The benefits of strategic foresight planning

Agility is not necessarily a top five attribute that comes to mind when thinking about successful businesses…but it definitely should be.

Consider the actions of companies that encounter major industry or business shifts, but are agile and prepared enough to pivot and change direction to create a favorable outcome. Chances are, it is those companies that have engaged in strategic foresight planning and therefore, have anticipated probable situations and created contingency plans A, B, and C.

What is strategic foresight?

Strategic foresight is an element of futurology and a concept under the strategic planning umbrella. In broad terms, strategic foresight can be practiced on three levels: personal (goal-setting and action planning), organizations (focusing on a business), and social (transformation of society).

For organizations, the practice includes looking into a company’s crystal ball and creating long-term (10-15 years ahead) scenarios that incorporate all aspects of the business (e.g., products, customers, industry verticals, external factors, etc.). During this practice, the company can develop considerations for possible futures (alternative futures) and probable futures (forecasts, predictions), and develop a preferred plan. This preferred plan is then integrated into the more immediate 3-5 year strategic plan.

What does strategic foresight do for businesses?

In a nutshell, strategic foresight prepares companies and provides a backdrop to foster agility and readiness.

Government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have a strategic foresight initiative regarding emergencies. Their reasoning, outlined on their website, states:

“By understanding the potential future environment, organizations can better understand and anticipate risk and take advantage of opportunities. This information can support decisions about investments, planning efforts, and exercises.”

Specifically for an organization like FEMA that responds to disasters, they must anticipate and plan for all scenarios to ensure the agency and its resources are effective and sustainable.

Google is another company that has engaged in strategic foresight planning. Knowing their probable future involved facing increasingly stiffer competition, they needed to determine their preferred plan, which included other differentiators such as “search engines” encroaching upon their business model.

Practicing strategic foresight

In business, strategic foresight planning is a collaborative process that is facilitated by a trained professional and includes a company’s leadership. During planning sessions, the trained professional is responsible for ensuring all relevant inputs and factors are taken into account when evaluating, forecasting, and developing alternative futures. Once the planning session is complete, it is imperative that plans are clearly communicated to all constituents.

Keep in mind that the process does not have a finite end and should be dynamic. As situations change, the future plan should be revisited to ensure it is still applicable. Also, if the possible futures are followed, feedback about the process and solution should be collected and the insight used for future planning.

For companies considering strategic foresight, it is best to conduct the evaluation before the planning process is complete so if things do not go according to plan, other scenarios are already considered and course correcting can be quickly and efficiently deployed.

For companies not considering strategic foresight, why not? Agility in business can be the difference between a company hiding or dying and a company thriving.

Contact us at 215.441.4600 if you have questions or would like to discuss how this topic may impact your business.

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