Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate?

  • Carlos J F Cândido (a1) and Sérgio P Santos (a1)

It is often claimed that 50–90% of strategic initiatives fail. Although these claims have had a significant impact on management theory and practice, they are controversial. We aim to clarify why this is the case. Towards this end, an extensive review of the literature is presented, assessed, compared and discussed. We conclude that while it is widely acknowledged that the implementation of a new strategy can be a difficult task, the true rate of implementation failure remains to be determined. Most of the estimates presented in the literature are based on evidence that is outdated, fragmentary, fragile or just absent. Careful consideration is advised before using current estimates to justify changes in the theory and practice. A set of guiding principles is presented for assisting researchers to produce better estimates of the rates of failure.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author:
Hide All
Alchian, A. A. (1950). Uncertainty, evolution, and economic theory. Journal of Political Economy, 58(3), 211221.
Aldrich, H. E. (1979). Organizations and environments. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Alexander, L. D. (1985). Successfully implementing strategic decisions. Long Range Planning, 18(3), 9197.
Amitabh, M. (2010). Research in strategy-structure-performance construct: Review of trends, paradigms and methodologies. Journal of Management and Organization, 16(5), 744763.
Ansoff, H. I. (1965). Corporate strategy. New York: McGraw Hill.
Ansoff, H. I., Declerck, R. P., & Hayes, R. L. (1976). From strategic planning to strategic management. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Ansoff, H. I., & McDonnell, E. (1990). Implanting strategic management. New York: Prentice Hall International.
Arthur D. Little (1992). Executive caravan TQM survey summary. Cambridge, MA: Arthur D. Little Corporation.
Baden-Fuller, C., & Stopford, J. M. (1994). Rejuvenating the mature business: The competitive challenge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Balogun, J., & Hailey, V. H. (2008). Exploring strategic change. Harlow: Pearson.
Barnett, W. P., & Carroll, G. R. (1995). Modeling internal organizational change. Annual Review of Sociology, 21(1), 217236.
Barney, J. B. (2001). Is the resource-based ‘view’ a useful perspective for strategic management research? Yes. Academy of Management Review, 26(1), 4156.
Bauer, J., Falshaw, R., & Oakland, J. S. (2005). Implementing business excellence. Total Quality Management, 16(4), 543553.
Beamish, P. W. (1985). The characteristics of joint ventures in developed and developing countries. Columbia Journal of World Business, 20(2), 1319.
Becer, E., Hage, B., McKenna, M., & Wilczynski, H. (2007). Performance-improvement initiatives – Three best practices for project success. New York: Booz Allen Hamilton. Retrieved from
Beer, M., & Eisenstat, R. A. (2000). The silent killers of strategy implementation and learning. Sloan Management Review, 41(4), 2940.
Beer, M., & Nohria, N. (2000). Cracking the code of change. Harvard Business Review, 78(3), 133141.
Bockmühl, S., König, A., Enders, A., Hungenberg, H., & Puck, J. (2011). Intensity, timeliness, and success of incumbent response to technological discontinuities: A synthesis and empirical investigation. Review of Managerial Science, 5(4), 265289.
Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 9771002.
Burnes, B. (2005). Complexity theories and organizational change. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7(2), 7390.
Calori, R., Baden-Fuller, C., & Hunt, B. (2000). Managing change at novotel: Back to the future. Long Range Planning, 33(6), 779804.
Cândido, C. J. F., & Morris, D. S. (2000). Charting service quality gaps. Total Quality Management, 11(4–6), 463472.
Cândido, C. J. F., & Morris, D. S. (2001). The implications of service quality gaps for strategy implementation. Total Quality Management, 12(7/8), 825833.
Cândido, C. J. F., & Santos, S. P. (2011). Is TQM more difficult to implement than other transformational strategies? Total Quality Management, 22(11), 11391164.
Carnall, C. A. (1986). Managing strategic change: An integrated approach. Long Range Planning, 19(6), 105115.
Chandler, A. D. (1962). Strategy and structure: Chapters in the history of the American industrial enterprise. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Charan, R., & Colvin, G. (1999). Why CEOs fail. Fortune, 139(12), 6878.
Cohen, M. D., March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1972). A garbage can model of organisational choice. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(1), 125.
Corboy, M., & Corrbui, D. (1999). The seven deadly sins of strategy implementation. Management Accounting, 77(10), 2930
Cyert, R. M., & March, J. G. (1964). The behavioral theory of the firm: A behavioral science – Economics amalgam. In W. W. Cooper, H. J. Leavitt, & M. W. Shelly (Ed.), New perspectives in organizational research. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 289384.
Dean, J. W., & Bowen, D. E. (1994). Management theory and total quality management: Improving research and practice through theory development. Academy of Management Review, 19(3), 392418.
Dean, J. W., & Sharfman, M. P. (1993). Procedural rationality in the strategic decision-making process. Journal of Management Studies, 30(4), 587610.
DeGeus, A. P. (1988). Planning as learning. Harvard Business Review, 66(2), 7074.
Dion, C., Allday, D., Lafforet, C., Derain, D., & Lahiri, G. (2007). Dangerous liaisons, mergers and acquisitions: The integration game, Report by Hay Group, Philadelphia, USA, pp. 1–16. Retrieved from
Dooyoung, S., Kalinowski, J. G., & El-Enein, G. A. (1998). Critical implementation issues in total quality management. Advanced Management Journal, 63(1), 1014.
Dow, D., Samson, D., & Ford, S. (1999). Exploding the myth: Do all quality management practices contribute to superior quality performance? Production and Operations Management, 8(1), 127.
Doyle, M., Claydon, T., & Buchanan, D. (2000). Mixed results, lousy process: The management experience of organizational change. British Journal of Management, 11(3), S59S80.
Dunphy, D. C., & Stace, D. A. (1988). Transformational and coercive strategies for planned organizational change: Beyond the O. D. model. Organization Studies, 9(3), 317334.
Dyason, M. D., & Kaye, M. M. (1997). Achieving real business advantage through the simultaneous development of managers and business excellence. Total Quality Management, 8(2/3), 145151.
Economist Intelligence Unit (2013). Why good strategies fail: Lessons from the C-Suite. London: Economist Intelligence Unit Limited.
The Economist (1992). The cracks in quality. The Economist, 18, 6970.
Edmondson, A. C. (2011). Strategies for learning from failure. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 4855.
Eisenhardt, K. M., & Zbaracki, M. J. (1992). Strategic decision making. Strategic Management Journal, 13(8), 1737.
Franken, A., Edwards, C., & Lambert, R. (2009). Executing strategic change: Understanding the critical management elements that lead to success. California Management Review, 51(3), 4973.
Fredrickson, J. W., & Iaquinto, A. L. (1989). Inertia and creeping rationality in strategic decision processes. Academy of Management Journal, 32(3), 516542.
Fredrickson, J. W., & Mitchell, T. R. (1984). Strategic decision processes: Comprehensiveness and performance in an industry with an unstable environment. Academy of Management Journal, 27(2), 399423.
French, S. N. J., Kouzmin, A., & Kelly, S. J. (2011). Questioning the epistemic virtue of strategy: The emperor has no clothes. Journal of Management and Organization, 17(4), 434447.
Galpin, T. J. (1997). Making strategy work – Building sustainable growth capability. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Gandolfi, F., & Hansson, M. (2010). Reduction-in-force (RIF) – New developments and a brief historical analysis of a business strategy. Journal of Management and Organization, 16(5), 727743.
Gandolfi, F., & Hansson, M. (2011). Causes and consequences of downsizing: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Management and Organization, 17(4), 498521.
Gioia, D. A., & Chittipeddi, K. (1991). Sensemaking and sensegiving in strategic change initiation. Strategic Management Journal, 12(6), 433448.
Golembiewski, R. T. (1990). The irony of ironies: Silence about success rates. In R. T. Golembiewski (Ed.), Ironies in organizational development. NJ, USA: Transaction Publications, 1129.
Golembiewski, R. T., Proehl, C. W., & Sink, D. (1981). Success of OD applications in the public sector: Toting up the score for a decade, more or less. Public Administration Review, 41(6), 679682.
Golembiewski, R. T., Proehl, C. W., & Sink, D. (1982). Estimating the success of OD applications. Training and Development Journal, 36(4), 8695.
Goss, D. (2008). Enterprise ritual: A theory of entrepreneurial emotion and exchange. British Journal of Management, 19(2), 120137.
Gray, D. H. (1986). Uses and misuses of strategic planning. Harvard Business Review, 64(1), 8997.
Hackett Group (2004a). Balanced scorecards: Are their 15 minutes of fame over?. Miami: The Hackett Group. Retrieved from
Hackett Group (2004b). Most executives are unable to take balanced scorecards from concept to reality, press release, The Hackett Group, Miami, October, pp. 1–4.
Hafsi, T. (2001). Fundamental dynamics in complex organizational change: A longitudinal inquiry into Hydro-Québec’s management. Long Range Planning, 34(5), 557583.
Hall, G., Rosenthal, J., & Wade, J. (1993). How to make reengineering really work. Harvard Business Review, 71(6), 119131.
Hambrick, D. C., & Chen, M. (2008). New academic fields as admittance-seeking social movements: The case of strategic management. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 3254.
Hambrick, D. C., & Mason, P. A. (1984). Upper echelons: The organization as a reflection of its top managers. Academy of Management Review, 9(2), 193206.
Hannan, M. T., & Freeman, J. (1977). The population ecology of organizations. American Journal of Sociology, 82(5), 929964.
Harrigan, K. R. (1988a). Strategic alliances and partner asymmetries. Management International Review, 28(4), 5372.
Harrigan, K. R. (1988b). Joint ventures and competitive strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 9(2), 141158.
Harrigan, K. R. (1988c). Joint ventures: A mechanism for creating strategic change. In A. M. Pettigrew (Ed.), The management of strategic change. New York: Basil Blackwell, 195230.
Hart, S. L. (1992). An integrative framework for strategy-making processes. Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 327351.
Hickson, D. J., Miller, S. J., & Wilson, D. C. (2003). Planned or prioritized? Two options for managing the implementation of strategic decisions? Journal of Management Studies, 40(7), 18031836.
Holder, T., & Walker, L. (1993). TQM implementation. Journal of European Industrial Training, 17(7), 1821.
Hrebiniak, L. G. (2006). Obstacles to effective strategy implementation. Organizational Dynamics, 35(1), 1231.
Hughes, M. (2011). Do 70 per cent of all organizational change initiatives really fail? Journal of Change Management, 11(4), 451464.
Hussey, D. (1996). A framework for implementation. In D. Hussey (Ed.), The implementation challenge. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 114.
Jantz, C. J., & Kendall, D. A. (1991). Consumer-driven innovative product development. Prism, 1, 2429. Retrieved from
Jørgensen, H. H., Owen, L., & Neus, A. (2008). Making change work. Somers: IBM.
Johnson, G., & Scholes, K. (1999). Exploring corporate strategy: Text and cases. New York: Prentice Hall.
Judson, A. S. (1991). Invest in a high-yield strategic plan. The Journal of Business Strategy, 12(4), 3439.
Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (2001). The strategy-focused organization – How balanced scorecard companies thrive in the new business environment. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Kearney, A. T. (1992). Total quality: Time to take off the rose tinted spectacles. Kempston: IFS Publications.
Kiechel, W. (1982). Corporate strategists under fire. Fortune, 106(13), 3439.
Kiechel, W. (1984). Sniping at strategic planning. Planning Review, 811.
Korukonda, A. R., Watson, J. G., & Rajkumar, T. M. (1999). Beyond teams and empowerment: A counterpoint to two common precepts in TQM. Advanced Management Journal, 64(1), 2936.
Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 5967.
Krogh, G., & Vicari, S. (1993). An autopoiesis approach to experimental strategic learning. In P. Lorange, B. Chakravarthy, J. Roos, & A. Van de Ven (Eds.), Implementing strategic processes, change learning & co-operation. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 394410.
Lawson, R., Hatch, T., & Desroches, D. (2008). Scorecard best practices: Design, implementation, and evaluation. NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.
Lawson, R., Stratton, W., & Hatch, T. (2006). Scorecarding goes global – Companies around the world are deriving benefits from performance management tools. Strategic Finance, 87(9), 3541.
Learned, E. P., Christensen, C. R., Andrews, K. R., & Guth, W. D. (1965). Business policy – Text and cases. Illinois: Irwin.
Lewin, K. (1947 (1952)). Frontiers in group dynamics. In K. Lewin (Ed.), Field theory in social science – Selected theoretical papers. London: Tavistock Publications, 188237.
Lewy, C. P., & Mée, A. F. (1998a). In de kaart laten kijken, de tien geboden bij BSC-implementaties, versie 1.0. Management Control and Accounting, 2, 3237.
Lewy, C. P., & Mée, A. F. (1998b). Balanced scorecard – Implementing the ten commandments. London: KPMG Consulting.
Makino, S., Chan, C. M., Isobe, T., & Beamish, P. W. (2007). Intended and unintended termination of international joint ventures. Strategic Management Journal, 28(11), 11131132.
Mankins, M. C., & Steele, R. (2005). Turning great strategy into great performance. Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 6572.
March, J. G. (1981). Footnotes to organizational change. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26(4), 563577.
March, J. G. (1997). The technology of foolishness. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organisation theory – Selected readings. London: Penguin Books, 339352.
McCunn, P. (1998). The balanced scorecard: The eleventh commandment. Management Accounting, 76(11), 3436.
McKinsey, (2006). Improving strategic planning: A McKinsey survey. The McKinsey Quarterly, 111. Retrieved from
McKinsey, (2008). Creating organizational transformations. The McKinsey Quarterly, 17. Retrieved from
Mellahi, K., & Wilkinson, A. (2004). Organizational failure: A critique of recent research and a proposed integrative framework. International Journal of Management Reviews, 5/6(1), 2141.
Miller, S. (1997). Implementing strategic decisions: Four key factors. Organisation Studies, 18(4), 577602.
Miller, S., Wilson, D., & Hickson, D. (2004). Beyond planning strategies for successfully implementing strategic decisions. Long Range Planning, 37(3), 201218.
Mintzberg, H. (1987). Crafting strategy. Harvard Business Review, 65(4), 6675.
Mintzberg, H. (1994). The rise and fall of strategic planning. New York: Prentice Hall.
Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy safari – A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. London: Prentice Hall.
Mintzberg, H., Raisinghani, D., & Théorêt, A. (1976). The structure of ‘unstructured’ decision processes. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(2), 246275.
Mintzberg, H., & Waters, J. A. (1985). Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. Strategic Management Journal, 6(3), 257272.
Mockler, R. J. (1995). Strategic management: The beginning of a new era. In D. E. Hussey (Ed.), Rethinking strategic management. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 141.
Mohrman, S. A., Tenkasi, R. V., Lawler, E. E. III, & Ledford, G. E. Jr. (1995). Total quality management: Practice and outcomes in the largest US firms. Employee Relations, 17(3), 2641.
Morisawa, T., & Kurosaki, H. (2003). Using the balanced scorecard in reforming corporate management systems. Nomura Research Institute Papers, 71, 115.
Naranjo-Gil, D., Hartmann, F., & Maas, V. S. (2008). Top management team heterogeneity, strategic change and operational performance. British Journal of Management, 19(3), 222234.
Neely, A., & Bourne, M. (2000). Why measurement initiatives fail. Measuring Business Excellence, 4(4), 36.
Nelson, R. R., & Winter, S. G. (1974). Neoclassical vs. evolutionary theories of economic growth: Critique and prospectus. The Economic Journal, 84(336), 886905.
Nonaka, I. (2007). The knowledge-creating company. Harvard Business Review, 85(7/8), 162171.
Nutt, P. C. (1987). Identifying and appraising how managers install strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 8(1), 114.
Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Executive, 13(4), 7590.
O’Brien, C., & Voss, C. A. (1992). In search of quality – An assessment of 42 British Organizations using the criteria of the Baldrige Award, Operations Management Paper 92/02, London: London Business School.
O’Shannassy, T. (2001). Lessons from the evolution of the strategy paradigm. Journal of Management and Organization, 7(1), 2537.
O’Shannassy, T. (2010). Board and CEO practice in modern strategy-making: How is strategy developed, who is the boss and in what circumstances. Journal of Management and Organization, 16(2), 280298.
O’Toole, J. (1995). Leading change: Overcoming the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Papadakis, V. M., Lioukas, S., & Chambers, D. (1998). Strategic decision-making process: The role of management and context. Strategic Management Journal, 19(2), 115147.
Park, S. (1991). Estimating success rates of quality circle programs: Public and private experiences. Public Administration Quarterly, 15(1), 133146.
Pautler, P. A. (2003). The effects of mergers and post-merger integration: a review of Business Consulting Literature, draft paper, Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Economics, pp. 1–41. Retrieved from
Pettigrew, A. M. (1987). Context and action in the transformation of the firm. Journal of Management Studies, 24(6), 649670.
Pinto, J. K., & Prescott, J. E. (1990). Planning and tactical factors in the project implementation process. Journal of Management Studies, 27(3), 305327.
Powell, T. C. (1995). Total quality management as competitive advantage: A review and empirical study. Strategic Management Journal, 16(1), 1537.
Prajogo, D. I., & Brown, A. (2006). Approaches to adopting quality in SMEs and the impact on quality management practices and performance. Total Quality Management, 17(5), 555566.
Project Management Institute (2014). The high cost of low performance. Newtown Square: Project Management Institute.
Prospectus Strategy Consultants (1996). Profiting from increased consumer sophistication – A survey of retail financial services in Ireland and Great Britain. Dublin, Ireland: Prospectus Strategy Consultants.
Quinn, J. B. (1989). Strategic change: ‘logical incrementalism’. Sloan Management Review, 30(4), 4560.
Raps, A. (2005). Strategy implementation – An insurmountable obstacle? Handbook of Business Strategy, 141146.
Rumelt, R. P., Schendel, D. E., & Teece, D. J. (1994). Fundamental issues in strategy. In R. P. Rumelt, D. E. Schendel, & D. J. Teece (Ed.), Fundamental issues in strategy – A research agenda. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 947.
Senge, P. (1990). The leader’s new work: Building learning organizations. Sloan Management Review, 32(1), 723.
Sila, I. (2007). Examining the effects of contextual factors on TQM and performance through the lens of organisational theories: An empirical study. Journal of Operations Management, 25(1), 83109.
Sirkin, H. L., Keenan, P., & Jackson, A. (2005). The hard side of change management. Harvard Business Review, 83(10), 109118.
Sitkin, S. B., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Schroeder, R. G. (1994). Distinguishing control from learning in total quality management: A contingency perspective. Academy of Management Review, 19(3), 537564.
Smith, M. (2005). The balanced scorecard. Financial Management, 2728.
Smith, S., Tranfield, D., Foster, M., & Whittle, S. (1994). Strategies for managing the TQ agenda. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 14(1), 7588.
Soltani, E., Lai, P., & Gharneh, N. S. (2005). Breaking through barriers to TQM effectiveness: Lack of commitment of upper-level management. Total Quality Management, 16(8/9), 10091021.
Stace, D. A., & Dunphy, D. C. (1996). Translating business strategies into action: Managing strategic change. In D. Hussey (Ed.), The implementation challenge. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 6986.
Stanislao, J., & Stanislao, B. C. (1983). Dealing with resistance to change. Business Horizons, 26(4), 7478.
Stadler, C., & Hinterhuber, H. H. (2005). Shell, Siemens and DaimlerChrysler: Leading change in companies with strong values. Long Range Planning, 38, 467484.
Sterling, J. (2003). Translating strategy into effective implementation: Dispelling the myths and highlighting what works. Strategy & Leadership, 31(3), 2734.
Taylor, W. A. (1997). Leadership challenges for smaller organisations: Self-perceptions of TQM implementation. Omega – The International Journal of Management Science, 25(5), 567579.
Taylor, W. A., & Wright, G. H. (2003). A longitudinal study of TQM implementation: Factors influencing success and failure. Omega – The International Journal of Management Science, 31(2), 97111.
Van de Ven, A. H., & Poole, M. S. (1995). Explaining development and change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 510540.
Voss, C. A. (1988). Success and failure in advanced manufacturing technology. International Journal of Technology Management, 3(3), 285297.
Voss, C. A. (1992). Successful innovation and implementation of new processes. Business Strategy Review, 3(1), 2944.
Waclawski, J. (2002). Large-scale organizational change and performance: An empirical examination. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13(3), 289305.
Walsh, A., Hughes, H., & Maddox, D. P. (2002). Total quality management continuous improvement: Is the philosophy a reality? Journal of European Industrial Training, 26(6), 299307.
Weick, K. E., & Quinn, R. E. (1999). Organizational change and development. Annual Review of Psychology, 50(1), 361386.
Wernham, R. (1985). Obstacles to strategy implementation in a nationalized industry. Journal of Management Studies, 22(6), 632648.
Wilkinson, A., & Mellahi, K. (2005). Organizational failure. Long Range Planning, 38(3), 233238.
Wilkinson, A., Redman, T., & Snape, E. (1994). The problems with quality management – The view of managers: Findings from an institute of management survey. Total Quality Management, 5(6), 397406.
Woodley, P. M. (2006). Culture management through the balanced scorecard: A case study, unpublished PhD thesis. Defence College of Management and Technology, Cranfield University.
Zairi, M. (1995). Strategic planning through quality policy deployment: A benchmarking approach. In G. K. Kanji (Ed.), Total quality management: Proceedings of the first world congress. London: Chapman & Hall, 207215.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Management & Organization
  • ISSN: 1833-3672
  • EISSN: 1839-3527
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-management-and-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed