Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


Understanding the role of Futures work in Strategic Planning

Thursday 3 November 2011

Most organisations appreciate, if not understand that the process of Strategic Planning has little to do with the document that is the final 'output' of the planning process, and much more to do with the thinking that developed the plan and the execution of the stated intentions contained within the plan. The hundreds of organisations that have attended our Strategic Planning workshops understand explicitly that the 'plan' is merely a capture of the concise thoughts that have emerged in thinking about how the organisation will move closer to its stated Vision - the future it wants to have or create. Yet a single challenge remains - how do you tie Futures Thinking to the Strategic Planning process?

Answering this question is simple enough though the application of the answer requires far more effort.  First up, let me remind past workshop participants of one of our core slides - an organisation's leadership team has NO RIGHT to expend ANY of the organisation's resources on any activity that is not deliberately aligned to moving an organisation towards that organisation's desired future.

This requirement places front and centre, the need for any business to think about the type of future it wants to have.  There are a myriad of tools to assist you in thinking about the future - scenarios, Visioning; Emerging Issues Analysis and many, many more.

But to connect Futures thinking to Strategic Planning, some core steps are recommended:

First - Look around.  Conduct a thorough and grounded Environmental Scan to gain insight into current and emerging signals of change and stability

Second - question your assumptions.  We all make them, but if your assumptions aren't valid, your expectations of the future will not be met.  Scenarios, Causal Layered Analysis, Porters Five Forces and other methods will help you test your assumptions and therein build a more effective understanding of potential

Third - Put a line in the sand.  If you know what you want for your future, set a date for when you will have it.  This creates the energy inside your organisation to drive toward the type of future you would prefer to have, or feel you need to create

Fourth - Backcast from then, to now.  The SINGLE BIGGEST step missed by most organisations undertaking futures work is Backcasting.  This is the phase that links your futures work to your operational outputs highlighted in your Strategic Plan.  Without Backcasting, your futures work will remain theory at best and your Strategic Plan will not take into account, your future assessment

Five - maintain ongoing awareness of progress by seeking out signals for change and signals of your organisation moving forward.

Undertake those five steps and you'll leverage the benefits of Futures Thinking into your Strategic Planning

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