So we need to now round off the futures process by transforming the scenarios that have been developed into something that an organisation can adopt and make part of their corporate culture. In essence, what you’re looking for is for the results of the futures process to be accepted by the organisation.
1. Getting People Involved
One way of getting people to buy into the results of the futures process is to make sure, from the beginning, that you are getting people from across the organisation involved in the process.
For example, when using the futures wheel and backcasting tools, it may be an idea to get people from across the organisation involved and participating in the workshops. Similarly, when consulting your Oracles of Delphi, perhaps you want to make some people within the organisation some of the experts that you will be consulting. After all, they may have some important insights to help you along.
When involving people from within the organisation as part of the futures project, it’s important to bear the following in mind:
- The people you involve need to have an understanding of what future studies is. This may mean using a workshop to introduce them to the ideas of future studies. But either way, people need to know what they’re involved in so they will be able to help communicate the messages from the futures project out to the rest of the organisation.
- The people you are going to involve need to be interested in the process and the outcomes. This one is pretty obvious. At the same time, as someone pointed out to me recently, often people that come across as negative may be the people who will turn out to be the most enthusiastic participants, as they just could be looking to be challenged.
- People need to be clear about what the objectives are of the process. Like with anything in life, this boils down to communication. If the ideas behind future studies are not communicated properly to the people who will be involved, they won’t be clear about what the objectives of the process are. This may mean that they won’t become interested in the process and outcomes. You can see the positive feedback cycle that I discussed in previous weeks at work here!
The one challenge I have always encountered though, is getting people to place the uncertainty of the future at the heart of the futures process. This means making people aware that this uncertainty is at the heart of the outcomes and objectives. In essence, since we don’t know how the future will pan out for sure, we need to build that uncertainty into our scenarios.
There are a couple of ways that I’ve found that are quite useful to help get around this challenge:
- provide projections about the possible outcomes so people can see on a graph, for example, how each of the scenarios could play out; and
- describe the alternative futures in as much detail as possible so people can really imagine what those alternative futures could look like. This is where your innate storytelling abilities as a human become so important.
2. Getting People Communicating
So often I find that information vital to the organisation is known, but never communicated up through the organisation to management. This could be the result of the culture of the organisation. Perhaps good communication systems have not been implemented in the organisation.
So when you’re looking at how the results of the futures process are going to be communicated out to the organisation, its important to bear in mind how effective your organisation is at communicating internally.
Speaking from personal experience, law firms are terrible at listening and communicating, simply because of the nature of the organisational structure. The challenge is how to ensure that as many voices are heard during this phase of the futures project to make sure that people’s ideas and concerns can be communicated back to the people doing the futures work.
3. Getting Leaders Involved
It’s a cliché in business circles about making sure you have management buy-in before starting any project or making any organisational changes. But perhaps things become clichéd because they are true. Similarly with a futures project in an organisation.
An organisation’s leadership can be involved in the futures process in two important ways:
- An organisation’s leadership can be seen to be actively driving and involved in the futures process; and
- The outcomes of the futures project need to be incorporated by the leadership into the organisation’s strategy.
If either of these criteria is missing then there is the strong possibility that the futures process will not be a success. Particularly with regards to the second point. The stories about the future, the scenarios you have come up with, need to be at the heart of the organisation’ strategy and planning if they are to have any meaning and use.
4. Back to the Future
And once you have completed all of this, it’s a question of starting all over again. Well, perhaps not starting all the way at the beginning, but it’s a question of:
- continuing to scan your environment;
- identifying new trends;
- considering how previously identified trends may be changing; and
- updating your scenarios at least once a year.
Since the future is continuously evolving and changing in expected and unexpected ways, it’s important that your organisation develop with it. Some of the scenarios that maybe looked plausible a year ago may suddenly become out of date due to a major systemic shock, such as an economic crisis.
In essence, a futures project is not a once off that should be completed and the results then put on a shelf and forgotten. For future studies to really make a difference in an organisation, it has to become part of an organisation’s DNA.