Enabling Foresight and Strategy: Spotting the Disruptors Before They Arrive
It has always been the task of the leader to think strategically and spend more time than their team looking at the horizon. That is still the case, although many modern CEOs seem to get caught up too easily in the detail, the tactical and the everyday rush of office life. Caught between a bulging mobile inbox that is no longer effectively managed by a gatekeeping PA and the demands of evermore complex modern organisations, many CEOs have little time for reflection, horizon scanning and strategic thinking. This is a danger to their organisations and their own role.
Future-Fit leaders make time for thinking. They have deliberate and regular times set aside in their diaries to “climb up onto the balcony” and survey the scene. As Michael Gerber said in his excellent book about entrepreneurs, The E-Myth, “You need to spend time ON your business, not just IN your business.”
But there is more to it than that.
Get the whole team involved.
The Future-fit leader will ensure that their whole team is involved in horizon scanning, trend spotting and strategic foresight. And by “whole team”, we mean the whole team: everyone.
In a world of constant and disruptive change, we can no longer rely on the insights of a few people sitting at the top of the organisation, or even on the contribution of a professional and focused strategy team. The wisdom required to engage with relentless change comes from the whole organisation. The new role of the CEO and senior leaders is to create systems and foster a culture that spreads future thinking throughout the organisation.
The task of the CEO is not merely to have foresight and strategic thinking, but to enable these throughout the organisation.
This involves at least the following:
- Developing and deploying a future trends model that helps focus the organisation on potential disruptors. This could be something like the PESTLE model, or Porter’s Five Forces. Our team at TomorrowToday Global prefers the TIDES Model of disruptive change.
- Creating a system to ask for, collect and give feedback on ideas, insights and information from every level of the organisation. From the simple “ideas box” to easier to implement ideation apps, the key is to actively encourage systems that elicit ongoing engagement from the team. If they have an idea or see something that might be of interest, their default setting should be to share it.
- Making time at team meetings for “show and tell”. Probably all of our favourite lesson in Junior Primary can be revived at team meetings throughout the organisation, with a brief 5 minute session from team members on “what have you seen while looking at the horizon.”
- Rewarding and celebrating people who contribute in this way. Make future thinking part of the company culture.
- As a senior leader, seek out the insights of people throughout the organisation. Ask good questions, rather than just giving good answers. Be curious, rather than in control.
We have learnt over the past two decades that some skills and mindsets must be spread throughout the organisation if they are to work effectively. We know this to be true of health and safety: unless everyone is concerned about safety, we’re going to have problems. It’s also true of quality control: this should not be a small department that intervenes only at the end of a manufacturing process. If quality is not everyone’s problem at every part of the process, then we will never achieve total quality. The same is true of foresight and strategy. Unless the inputs for these come from everyone, we will always be operating blind in a fast-paced, disruptive world.
Getting everyone involved in looking at the horizon and thinking about the future ‐ this is the leader’s work.
Practical ideas to get your teams thinking about the future:
- [Video (6 minutes)]: How to track future trends
- [Article] How you can get your teams to work differently and see into the future