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Worksheet: Techniques to Plan for Future Trends and Scenarios

If brands could correctly predict the future, product and service development would be a lot easier. Strategies could be planned well before disruptors emerge, and there would be advanced warnings for customer attitude shifts and upcoming trends. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that anyone will be 100 percent correct in future predictions.

Luckily, there are many strategies that can help guide a company in its plans for the future, including the STEEP and 4P methods. In this white paper, we explore different techniques that will help a company plan for future trends and scenarios. We also provide a helpful worksheet that will help with scenario planning.

GAINING A LONGER PERSPECTIVE

Responding to the turns and tribulations of the future is like driving a car at night using only your low beams. Although low beams provide the ability to respond to a road’s immediate twist and turns, it does not offer a view of the barriers and risk in the further distance a car’s high beam provides. And with today’s companies embracing agile and scrum high-to-market processes, the ability to see further into the distance has become imperative.

Ironically with such emphasis on speed to market and driving shorter-term value for shareholders, too many organizations are solely focused on quarterly earnings guided by conventional five-year business plans and lack the discipline to take a longer view of the market, ultimately driving their cars with only their headlines on the low beam level. However, if brands could correctly predict the future by taking a longer view of the markets, the odds that companies would face the same fate as Kodak, Blockbuster and Sears would be extremely rare. Using an organization’s high beam defined through a future-proofing initiative supported by a well-structured strategic foresight process. Strategies could be planned well before disruptors emerge, and there would be advanced warnings for customer attitude shifts and upcoming trends.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that anyone will be 100 percent correct in future predictions. There are always unexpected factors and developments that alter a predicted vision. Assumptions can simply be wrong – people and cultures are complex and are constantly changing. Extrapolations generally do not consider the impact of new influences, and counter-trends can result from reactions to mainstream behaviour. In addition, there is significant churn at the employees level across all levels of the organization, with CMO and CEO tenures shrinking from ten years to, in many organizations, less than five. Coupled with the fact that employee loyalty is shrinking, ensuring a sustained focus over a long period is becoming a significant challenge in embracing future-proofing processes. We have outlined a detailed guide you can download to future-proofing your organizations to avoid or better leverage the potential disruptions and game-changing trends occurring in the not-so-distant future. 

Guide #1: Understanding your future readiness level

The first step in embracing a more future-focused approach is understanding where your organization is currently positioned on the strategic foresight planning continuum. Please complete the future readiness study (https://www.research.net/r/FuturesStudy) to help identify various opportunities for your organization to be better prepared for what the future has in store for your organization. The self-evaluation study identified four tiers of future-proof readiness of your organization. We have outlined each tier of preparedness and what is required from each organization. These tiers should be viewed as a continuum as companies embrace the fundamentals of strategic foresight leading to a scenario planning process.

Guide #2: Understanding The future-proofing process

Once you have identified your organization’s level of readiness, it’s now time to put the planning process into action, taking into consideration the specific tasks.  It’s challenging to implement a future-proofing process if your organization falls within the first three tiers of the future readiness study. To assist in gaining a better understanding of the process, we have outlined in the guide the key steps organizations should undertake as part of their planning process. We have leveraged many frameworks that helped guide and structure our work with industry leaders toward imaginative thinking. These tools, which are covered in greater detail, include STEEP and the 4Ps. These tools can help prepare you for possible changes in the market. Even if your mindset is less about trying to make predictions and more about creating your preferred future, these techniques are still helpful to help spark new ideas and recognize emerging threats to your business.

Guide #3: CREATING THE FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

A critical factor in defining the success of a future-proofing initiative is the ability to gain a strong alignment across the entire organization on purpose, process, people, and plan. In most organizations, a future planning strategic process is new and will require awareness and support for the importance and impact of ideas emerging from the process. A strategic foresight initiative poorly understood and driven by only one to two departments will fail to realize its full potential and may jade the leadership team if the process fails to gain internal traction. The guide outlines a detailed process organization may embrace to put planning into motion.

Guide #4: Understanding your Past and Present state 

To succeed, the future planning process needs to establish an organizational planned growth trajectory taking into consideration past initiatives which have to lead to the status of the current situation. This stage of the process is essential in gaining an understanding of which factors and market dynamics will influence potential future scenarios and those that have a little sustaining impact on the future of the company. To build on past knowledge, the future-proofing process should examine how the company has responded to crucial market dynamics over the past ten or more years, which of the essential facts drove the organization’s direction today in remaining relevant and which have lapsed their realm of influence.

Guide #5: Understanding the preferred state 

Once you have identified the present state and how it has evolved over a while, it’s time to project out another ten years in the future as part of a preferred scenario. Leveraging the key trends driving the company’s five-year plan serves as the foundation for developing a scenario where the organization can predict all of the factors impacting its likelihood to succeed. The preferred state becomes the benchmark against which other scenarios are explored and evaluated and allows the company the comfort and freedom to think broadly about the opportunities in the future.

Guide #6: Leveraging the STEEP Tool

The STEEP tool is an acronym for critical influences that shape the future. These influences are Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political. The changes and signals in each force can reveal potential future scenarios. To think about how these factors could affect our future, develop various scenarios,  from minor to significant human intervention. Explore trends beyond your business category, as disruption typically occurs outside the given industry. The workbook guide provides excellent examples and steps to consider as part of the STEEP exercise.

Guide #7: Visioning many future possibilities

The ability to predict the future is challenging considering the wide range of STEEP, ideas and events that are both known and unknown in the current time horizon. To overcome this challenge, organizations need to identify a range of potential scenarios ranging from very plausible to most unlikely to determine which of these would first have the most significant impact on the company and secondly could be leveraged as a future capability leading to solid market differentiation.

The key to identifying the right scenario is casting a web of ideas, trends and events by sourcing these ideas from a diverse group of individuals who will bring to the table a wide range of potential scenarios. The goal of the vision stage is to have the broadest number of STEEP trends and to leverage the group in filtering these, which would help solve the focused challenge while covering how they would have the most significant positive and negative impact on the organization. 

Guide #8: DEVELOPING IDEAS SUPPORTING THE VARIOUS SCENARIO

Upon the identification of four to six scenarios through stakeholder research and internal alignment, it’s now time to leverage the scenario into potential business solutions for the organization. These solutions should cover a wide range of areas within the organization leveraging our three levers of change, namely message, structure and process.

CONCLUSION

The guide and workbook provide a great starting point on how your organization can anticipate change in the marketplace. We have provided additional reading material for your convenience, namely:

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