Some managers struggle just to get through the day putting out fires. But if you want to lift everyone’s performance, get your staffers to think like sophisticated strategists.
Convene small groups of employees to discuss what the future may hold—and how your organization can prepare for a range of possible outcomes. Mark Vickers, vice president of research at i4cp, a human resources consulting firm in Seattle, specializes in leading sessions in scenario planning.
MPAW: Why should managers engage in scenario planning?
Vickers: As you brainstorm with your employees, you work together to identify what factors can influence the future. You’re exploring “what happens if” with an eye on making better strategic decisions.
MPAW: Do managers need special training to do scenario planning?
Vickers: They need to prepare. Unprepared, they’re usually not very good at it. They need to learn the framework. I suggest that they go through the process first—led by an experienced facilitator. That allows them to walk through different storylines and what could happen.
MPAW: If they’re unprepared, what traps can they fall into?
Vickers: Once people establish one set of scenarios, they tend to get wedded to them. Group members think, “Cool, now we know what the future will be.” A well-prepared facilitator realizes that after creating one set, it’s time to create another set. The value comes from creating lots of possible scenarios, not from trying to predict the future and getting locked into that prediction.
MPAW: But isn’t the whole point to predict the future?
Vickers: You want to come up with many scenarios. People tend to gravitate to the worst case, the most predictable case and the best case. Then they throw out the worst and best case and wind up with the most likely scenario based on what’s known in today’s environment. There’s limited benefit in that. At its best, scenario planning is a cognitive process of expanding everyone’s thinking, not settling on the status quo.