The black and white and grey of strategy

Andrew Campbell (Ashridge Business School, London, UK)
Phil Renshaw (Whitefriars Research, London, UK)
Staffan Engstrom (Carillion PLC, Wolverhampton, UK)

Journal of Strategy and Management

ISSN: 1755-425X

Publication date: 26 October 2010



The purpose of this paper is to understand the process of strategy execution when strategy is changing.


The paper presents studies of two companies – Unilever and Carillion – which appear to have found a solution to the generic problem – to understand the process of strategy execution when strategy is changing. The broader research involved examining the strategic planning processes of more than 20 large companies.


The paper gives two example solutions to a common strategy problem. The gap that often emerges between the desired strategy and the enacted strategy. The general message is that planners need to design a process that enables top managers to give strategic guidance about “grey areas” at a level of detail that matches the complexity of the products and markets in which the company competes. For many companies, this is a much lower level of detail than they are used to handling in their strategic planning processes.

Research limitations/implications

A drawback is the limited number of case studies. However, the main conclusions are tautological.

Practical implications

Top managers need to be much more involved in executing new strategies. By predicting where lower level managers are likely to lose focus, top managers can intervene to ensure that the strategy is followed through.

Social implications

There are implications for decentralisation and empowerment. Leaders need to recognise that they should intervene in some decisions some of the time in order to correct natural biases that may derail their strategic ambitions.


This lies in a focus on strategy execution and the role of top executives in execution.



Campbell, A., Renshaw, P. and Engstrom, S. (2010), "The black and white and grey of strategy", Journal of Strategy and Management, Vol. 3 No. 4, pp. 344-351.

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Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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