Direction Setting

Strategic thinking and strategic planning are different processes requiring different skill sets. Strategic thinking is about seeing patterns and trends, and making sense out of emerging markets and technologies.  Strategic planning is about developing priorities and goals that can be quantified with financial targets and concrete action steps.  Both processes are necessary for an organization to be successful.

In some organizations, strategic thinking is not even considered, and strategic planning is thought of as an annual event. At The Greenberg Group strategic thinking and planning are considered a direction setting process — something a leader and his team must do continually to ensure the organization’s viability. The outcome of a direction setting process or meeting is not to have a slick-looking binder that sits on a shelf. Instead, the outcome includes:

  • An analysis of your competition that informs an organization’s direction.
  • Team consensus on direction and priorities.
  • A living, breathing tool that guides an organization to greater profitability.
  • A plan for communicating your direction to key stakeholders.

Knowing where an organization wants to go, and having a road map to get there, is a must-have to be successful.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” (General Dwight D. Eisenhower)

“Vision without action is just a dream.  Action without vision just passes the time.  But vision, combined with action, can change the world.”  (Joel Barker, futurist)

Left & Right Sides of the Brain
Another way to think about strategic planning versus strategic thinking is
 to notice the difference between plans and visions:



Appeal to mind Appeal to heart
Rational Intuitive
Linear view Holistic view
Reaction to trends/peers Desire to be unique/creative
Focus on directions Focus on end-state
Show how to get there Unclear how to get there
Work forward to the future Work backward from the future
Cool, bureaucratic language Hot, poetic language
Secret Public
Push people Draw people


Margaret Greenberg has designed and facilitated scores of direction setting sessions. Sometimes the work begins with helping a senior team create a number of probable scenarios for how they see their business in 3-5 years (strategic thinking). Other times, the vision has been articulated, but the leader needs help “making it happen” (strategic planning). Still other organizations seek more definition around specific strategies, such as employee engagement.

Regardless of what point Margaret enters into the consulting engagement, she always makes certain that a plan is in place for implementation, including communications. A recent study found that the primary reason CEOs fail is not because they didn’t have a winning strategy; rather, they didn’t execute that strategy well.

Direction setting can also extend beyond the senior team, and involve others in the organization. This approach can be especially engaging and makes implementation that much easier because more people have been involved in the process. Margaret uses elements of Appreciative Inquiry in her designs.

Lastly, direction setting can be a wonderful team development opportunity, says Greenberg:  “From my experience, working together to craft a well thought out and executed plan for their business is one of the best ways to develop a team.”

Client Feedback

“It’s great to see such a large part of our organization engaged in the planning process. I’m confident we’re going to have a very good year! The role you played in this is more than you probably realize. Your style permeated our culture. Employees are not only asking ‘who’s responsible’, but adding ‘by when’! (COO, Energy Company)

“I really enjoyed this meeting even more than last year. It seemed as though we had more break outs to talk and discuss our business thoughts. The breakouts with cross functional teams was ideal and really drove home the need for integration.” (Call Center Manager, Financial Services Company)


Published Articles

Below are links to Direction Setting articles Margaret has published on Positive Psychology News Daily: