Ten years ago, I published my first book, The CEO’s Strategy Handbook. I wanted to write a practical guide on strategy for business leaders, enabling them to lead their teams and organisations to a better, more successful future.

As part of the research for the book, I interviewed 10 CEOs, asking them for their experiences and perspectives. Each of these interviews ended up as brief case studies, providing extra colour for my readers.

One interview stood out. Dennis Sadlowski was the CEO of a US-division of Siemens that employed 12,000 people and generated revenues of $4 billion. Dennis gave me five principles for developing strategy that epitomise the aims of the book: practical ideas that help leaders develop better strategies. This is what Dennis said:

“Having a clear strategy is paramount to the success of any business. Critically, however, strategy and execution are intrinsically linked. There can be no good strategy that is executed badly. All successful strategies take account of the resources and capabilities that are available to the organisation, so that you move forward with confidence rather than merely in hope.

Linking strategy and execution at the very start of the process makes it real for everyone and enables the CEO to engage key executives and managers immediately. I have five lessons for CEOs to take away from my three-year tenure as the CEO of Siemens, USA:

  1. Engagement of the leadership team is critical. Engagement starts with involvement, and I ensured that the executive team and key managers at the next level in the organisation were intimately involved in the development of our growth strategy. We didn’t rely on external consultants to tell us the way forward; we led the work ourselves, doing our own blocking and tackling to make sure we understood the detail.
  2. The strategy must be developed outside-in. As an executive team, our total focus was on our customers, how we were going to be their #1 supplier and how we would lead our markets. The internal aspects of our strategy, and how we would achieve our objectives, were secondary. We started with getting to really know our customers.
  3. Strategy is as much about behaviours as it is about programs. Our customer focus meant that I spent significant time with our customers, finding out what was important to them and what they thought of us. I expected the same behaviours from my executive colleagues and our top 200 leaders. These changes in behaviours embedded our strategic priorities far better than any documents, plans or KPIs.
  4. Pay attention to who’s not coming on board and address it. This is important at all levels, but for the CEO it starts with the executive team and the next generation of leaders.
  5. Don’t mention the word ‘change’. Instead, focus your communication on what the company will achieve in the future, how it will work and what factors will ensure its success. People respond negatively to the word ‘change’, but are positive about changing if they can see where they’re headed.

The focus on the future, the engagement of the top team and the importance I placed on certain behaviours created genuine alignment. People understood our objectives and priorities and were able to make the right decision on a day-to-day basis. And, in the end, it is these decisions that will determine whether your strategy succeeds or fails.”

© Stuart Cross 2021. All rights reserved.