Direction Trumps Strategy

Tip #2: Bottoms Up Meets Top Down

The direction discussion is not one way. When I talk about giving managers time to manage, this does not mean further dissipation of the strategic direction messaged downward. What happens when managers start becoming managers again is they listen. They engage employees in dialogue about what work is flowing up, what projects are new, what old ones are incomplete, what should be terminated to take on new projects, the type of troubleshooting employees are doing, etc.

The direction discussion means higher quality dialogue that is two way, not one way. As a result, the folks at the top of the organization, the leadership team, have a lot of information they would not otherwise have. This means they will have more data that may indeed result in a change or evolved strategy; closing the circle.

Tip #3: Measure Direction Misfit

Measurement is key to being agile and linking direction misfit with the people who can fix the problems and take advantage of the opportunities that arise from lack of direction. Profitability, earnings and other key financial metrics are pretty healthy signals of lack of direction. If they are going down, there’s a good chance direction is the culprit.

Tip #4: Communication

Communications is the art that supports the science of strategy and direction. But traditional communication systems that support strategy are top down. Develop a process that encourages two-way communications.

In order to entice employees to share information (without fear of being ridiculed, being held in disdain by their boss, or made to feel they are unqualified to do the job), a very clear message of “sharing the pulse” of the organization has to be set up and maintained. Employees and mid-level managers need to know that if they talk about lack of direction, it’s okay.

There’s still too much fear of speaking up in many organizations, even though there is an adequate amount of one way and top down communications. Building a culture of listening and sharing, even with the abundance of email, text messaging, and blogs remains difficult. As we tumble into a recession, fear of losing one’s job will increase, making it more risky for employees to share. Thus, the key job of the communications used to solve the direction problem must be to build trust through confidential, two way dialogues.


The importance of direction is not just a big company problem. It is not a US-centric issue. In every data set I study from around the world, I see the same phenomenon cropping up. Direction is trumping strategy, and the organizations that act on this knowledge will gain strong competitive advantage in the market. The IT groups that support their leaders in not only understanding the importance of this new trend but in building systems to help enable all employees to solve the problem will be on the cutting edge of creating high, measurable value for their stakeholders.

Theresa Wellbourne, is the founder, president and CEO of eePulse and an adjunct professor of Executive Education at the University of Michigan Business School. If you wish to participate her ongoing leadership study, which is available to you at no cost, please email to: [email protected] and ask for more information about the project or how to sign up yourself or your team.

To read findings from all the studies done to date, go to