FROM boardrooms to lunchrooms across the corporate world, the discussions are almost always the same.

In the lunchrooms, 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. After over 35 years of working with clients in dozens of industries with sales ranging from one million to several billion dollars, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the biggest challenges facing corporations today.

The consequences of direction drift are many, but they can be summarised into 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 organisation 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 the organisation or the marketplace.

* Senior management is stuck in a historical perspective and is unable or unwilling to revisit its role and fundamental purpose as a business entity.

* Change is coming so fast and furious that organisations are unable or unwilling to develop a correct perspective on what is really happening in the world, whether their world is a regional or international arena.

* Arrogance or ignorance prevents management from admitting that the organisation's mission statement, philosophy, approaches and strategies need to be re-written.

* Inaction seems safer than wrong action.

The world is not going to sit idly by as organisations wait for a sure and safe path into the future to become evident. Somewhere in the world today, some organisation is zeroing in on your customers and your market position. 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 organisations. There are three areas you should consider if you do not want to become a casualty in the coming years:

" Put in place a system of open, honest top-down and bottom-up communication.

" Tap the resources of your most valuable asset - your people.

" Do more than listen to your customers. Think ahead of them and offer them what they will want in the future, not what you want to give them because it is convenient, cost-effective or within the current scope of your strategy.

There are any number of approaches and philosophies available to executives today. Any one of them can propel you with lightning speed into the future if you know where you are going and why, but all of these will fail if you are not clear on your direction and objectives.