Culture
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Nora Guerrera
July 1, 2022

Futures Planning: Change the Way You Think About Your Organization’s Future

If we know anything about the future, it’s that the future is unknown. Unless you have a reliable crystal ball, it’s hard to predict with any accuracy. You can, however, prepare your organization for the many possible ways the future could turn out.

If we know anything about the future, it’s that the future is unknown. Unless you have a reliable crystal ball, it’s hard to predict with any accuracy. You can, however, prepare your organization for the many possible ways the future could turn out.    

Futures Planning helps you prepare for whatever lies ahead 

When planning for the future, organizations often use a strategic roadmap or a vision. While those tools are useful, they’re based on optimistic, hopeful hockey-stick projections or growth plans. Usually, these plans are focused on speculative goals and budget projections—but don’t meaningfully consider known impacts from the outside world. That’s where Futures Planning comes in. 

Futures Planning is an exercise that examines trends or threats that might impact your organization, industry, or customers. Then it explores how your organization could react. 

For example, a bank might identify a trend that consumers are using alternative financing products (such as buy now, pay later companies like Affirm) for everyday purchases, instead of checks and bank credit cards. That might lead to: 

  • Banks becoming less relevant to consumers. 
  • Consumers building credit history outside of normal credit services like FICO.  
  • Consumers accruing a lot of debt.  
  • Etc. 

During Futures Planning, each of the scenarios the bank identified could be explored and assessed.  

How it works 

Although Futures Planning is best moderated by an experienced facilitator, it’s a fairly easy and fast exercise:

  1. Identify a trend (or threat) that you see in the marketplace. Write the trend in the middle of a whiteboard or piece of paper.
  2. Think about the social, technological, economic, or even political implications of that trend. Keep prompting the team to think about "if that happened then..." and "if that happened, then..." until you have a daisy chain of possible events and activities.
  3. Work together to label each scenario as possible (likely to happen), plausible (might happen), or preposterous (probably won’t happen).  
  4. Discuss how your organization would react to each scenario if it came true. As the conversation continues, continue adding more detail to the map.
  5. Review and evaluate regularly - what has come true, what was missed, or if anything went wrong.

Most of the time, the exercise only takes an hour or two and there’s not much preparation in advance. After all, your people have lots of institutional and market knowledge from working in the business every day. Mostly, all you need is an open mind and a willingness to explore future possibilities.  

The results 

Futures Planning creates a shared vision of what the future might hold. That vision can (and should) be shared with organizational stakeholders—from the board to front-line employees—so they can: 

  • Have more purposeful, constructive conversations about the future. 
  • Make better decisions around where to invest your time and resources. 
  • Take informed, tangible actions around the trends most likely to impact your organization (instead of just acknowledging a general trend). 
  • Validate your strategic plan. 

Additionally, Futures Planning can help your organization when unexpected events or surprises arise. When a crisis hits, you can use the map as a source of ideas and inspiration, taking comfort that you have already thought about this possible future and how you might respond. For example, if “global pandemic” was on your map in 2019, you would have been more prepared for 2020. 

The bottom line is: It pays to think about the possibilities. While the future is unknown, it doesn’t have to be completely unfamiliar. Futures Planning can help you make smart decisions about your future, today. 

Get prepared for the future. Contact us to learn how we can help you with Futures Planning, roadmaps, comprehensive strategies, and more.