Every association aspires to be forward thinking. Who would ever admit a preference for looking backwards? Yet too few do the work to become future-focused.
If your association is resolved to be more forward thinking, here are five New Year behaviors that will help you get on the right track.
- Be systematic about scanning for trends, issues and events that could be important to your association. Create and use a scanning framework that requires you to pay attention to a wide range of potential changes. If you are systematic, you will be less likely to fall into the rut of looking at the same issues year after year. Your members are counting on you to scout their future and alert them to what they may be missing. That means you can’t miss anything important.
- Filter all this information to discover the patterns of change and key insights and implications. Unless you do the sense making, all you have is a random collection of possibilities with no clear way for organizing further research and action. Do the analysis and figure out what the change drivers are. It’s more important to make sense of your scanning than it is to search for the novel. Most associations fail to be future focused because they don’t use their learning about the future to jolt their organization into change.
- Challenge your assumptions. This might be the first and most important lesson I learned in becoming a futurist and strategist. It is easy to get trapped into a world view and not consider how very different the future could be. The most difficult judgment may be forecasting the rate of change and therefore how quickly your organization will need to respond.
- Engage everyone in anticipatory learning. Your organization’s success depends on how well it learns. Associations need to engage all governance and constituent groups in conversation about the future. There should be organization-wide conversations about what drives change and how each unit can respond and contribute to the best possible future for members and the organization.
- Develop a deeper awareness of your future choices. All these behaviors are designed to help your organization be forward thinking. To make wise choices, however, you need a deeper awareness of how we view the future. Too often leaders choose to borrow a future from another organization’s vision without examining whether it is the right choice. Or they don’t fully analyze the consequences of the future they don’t choose and what that might mean. Since the future is uncertain, we need to consider alternative futures. Ultimately to lead change we have to know what our preferred future is and what it will require of us.
These five behaviors will not only drive you to be more forward thinking, they will focus your organization’s work and decisions on the future you want.