More than four in 10 of 276 senior executives surveyed in a recent study said that performance improvement initiatives undertaken at their companies over the past three years failed to achieve their objectives. The results emerged in a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Celerant Consulting, Lexington, Mass. The study found that almost half (45%) of executives said their improvement initiatives at the company or business-unit level performed below plan, while fewer than one-third performed above plan. "We have found -- and this survey confirms it -- that considerable slippage occurs between what are often quite good plans for improvement and their actual execution," says Bill Jeffery, president, Americas, Celerant. "Even though most companies know what they must do, the difficulty in achieving operational excellence remains the most significant barrier to making the improvements necessary to fulfill strategic objectives." Entitled "Strategy Execution: Achieving Operational Excellence," the study queried executives from companies in the oil and gas, retail, manufacturing, life sciences, healthcare, chemicals, telecom, and consumer packaged goods industries. Almost half of the respondents overall, and 60% of executives from large companies, cited improving operational efficiency as critical to achieving their strategic objectives. Some 61% identified improving customer satisfaction as their top objective, while almost half (49%) cited increasing shareholder value. The range of improvement initiatives that organizations undertook varied and encompasses IT outsourcing, business process optimization, lean manufacturing, process automation, supply chain rationalization, IT implementation, corporate organizational realignment and Six Sigma.