Posts Tagged ‘direction’


I was recently talking to a young executive in a large corporation who was frustrated with his boss.  His frustration centered around his perception of his boss’s indecisiveness, guidance, and commitment to a very important project.  He said, “I can’t believe the executive team doesn’t see what is going on.”  If you have been in business long enough, you no doubt have experienced this frustration.  Maybe not with your boss, but certainly with a coworker or fellow manager.

It has been my experience that in most situations the level above the young executive, and all those impacted by the project, know what he is dealing with.  So, they are all watching.  Not only the progress of the project, but also how he is managing himself in a difficult situation.  Early in my career I was made an assistant manager of a department where the department manager had his issues.  I had to learn how to effectively manage the department in spite of the challenges.  It was only much later that I learned the Vice President of the division knew the situation and was watching/hoping I could get the department back on track.  I did, but it was frustrating because I didn’t think people knew how bad it was.  I never forgot this.

However, I don’t believe that above example is the norm; it happens but not often.  More often the frustrated young executive “believes” that their boss is disconnected when in fact, they are challenging the young executive to figure it out without a lot of hand-holding.  I have distributed responsibility and provided direction to many managers over the years.  I was crystal clear in what I needed but I wanted them to develop their own ideas and processes to carry out my direction.  Sometimes I knew that they had to deal with difficult people in order to be successful, but they had to figure it out. – Not only was I watching, in many cases, so was my boss.

One of my favorite sayings I tell young managers is that “You have to be able to sit at a table with Mother Teresa on your left and Attila the Hun on your right, and still carry out your direction/responsibilities.” – Remember, they are watching.



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For the past twelve months the CEO had been focusing on changing the strategic direction of the company.  Numerous meetings had been held with senior management of the company’s three divisions, documents shared, etc.  However, it was obvious that the largest division was not transitioning to the new direction and the other divisions were only showing slight progress.  Frustrated, the CEO began questioning the senior manager responsible for implementing the new direction.  “Why hasn’t Division A shown more progress in implementing our new direction, asked the CEO?”  “I don’t know, responded the senior manager, I’ve told them about it many times.”  So, what went wrong?

Almost all privately-held companies start off with very informal processes for getting things done; e.g., meetings, instructions, agreements, conversations, handoffs, etc.  It works because of the close interaction and commitment of the participants.  Over time, as the organization grows, these human capital links are diluted due to an increase in the organizational structure and key individuals leaving the company.  As a result, the ability of the leadership to accomplish objectives has become more difficult because the dynamics of the organization have changed.  The old methods of running the business no longer provide the results previously experienced.  Unfortunately, many years can go by before the leadership recognizes what is happening.

What do you do?  Every organization should, as soon as possible, aggressively focus on establishing tested and proven management practices for running the business.  This can be accomplished by ‘formalizing’ how you get things done by using what has worked for others.  This doesn’t mean simply copying what is there; it means using what is available and adapting it for your use.  Adapting the practices make them unique to your business.  The best thing is that these proven practices are readily available in literature, or through organizations and firms that specialize in various management disciplines.

I chose the direction case because a formal direction process is a lifeline of an organization.  It is a critical part of how the company is being lead (its leadership) and establishes an effective method for developing and implementing strategy throughout the organization.  Formal direction can have a significant impact on the organization because it is an interactive process that has to be continuously managed, and it results in a written document that becomes a point-of-reference for future decision-making.

In the example above, the CEO should have developed a written document (direction) for the senior manager responsible for implementing the strategic direction.  The senior manager would then develop a ‘written plan’ to carry out the direction from their level of responsibility.  The plan becomes the driving force to cause the desired changes within the business units.  In other words, it is the basis for telling the divisions what needs to be accomplished, and identifies how the organization determines if the plan is being successfully implemented.

Four key areas of a direction document include:

  • Purpose – This is a brief description of the purpose of the direction.  It should be clear and concise, and answer the question of why you are providing the direction.
  • Background – Discusses the events or history that led to establishing the direction.  This could include changing competitive markets, emerging or disruptive technologies, new opportunities, a weakening economy, or a change in ownership perspective.
  • Direction – A detailed description of what you want the recipient to do.  This should also include a timeframe, reporting requirements and measurements.  You must identify measures that show how you are going to know if the direction is being successfully implemented.  (The measures could be quantitative or qualitative, or both.)  The results you get from your measures also enable you to make adjustments to your strategies.
  • Summary – Summarize the direction by pulling the first three parts together.  This establishes a complete picture of the direction.

Keep the direction simple and to the point.

Think about the major decisions that are made each day within your organization.  What are the points-of-reference for making those decisions?  Are the decisions consistent with your direction?  If it is unclear, a direction document provides a basis to have further discussions.

What is the most critical issue in your business that could benefit from a formal direction process?  Try writing a direction for that issue; I think you will be surprised at the results you get and what you will learn.

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