At work, every action we take or decision we make effectively supports strategy, whether it is the organizational direction or an individual’s personal agenda.
Dean and author, Roger Martin said, “When I ask business executives about their company’s strategy — or about an apparent lack thereof — they often respond that they can’t or won’t do strategy because their operating environment is changing so much. There isn’t enough certainty, they argue, to be able to do strategy effectively.”
It’s often left to the individual to make sense of the firm’s strategic intent. Strategy is living and evolving, therefore leaders must repeatedly and clearly communicate the future vision. Do modern leaders believe it is there responsibility to paint a picture and continually explain the story? This includes the courage to expose the assumptions that underpin the vision.
As Martin says, “Strategy doesn’t work unless everyone’s aware of it, working together, and willing to make tough choices to support it.” By building scenarios we begin to initiate a conversation with regard to how people see the future and invariably create a context in which to develop our strategic plan.
From my experience in developing strategic visions, one of the best places to start is to share and create a picture of the future through the process of scenario building. In fact you probably already do this in your daily life.
Prior to moving to New Zealand from the USA, I created four scenarios with regard to where I would raise my three children, each scenario sharing similar success indicators differentiated by geographic settings, (e.g. India, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand). It wasn’t scenario building in its purest form, but it was a systematic approach to develop snap shots of the future, applying key indicators e.g. emerging economics, values, employment prospects, educational systems, etc. across the geographic canvases. So what are scenarios?
“Scenarios are stories about how the future might unfold for our organizations, our communities and our world. Scenarios are not predictions. Rather, they are provocative and plausible accounts of how relevant external forces might interact and evolve, providing our organizations with different challenges and opportunities. They are designed to stretch our thinking about emerging changes and the opportunities and threats that the future might hold. They allow us to weigh our choices more carefully when making short-term and long-term strategic decisions. At its most basic, scenarios help people and organizations order and frame their thinking about the long-term while providing them with the tools and confidence to take action soon. At its most powerful, scenarios help people and organizations find strength of purpose and strategic direction in the face of daunting, chaotic and even frightening circumstances.” GBN (Global Business Network)
Take responsibility by helping to form plausible views of the emergent future. I am not suggesting that we try and predict the future, but rather leverage the smart people in and out of our organizations to help create a rich tapestry of the emergent possibilities in which to develop a strategic direction.
Without making an effort to align strategically, companies run the risk of inconsistent decision making and ineffective execution. Scenario building is a really good starting point.