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I have a new client who has done strategic planning in the past, but they didn’t do future scanning. They decided that since they were only doing one year plans they didn’t need to be prepared for the future. And they were very busy delivering their programs that they didn’t have time for that “predicting the future” step.
Before I decide to work with a new client we talk about The Systems Thinking Approach® to Strategic Management, which means we talk about all five phases of the model:
In addition to not scanning the future environment, they didn’t have any measures of success. First, we talked about why it was important to scan for the possible changes and trends in the external future environment. Here are some of the questions we discussed:
How to prepare for the future?
You can’t use a crystal ball to see the future, but you can scan the external future environment regularly to be aware of shifts, forces and occurrences that could impact your organization in the future.
The external environment is shifting rapidly. As a leader you need to be scanning that environment to ensure you are ready for changes and new trends. Regularly scanning outside of your organization for trends and forces that haven’t impacted you yet, but could impact you in the future allows you to be proactive and flexible.
If your competition isn’t looking ahead, then you have an advantage in your market.
No organization is an island. We are all impacted by patterns, dynamics and occurrences that are beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean we give up – actually, we keep our eye on those possible impacts and prepare contingency plans for them.
This means you have to be aware of changes in the future environment, and discuss what you will do when they approach. This could be as formal as scenario planning, or as informal as ongoing discussions and agreed upon actions.
Future Scanning may be uncomfortable because it causes leaders, staff and other key stakeholders to get out of day-to-day thinking and take a broader view of the organization. Future Scanning is like flying in a helicopter - we can see the whole area. We cannot see the details, but we can see the rivers and mountains.
What are the benefits of a future external environmental scan?
Benefits include innovations that propel the organization to capture new customers and markets. It allows the organization to be more flexible and proactive when changes occur.
What are the dangers of not conducting a future external environmental scan?
The external environment will change, whether we ignore it or not. Remember the words or Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
The better prepared organizations are to respond to shifts in the external environment, the more successful they will be. Organizations that are stuck in the past and ignore external changes will miss opportunities, lose valuable staff and ultimately fail.
Where to gather information for future external environmental scan?
There are many places to gather information for your Future Scan. Each organization will have different publications, conferences and trade shows. I read a variety of newsletters and reviews; examine university updates, podcasts and conferences; follow futurists; monitor think tanks and study government data.
Remember to gather information from a credible source. Without good information, you can’t make good decisions.
When does future external environmental scanning occur?
Future scanning doesn’t occur once a year. It is the continual gathering and analysis of the external environment throughout the year. It is a continual process because changes in the environment happen quickly and continuously, and we need to be prepared for these changes.
I recommend that you establish a monthly (or at most quarterly) review of the external environment at your planning review meetings to ensure changes in the external environment can be reviewed, analyzed and acted upon in a timely manner.
Of course, if a substantial change occurs between your planning review meetings, get together immediately to discuss how to leverage opportunities and how to counter threats and turn them into opportunities.
Who is responsible for future scanning?
Future environmental scans can be performed in many ways. While it should be led by the leaders of the organization, employees at all levels can be involved in gathering the information.
Environmental scanning isn’t done behind closed doors, but with input from all levels of the organization. Staff throughout the organization can gather possible changes in the external environment and share it with the planning team.
The team involved in creating the strategic plan, called the Planning Team, as well as the team responsible for the monitoring and updating of the strategic plan, often called the Change Leadership Team, review and analyze future scan information to determine how it could impact the implementation of the strategic plan.
How to conduct a future external environmental scan?
Use a Systems Thinking Approach® to scan the future environment. I recommend using the Haines Centre’s SKEPTIC model.
In future blog posts I’ll write about working with this client regarding measures of success and planning for more than one year.
Want more information about how to conduct a future external environmental scan? Reach out at Valerie.MacLeod@HainesCentre.com
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