The 3 Critical Gaps Between Planned Outcomes vs. Actual Results

There are always gaps between Strategy and its Execution, between business expectations and the actual results.  You can invest a lot of time into a solid Corporate Strategy or your Sales Strategy that you think will deliver exceptional results but some times the result will be off from what you intended to achieve.

The reason is that there are several gaps explaining why this happens.  One of the best explanations of this is in a book unrelated to sales management – if you read Stephen Bungay’s “The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results” book (or also see this post on his blog), you will learn about the 3 gaps between planned or expected outcomes and the actual results.

Here are the 3 steps in your operations:

  1. Plan (i.e. Strategy)
  2. Actions (i.e. Execution)
  3. Outcome (i.e. Results)

The Three Gaps

Image Source: Stephen Bugay “Strategy-Leadership-Organization” (


These are the 3 gaps:

  • Knowledge Gap 
    • the difference between what we would like to know and what we actually know
    • it’s the difference between Plans and Outcomes
  • Alignment Gap
    • the gap between what we want our teams to do and what they actually do
    • it’s the difference between Plans and Actions
  • Effects Gap
    • the gap between what we expect our actions to achieve and what our actions actually achieve
    • it’s the difference between Actions and Outcomes

As you know a business is unpredictable and you can try to make a great Plan but ultimately execution may be imperfect.

Here are the typical instincts or reaction to these gaps:

  1. Knowledge Gap – provide more detailed information
  2. Alignment Gap – provide more specific instructions
  3. Effects Gap – impose tighter controls


But here is what Stephen Bungay recommends and calls “Directed Opportunism”:

  1. Knowledge Gap – limit direction to defining and communicating the intent (the goals – the what and why)
  2. Alignment Gap – allow people to define how they will achieve the intent of the next level up and “back brief”
  3. Effects Gap – give people the freedom to adjust their actions in line with your intent


As the book says, outcomes are unpredictable so what counts and contributes to better outcomes is aligning and motivating people.  Also, high alignment enables high autonomy. Furthermore, you have to understand your boundaries and constraints.

Also, the book teaches us to make plans simple and clear – “What cannot be made simple cannot be made clear… and what is not clear will not get done”.

Every leader (CEO or COO or Sales leader) must create an interlocked and high alignment with their team which allows for a higher level of autonomy.  In the end, you have to set broad objectives and then maximize the outcome by taking advantage when any unforeseen opportunity presents itself.  Businesses can learn a few things from the military – for example, the military also creates plans but knows that any plan doesn’t survive the first contact with the enemy. However, they set clear objectives and then have a military doctrine which says that you should exploit the success when the opportunity presents itself – seize and exploit the initiative and retain/maintain the initiative.

It’s the same in organizations whether from a CEO/COO perspective or VP of Sales perspective – you may have a strategy but you can’t control the outcome – what you can control is your alignment of your team and your ability to maximize and seize opportunities that present themselves while maintaining an initiative.

What else? What are some other thoughts about