabilities (in a value stream context) that are being uplifted from a people, process, and/or technology perspective. This means that the value streams and capabilities become the connection point across initiatives, which can be beneficial for many reasons. For example, teams can be readily informed of other teams or initiatives that are working on the same capability so that they can coordinate as needed to ensure a consistent customer experience, build reusable solutions, share knowledge and resources, and manage the amount of change impacting stakeholders.

  • During initiative planning, proposed initiatives can be aligned to business objectives as well as value streams and capabilities and it can also potentially reveal redundant or misaligned initiatives. This helps portfolio managers rationalize and prioritize all potential investments for decision making both within and across portfolios.

  • When building solutions, teams are accelerated by receiving the big picture context, a clear scope, fully agreed-upon business vocabulary, and a framework for identifying requirements.

  • Finally, when initiatives are delivered, their results can be compared back to the original business objectives. This traceability also facilitates dynamic re-planning. For example, if the market shifts and a strategy is no longer a priority, the initiatives tied to it can be readily identified and paused.

  • It requires potentially significant shifts in organizational mindset and ways of working, which must be institutionalized, communicated, and rewarded. Figure 1 shows a few examples of the type of mindset shifts that are necessary for effective strategy execution, such as a focus on cross-business-unit collaboration, value for customers and stakeholders, and a true business lens.

shifting organization mindset diagram
Figure 1 – Key Mindset Shifts Necessary for Effective Strategy Execution S2E™

Creating a new vision and mindset for strategy execution, enabled by Strategy Execution Leaders, can deliver new measurable results which include:

  • Exceptional, integrated, and consistent experiences for customers or constituents, partners, and employees – because the experience design can be operationalized across silos, and because the business and IT environment can be streamlined to support a better experience.

  • Decreased complexity of the business environment and decreased complexity and technical debt of the IT environment – because business and technology solutions can be built once and reused; business architecture can also be used to identify areas for further simplification.

  • Decreased time and cost to develop and maintain solutions – because business and technology solutions can be built once and reused as well as integrated up front.

  • Decreased business risk and potential for non-compliance – because business architecture creates transparency and the business and technology environment is simpler.

  • Decreased brand and reputational risks – because customer or constituent and partner solutions are designed more effectively, and risks related to compliance, security or other matters are lowered.

  • Increased quality in products and services as well as operations – because of better design, integration, execution, and transparency.

  • Increased ability for stakeholders to consume the changes implemented – because the collective impact on stakeholders is known up front and can be adjusted.

  • Increased organizational agility and faster time to market for implementing strategies and changes, ultimately resulting in the ability to deliver on the organizational mission and remain competitive – because of a common business vocabulary and mental model, a streamlined environment, and an effective end-to-end strategy execution approach that can continually react to change.

Initiate Change for Better Strategy Execution Today…

The journey to cohesive, effective, end-to-end strategy execution is a journey for most organizations – and not necessarily an easy one – but, step-by-step, it is possible.

Make and present a case for change. The case will likely be better received by leaders who are responsible for, or who advocate for enterprise-level perspectives, as well as by those who are heavily invested in the successful execution of business direction. In addition to C-level executives, this may include leaders such as those responsible for transformation, innovation, strategy, customer experience, portfolio management, or planning.  As when making any case, consider discussing relevant challenges and opportunities along with their impacts, a vision for change, and the potential benefits (quantified where possible).

Start making forward progress. As you achieve success, buy-in, and momentum, the rest of the steps will continue unfolding.

Keep the vision in mind. Continue to share insights, ask tough questions, and keep moving forward with each step. Even if the steps are small, take responsibility and act to demonstrate value and gain recognition, which leads to bigger steps.

A new vision and mindset. Effective strategy execution helps organizations achieve new results and thrive in a world of constant change. Ineffective, slow strategy execution is no longer an option. The business architecture knowledge base that Strategy Execution Leaders have and the role that they play not only eliminate the gap between strategy and execution, they also make other teams more successful in their roles and connect the dots across the organization.

With intent, leadership, and commitment to action, an organization can transform their end-to-end strategy execution from a disconnected set of activities that add up to the usual alarming set of statistics into a vital competitive advantage for years to come.

About the Author: Whynde Kuehn is recognized globally as the most sought-after Business Architecture Pioneer and a ‘Boots on the ground Thought Leader’. She built a start-up from 1 employee to over 100 with $36 Million in Profits to prove her methodology works. Having worked with some of the largest and most complex organizations around the globe, Fortune 500 companies, governmental and non-profit organizations, to social enterprises, and start-ups, she has helped countless clients to develop their strategy execution muscles and deliver results in millions saved or earned. Managing Director of S2E Transformation Inc. Business Architect Expert. Here's more information about S2E service offerings.