United had their worst ever Premier League season last year but have now won nine of their last 10 games in all competitions and only lost one in 20.
They visit leaders Arsenal on Sunday on course to return to the Champions League but with Ten Hag believing the fierce competition in England and the resources plenty of clubs enjoy giving them little margin for error.
“I think we are in the right direction,” he said. “I’m quite convinced of that process. But it also means that we have to improve a lot if you want to compete in the future for the top positions because the competition will be really tough.”
Ten Hag could lead United, who are in the Carabao Cup semi-finals to their first piece of silverware in six years but the rise of Newcastle has made it tougher at the top of the game. The Dutchman feels that clubs need a combination of money and good planning to succeed.
He added: “I think the Premier League in this moment develops [so] that you have six, seven teams who all finally can win the league because there are so many investments.
“When you have the right philosophy, the right strategy, I think that many more clubs can compete for positions, for the top positions in the league. That’s a great challenge and if you want to be there you have to be really good.
“You need that consistency. You needed that good strategy, the consistency in the strategy and you need hard work to compete there. And if you want to be to win trophies, everything has to go in the right way.”
Ten Hag said part of United’s strategy has to be to get the culture of the club right and emphasised the importance of being honest with themselves and the outside world.
He explained: “All what I want to bring in is a culture from high standards and values. And also accountability and transparency. So that’s our values I want to set, I want to control. I think that is the way we have to cooperate, so internal but also external so, for instance, with the media and with the fans.”