“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” - William Shakespeare
Peter Drucker, whose writings contributed to the foundations of modern business, is famously quoted for the inspiration that “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Having the facts that allow you to construct a crisp enough picture of your ‘Future Operating Environment’, or in short, ‘FOE’, gives you the basis to move from where you are to where you want to be. Like a good soccer player, you want to run to where the ball is going to be.
2.1 Determining the probable “look” of the Future Operating Environment
Following on from our first article, apart from the team that looks into data gathering on Current Profile and Current Sandbox, a second data gathering team needs to get the facts around what the FOE might look like in the next three to five years (a practical and reasonable timeframe given the speed at which changes are happening now in the sector).
The team will do a scan of all or the most significant of the following factors, stating in clear, succint and self-explanatory statements the trends, events, or observations that are likely to pan out over the next few years, with or without your organisation in the equation.
Political/ Legislative/ Regulatory Environment
Social/ Demographic Trends
Partner Profiles/ Partnerships
“Competition”/ Competitive Environment
Facilities and Capabilities
Distribution/ Delivery Methods/ Channels
Programme Design/ Features/ Content
Resources – Human (Staff, Volunteers)/ Financial
By “trend statement”, we mean a short phrase such as “A silver tsunami, a top-heavy population pyramid – The number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above is expected to triple to 900,000 by 2030. 1 in 4 will be 65 or older” to describe a social demographic trend (made even more impactful when it is backed by quantifiable data, where possible). What if there are important factors from the here and now that you foresee will not change and will continue to be material to your organisation’s work going forward? You could say that “Social isolation wil remain a challenge, especially among our seniors”. In contrast, a statement like “user-generated content” neither speaks of a clear future trend nor the point that the originator was trying to make.
When gathering data on future trends, consult with colleagues, volunteers (including Board members), partners, “authorities”, think tanks, and your “mother-organisation” (if you are part of a broader organisation) on the major trends and changes that may affect your sector. Scan nationally, regionally, or internationally based on the scope of your geographic market coverage and future intent. And, scan wide as opposed to narrow - look further than your current Sandbox or “playing field”.
Bear in mind that your data should be able to hold water, stand up to questions and scrutiny. Quote your sources accordingly, be they news articles, research papers, or focus group findings. Purchase information if necessary, from well-regarded sources – our experience is that this is not always necessary. Anecdotal observations are “allowed” but should be kept to a minimum. Imagine if you bet all the money in your bank on one stock just because so-and-so said so!
2.2 What are the implications to your organisation and how would you respond?
Once you have distilled the most significant trends in each area, ask yourself ‘What implications do these trends, in each area of concern (economic, political, social, client profiles etc.), have on my/our organisation in the next few years?’. Also, make suggestions on ‘Potential Responses’ to these trends. Here, you may not have all the answers. Instead of one ‘potential response’, you could suggest a series of potential responses or ask questions that would provoke discussions on what could be the best response to stay relevant, distinctly relevant.
Some practice notes:
One way to go about the data gathering within a team of between five and seven people, is to assign one to two of the 13 factors to each team member.
The cross-functional team should comprise members from various departments/ units and could involve staff, Board/ EXCO members, other volunteers or partners, each bringing a diversity of insights and expertise, and ALL WILLING and ABLE to contribute their time and resources towards this endeavour.
A reasonable and comfortable timeframe to allot for this exercise would be two to three months, enough for team members to juggle both their daily responsibilities and this “extra (but potentially rewarding) commitment”.
It is a must that team members regroup to review their findings altogether. You will find that there will be duplication of points or redundancies that need to be eliminated. Some reorganisation of points may also be necessary. However, do not be too concerned with under which headings the data must be parked. At this point, we just want to make sure that the significant points are captured.
Your work will, more likely than not, go through at least two rounds of refinements.
A Word of Encouragement
The scan on the Future Operating Environment is a rather heavy-lifting piece of work that, if done well, will form the parameters and basis from which future strategic reviews are made that much easier. So make sure that all statements made are self-explanatory – we cannot stress this enough! – and clearly communicate the point for the benefit of “future generations” or someone who is reading the document with little or no background.
This methodology rests in the (proven!) belief that the best knowledge resides in the very hearts and minds of your people – so, be confident of your findings! Go deep and draw out the best thinking of your team! When there is greater clarity of what lies ahead, you are better placed to do what it takes to be distinctly Future-Relevant in meeting the unmet needs of those you serve in more appropriate, superior and sustainable ways.
‘Are You Future-Relevant?’ is the second of an article series from DPI Asia to aid Non-profits in their strategic thinking.
The materials provided herein are for Non-profit organisations’ internal use and reference only. Training using materials from this article is expressly forbidden except by facilitators certified by DPI Asia pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Licensee Agreement (License) between DPI Asia and the entity.
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© Decision Processes International Asia. All Rights Reserved. April 2018