How often do you look up from the day-to-day and spend time thinking about the future? Once a year when budget time comes around?
What process do you follow? Look at the last year and extrapolate from there?
Do you think that is frequent enough? Rigorous enough?
I can tell you that for most organisations I have dealt with over the last four years, the planning cycle is typically annual, and typically very ‘shallow’. It’s a chore to be dealt with. Last years numbers plus a few points. Maybe a couple of new ideas sprinkled in from the more enthusiastic members of staff.
In reality, it’s often hard just to keep things ticking over. There are always issues to take your attention. Even with the best of intentions, years often pass without a formal exercise to step back, take stock, and look beyond the walls of the business to see what’s happening.
Part of the problem is the simple expense of doing this. The time. The number of people you need to take out of their day jobs.
Another issue is the output. More often than not I’ve watched corporate planning events return results that are just too nebulous to be really useful. Everyone has a nice day away from the office, when they can put their smartphones down. But not a lot really changes.
Negative view? Maybe. But often accurate.
So what’s the answer?
Firstly, you need to understand that foresight doesn’t need to be an expensive process, in time or cost. Half a day of your time (if you’re the boss) every six months. Plus a couple of days of someone else’s.
That’s the second point: get help. Set a schedule with whoever you trust to advise you. They can prepare, capture, and feed back on the session. The only qualification they require is this: they have to be independent of your business. No-one inside is going to have the right perspective. We can provide them with the tools if they need them.
The third part of the answer is equally simple: act. A good foresight process will show you things you need to deal with. So deal with them. Even better: let the people around you do it. You won’t always know what the answer is, so experiment. Test. It’s cheaper than it ever has been today to prototype new services and approaches. Make an educated guess and get your customers to tell you if it’s right.
Over-simple? Yes. But nonetheless, important.
We live in a fast-changing world. Run with your head down for more than a few months today and you’re likely to hit an obstacle. Hard. Get your head up frequently and you can avoid it, or even better, use it as a springboard.