Why Planning for the Future is Important to Leaders

How often do you think about the future of your organization? What percentage of your week do you spend focused on the future? How do you ensure your organization is ready for the future? Do you know why it is crucial to think about the future?

Thinking About the Future

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Leaders directly impact their organizations by thinking about the future. The practice of futuring impacts all aspects of an organization – from decisions to actions to strategies. Hines, a leading scholar in the futures world, holds that future thinking is so foundational and integral to organizations that it ‘should be part of the organization’s fabric.’

By incorporating future thinking into their strategy formation process, leaders transform their organizations. Consider the analogy of leaders to that of explorers that Cornish provides, ‘The great explorers dreamed their ships across the seas long before sailing them.’ These explorers imagined and prepared in anticipation of their future dreams. So too must organizational leaders imagine and prepare for the future of their organizations.

What is strategic foresight?

Have you heard the term strategic foresight? Do you know what it means? In simplistic terms, strategic foresight involves three simple steps.

  1. Leaders spend time imagining and exploring alternative futures.
  2. Leaders gather insights relevant to their organization from their futures explorations.
  3. Leaders shape present-day organizational decisions and strategies to thrive in alternative futures.

Strategic foresight, or futures work, is not about predicting what reality will be in the coming years. Strategic foresight involves understanding alternative scenarios or possibilities of the future in order to make better present-day decisions in the here-and-now. Futuring practices gained more considerable recognition during World War II and grew in corporate arenas during the 1990s.

Futures work is certainly no time machine. The goal of foresight is not to predict the future. As Canton shares, foresight practice aims to provide leaders with techniques to understand the future to, ultimately, make smarter decisions in the present day.

How do leaders plan for the future?

By incorporating futures work into an organization’s strategy,

  • Leaders transition their focus from a short-term perspective to a long-term view.  
  • Leaders move from a survival focus to a sustainability focus.
  • Leaders proactively incorporate opportunities and mitigate risk as they plan.

The field of strategic foresight provides tools and methods for leaders to use within their organizational context. From the strategic foresight work, leaders have a broader viewpoint of potential futures to make decisions for the organizations today.

Planning for the future can be broken down into three simple steps: 

  1. Leaders gather data.
  2. Leaders give meaning to that data.
  3. Leaders act based on that data.
Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash

As leaders prepare their organization for the future, they are discovering, extrapolating, communicating, influencing, integrating, and planning. There will always be ten years from now or 20 years from now. And, leaders must never stop seeking to understand how present decisions may impact the future. Strategic foresight gives a greater perspective to leaders as they create strategies and plans for organizations to thrive in the future.  

What about your organization?

Would you and your team benefit from our leadership services? Learn more about our executive coaching, leadership training and consulting, leadership retreats, and leader development workbook.

Skidmore Consulting 2020 ©

References

  • Canton, J. (2015). Future Smart. Boston: Da Capo Press.
  • Cornish, E. (2004). Futuring: The Exploration of the Future. Bethesda: World Future Society.
  • Farrington, T., Henson, K., & Crews, C. (2012). Research foresights: The use of strategic foresight methods for ideation and portfolio management. Research Technology Management, 55(2), 26.
  • Gordon, A. (2009). Future Savvy. New York: American Management Association.
  • Hines, A. (2006, September/October). Strategic foresight: The state of the art. Futurist, 40(5), 18-21 
  • Marsh, N., et al. (2002) “Why Strategic Foresight?”
  • Rohrbeck, R., & Schwarz, J. O. (2013). The value contribution of strategic foresight: Insights from an empirical study of large european companies. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 80(8), 1593-1606. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2013.01.004
  • Sarpong, D., & Maclean, M. (2016). Cultivating strategic foresight in practise: A relational perspective. Journal of Business Research, 69(8), 2812-2820. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2015.12.050
  • Sarpong, D., & Maclean, M. (2014). Unpacking strategic foresight: A practice approach. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 30(1), 16. doi:10.1016/j.scaman.2013.04.002
  • Slaughter, R. A. (1993, April). Futures concepts. Futures, 25(3), 289-315 
  • Weber, C., Sailer, K., & Katzy, B. (2015). Real-time foresight — preparedness for dynamic networks. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 101, 299-313. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2015.05.016