From boardrooms to construction sites to lunchrooms across America, the discussions often are the same. In the field, the question is: “Who are we and where are we going?” In the boardrooms, the question is: “Where are we going and how do we get there?”
In either case, the results are the same - direction drift. You won't find the concept described in management or business books because I just made it up. After 20 years of working with clients in dozens of industries ranging in sales from $1 million to several billion dollars, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the biggest challenges facing corporate America today.
The consequences of direction drift are many, but they can be summarized into a basic five:
- A lack of communicated direction contributes to poor employee performance and productivity.
- A lack of clear direction increases the likelihood of wasted corporate resources.
- A lack of focused direction adds a negative element to corporate culture, mainly the “here-we-go-again syndrome.”
- A lack of consistent direction adds a great deal of uncertainty to the attitudes of employees whose primary function is to take the organization where it is headed.
- A lack of confident direction is a signal to employees, the marketplace and your competitors that you are vulnerable and unsure of your objectives and strategies.
What is the cause of this malaise?
I believe there are five distinct contributors to this problem:
- Senior management is not in touch with the reality of either its organization or the marketplace.
- Senior management is stuck in a historical perspective and is unable or unwilling to revisit their role and fundamental purpose as a business entity.
- Change is coming so fast and furious that organizations are unable or unwilling to develop an accurate perspective on what really is happening in the world, whether their world is a regional or international arena.
- Arrogance and/or ignorance prevents management from admitting that they need to rewrite their mission statement and strategies.
- Inaction seems safer than wrong action.
I repeat: Time is running out.
The world is not going to sit idly by as organizations wait for a sure and safe path into the future to become evident. Somewhere in the world today, some organization is zeroing in on your customers. You can ill afford to continue to adhere to a philosophy of wait-and-see. Boldness, responsiveness, clear vision, flexibility, fast response time and courage will be the benchmarks of future successful organizations.
There are three areas that I encourage you to consider if you do not want to become a casualty in the coming years:
- You must put in place a system of open, honest and top-down and bottom-up communication.
- You must tap the resources of your most valuable asset, your people.
- You must do more than listen to your customers; you must think ahead of them and offer them what they want, not what you want to give them.
There are any number approaches and philosophies available to executives today from Total Quality Management to Principle Centered Leadership. All of these will fail if you are not clear on your direction and objectives. Anyone of them can propel you with lightning speed into the future if you know where you are going and why.