Strategy That Works

Five unconventional acts of leadership that allow companies to close the strategy-to-execution gap

Strategy That Works, our best-selling book on how winning companies close the strategy-to-execution gap

Based on new research, the book Strategy That Works reveals five practices for closing the strategy-to-execution gap used by today’s winning companies. Packed with tools executives can use for building these five practices into their organization, it is a powerful guide to connecting where enterprises aim to go and what they can accomplish.


“Many companies have fallen victim to the trap of pursuing growth at all costs. Driving shareholder returns requires a different mindset, which the authors have succinctly captured.”

Andrew ClydePresident and CEO, Murphy USA Inc

“In an increasingly complex world, Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi make a compelling case for sustained business success via simplification and focus. Linking strategy and execution through a set of differentiating and coherent capabilities is a winning idea, making Strategy That Works a fresh and inspiring read to help answer today’s leadership challenges.”

Benno DorerCEO, The Clorox Company

“In a refreshingly pragmatic guide, Leinwand and Mainardi describe how senior leaders can bridge the gap between strategy development, execution, and delivery of results.”

New C. McArthurCEO and Chairman of the Executive Board, Arcadis NV

“Leinwand and Mainardi have laid out a playbook for executives to close the ‘strategy-to-execution’ gap, lighting a path for businesses that want to become more profitable and more influential, and delivering invaluable insight for CEOs who aspire to be ‘supercompetitors.’”

Eric A. SpiegelPresident and CEO, Siemens Corporation

“Strategy That Works provides a clear and compelling framework for executives to use in developing a cohesive and effective strategic vision. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the characteristics of unconventional leadership and the importance of culture and identity as foundational components of a strong corporate strategy. Using tangible examples, this book presents the transformational journey that companies across all industries have undergone to remain successful and relevant in the twenty-first century.”

Mark T. BertoliniChairman and CEO, Aetna

“Any successful large enterprise must remain entrepreneurial, changing as needed to continue to do pioneering work. It must strike the right balance between openness to change and having a powerful, long-lasting core identity. Strategy That Works shows how to bring these two contrasting ideas together.”

Zhang RuiminChairman and CEO, Haier Group

“Leinwand and Mainardi show you how to transform your value proposition into real results.”

Marshall GoldsmithAuthor, New York Times #1 bestselling Triggers and global bestsellers MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Strategy is all about making clear plans and sticking to them. Yet organizations get easily distracted. This great new book explains how to gain coherence across an organization in strategy setting and execution.”

Sally BlountDean, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

“Strategy That Works is simple and astonishing at the same time. Coherence is a critical ingredient for success, but it is so difficult to find such coherence in organizations. This book will help you think about whether your organization is really aligned with your strategy: from the company’s value proposition to its distinctive capabilities to the products and services it provides.”

Alessandro CarlucciFormer CEO, Natura

“A great book! Strategy That Works demonstrates how capabilities shape successful markets, enable winning companies, and sustain on-target execution. The case for capabilities-driven strategy strengthens with every turn of the page.”

Karim Michel SabbaghPresident and CEO, SES

5 acts of unconventional leadership

Winning companies don’t follow conventional wisdom. They apply 5 acts of unconventional leadership that allow them to close the strategy-to-execution gap.

Commit to an identity

Conventional wisdom might lead a company to focus on growth, looking for revenue wherever it seems most available. But the unconventional companies we have studied commit to an identity. They focus their efforts on developing a solid value proposition and building distinctive capabilities that will last for the long term. Then they are flexible within that context, moving rapidly into new competitive arenas at times, but only into those where their identity makes them well-equipped to win.

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Translate the strategic into the everyday

Many business people assume that the best way to build capabilities is to adopt the best practices of an industry or develop functional excellence, but companies with a strategy that works believe otherwise. They translate the strategic into the everyday. They design and build their own bespoke capabilities that set them apart from other companies and allow them to live their identity. Then they bring those capabilities to scale in their own distinctive ways.

Tool to help you apply this act: Peeling the onion templates

This set of templates will lead you through the key questions you need to answer to ensure that the capabilities system you design will enable your strategy.

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Put your culture to work

A business leader might seek to solve performance problems by making structural changes: reworking the org chart and rethinking incentives. The culture of the enterprise, if considered at all, is often seen as a hindrance. But companies that close the strategy-to-execution gap do it differently. They put their culture to work. They recognize the power of the ingrained patterns of thinking and behavior in their company, and they tap that power to execute their strategy and foster performance.

Cut costs to grow stronger

A more conventional company might try to reduce costs across the board by going lean everywhere and spreading investments across a wide range of promising opportunities. But the unconventional companies we studied cut costs to grow stronger. They marshal their resources in a more strategic way, doubling down on the few capabilities that matter most to their long-term success and pruning back to the minimum everything else.

Shape your future

Finally, companies that make their strategy work are not trying to become agile. They don’t respond to external change as rapidly as possible. Instead, they shape their future by creating the change they want to see. They use their distinctive edge to gain privileged access to customers and do mergers and acquisitions to recreate their business environment on their own terms.

Evolution of the consumer products industry

This graphic shows how supercompetitors in the CPG industry have used acquisitions and divestitures to shape their industry.

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Strategy That Works: A practical roadmap to success

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Strategy That Works: Five Acts to Transform Your Future

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Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap

Industry perspectives


Aperture, the annual strategy scan

Is your management team engaging on the most important topics of strategy with the right information? Strategy& has developed Aperture, the annual strategy scan. Aperture is a powerful diagnostic platform that gives a fact-based perspective of your company's strategy. It provides a regular opportunity for your top team to discuss the fundamental questions and actions that lead to a strategy that works.

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Paul Leinwand

Paul Leinwand

Principal, Strategy& US

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