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Killers Out of Nowhere and Deep Future Strategic Thinking

Author: ; Published: May 11, 2017; Category: Customer Service, Leadership, Mentoring, Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»


A three-year planning horizon is generally appropriate for development of a strategic plan.  The speed of business and the rate of change preclude usefulness of a plan which extends five years or more.  However, today’s three-year strategic plan should be developed against a backdrop of 5-10 year “skyhooks” if we are to cultivate readiness for a tomorrow which will be radically different from today.


Several long-term dynamics should serve as our backdrop for near-term strategic planning.  The future is unknowable, but, now more than ever, an organization which doesn’t plan for its future isn’t likely to have one.  Let’s agitate our thinking before we initiate strategic planning. Here’s a partial list of budding trends organized by category which will likely define the business environment of 2025: (1) Technological Advances and Challenges; (2) The Competitive Landscape; (3) Forces Impacting the Ability to Hire Top Talent; and (4) Overarching Challenges.


Technological Advances and Challenges.  The “advances” are the “challenges.”  How can we cultivate organizations which apply technology optimally? Artificial Intelligence, Block Chain Technology, interoperability, and the highest-and-best use of the cloud are among the deep future considerations which need attention in a near-term strategic plan.  Intense pressure to automate any function which is performed more than twice will continue to rise. Also consider the implications of the fact that the last “fully human” generation is already here and in the process of expiring: Whether through implants or strap-on devices, sole reliance on the human brain qua brain is fading quickly.


The Competitive Landscape.  At what point does accelerating evolution achieve altitude and become revolution, pure and simple?  This has become a distinction without a difference. Business disruption is increasingly frequent and revolutionary in its consequences.  Expect the emergence of killers out of nowhere, causing overnight obsolescence of previously viable business models.  Think about how Amazon killed  — or at least wounded severely – the retail shopping mall.  Think about how Wal-Mart killed the mom-and-pop optometry practice on Main Street.  Think about how Motorola got blindsided by the Digital Revolution a quarter-century ago. Looking ahead, think of a technology company with not all that many attorneys in tow capsizing the traditional law firm consisting of attorneys assisted by technology.  New and largely unexpected competitors will define the next decade.  Wild card possibilities need to be factored into the strategic planning process.


Forces Impacting the Ability to Hire Top Talent.  Future competition for employees educated in “Computer Science Plus” (CS +) will be fierce.  CS + law; CS+ medicine; CS+ engineering, CS+ social science, and the list goes on.  To compete successfully for this new breed of employee will require offering a bundle of value which surrounds the employee and fosters passion.  Strong mentoring and coaching, which positions the employee towards career satisfaction will be differentiating.  Creating and facilitating systematic pathways to the “next job,” including pathways which may lead outside of your firm will create favorable buzz.  In addition, conscious well-executed decisions to shape and reinforce the corporate culture will be essential.   For example, will we seek consciously to erase the boundaries between employees’ personal lives and their corporate lives by enticing them to remain on-campus for a longer day through pizza and ping-pong? Or, will we afford flexible time-off policies?  Or, will we do both and more depending on the needs and preferences of the employee, coupled with our corporate strategy to heighten the employees’ need for “belonging.”


Overarching Challenges.  Today’s techno-infatuation too often derails the alignment of strategy and structure with our systems – an alignment which is vital to satisfying current and anticipated needs of the customer.  “Magical” over-reliance on technology in and of itself absent alignment with strategy and structure has contributed to recent customer service debacles in the airline industry, as one example.  How can we become truly customer-centric and eradicate disregard or even contempt for the customer? This question is usually unspoken in most organizations but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t central to future success. As one of my mentors put it a couple of decades ago, “IT is too important to be left to the IT people.”


The life-cycle of any business model will become evermore brief.  “Those not busy being born are busy dying.” Complacency must be eradicated when survival is at stake


A few other megatrends to consider?  Extreme weather will continue to intensify, interrupting supply chains, employee productivity, transportation, and more. Continued decay of the neglected US infrastructure will disrupt transportation and other utilities, rendering an increasing number of routes impassable and congesting severely those routes which remain. Big companies will get bigger and richer, with strategic implications for merger and acquisition activity at all levels. The continuing devaluation of “expertise” will require that professional services firms demonstrate added-value at the gold standard.  Political turbulence will intensify with more frequent crescendos of “populism.”  The dependency burden in Europe and the US will continue to grow as will political pressures for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).  The amazing historical ability of capitalism to morph itself and re-integrate with the polity and society to ensure its continuity is approaching a challenging climacteric. Customers for anything will experience frustration, and this will express itself in tsunamis of anger and resistance fueled by social media; future incident volatility will put some organizations out of business overnight.


In conclusion, these and other skyhooks are already visible.  Our strategic planning needs to factor these skyhooks if we are to create a three-year plan informed by a sobering vision of just how challenging the faster future will be. Onward through the fog!


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