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Strategic Planning

April, 2013 - What We're Watching in the Practice

Here’s a quick synopsis of projects, presentations, and work we’ve done over the recent past. I’m also including some trends we’re seeing from the work. It’s been a hectic several months as we’ve found a permanent place to live in a new city, remodeled a dwelling, and settled into home and office.

These days a great number of economic forecasting assignments come my way and the last two months have been no exception. I was asked for three economic forecasts in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction. It’s encouraging to be able to pass along relatively positive news and projections for a change.

Heaviest implications – the effects of a major cybersecurity breach on national/regional economies. Three years ago I moderated and did the closing keynote presentation to the most influential global meeting of information security professionals. 90% believe a major breach is imminent. The Pentagon has ramped up tactics, “weaponized code” is loose on the Internet, information security is now mixed into global conflicts and efforts to prevent access to nuclear weapons. This is a big deal and surprisingly it goes unconsidered in most business planning.

Most overlooked development – the quiet but impactful use of robotics. The development of devices like Baxter and the continuing utilization of manufacturing robots has quietly cut into employment. Expect deeper cuts in the next ten years. With the price point dropping, capability rising sharply, and programming easier look for these intelligent machines to slide into society under the radar.

Trending upward – succession is taking the biggest uptick in my consulting assignments. Transfer of business, top management replacement, and governance are areas where I see rising demand. With Boomers flooding over the 65 age-line and smaller pools of obvious successors available this is going to occupy more of my time in the coming years.

Longer term and interesting – the extraordinary transition society will make as energy sources swing from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s obvious that the effectiveness and adoption of renewable energy sources is poised for a rapid spurt. Legacy businesses have not thought through the implications for their own fields. The swing will most probably take place in the next 15-20 years.

I believe it’s shrewd to have social media presence although how this field gels in the next five years is still uncertain. I like the utility of
Twitter as a scanning aid and I also post sporadically. It’s also interesting to watch who follows the posts. I make no effort to attract followers but I find myself following many who find my posts useful.

Fear Most? Not the Right Question

One of the better edited digests of information I read regularly is the Wall Street Journal’s “CIO Journal.” It’s a compilation of news items that affect businesses from the perspective of the increasingly integrated information and communications technology side of enterprises.

This morning a question was posed. “…which of the following Black Swan events you fear the most: natural disaster, cyber attack or hack, a loss of top talent, or that one of your strategic vendors gets acquired.” The column will compile the results.

A laudable effort. I will be interested. But as a practical matter it’s not enough to be looking only at the obvious future events that will affect your organization. If it had been me, I would have used a widely flung and well-informed network like CIO Journal has in its readers for even more useful purposes.

Subject matter experts who’ve arrived at their conclusions independently can be the best forecasters of the events ahead that are NOT on the radar screen yet. That was one of the central tenets of the fine James Surowiecki book
The Wisdom of Crowds.

Will we see a natural disaster that will affect companies? A major cyber attack or hack? Loss of top talent? Changes in the competitive landscape? Of course. They’re givens, not forecasts. And we need to be prepared for all of them, not rank ordering which we fear most.

For the last two years I’ve moderated the largest worldwide meeting of information security professionals. When I poll that group about the probability of a major cyber attack 75% agree it’s imminent. The other 25% respond that it happened already or is now occurring regularly.

The overlooked future events are the ones we’re not thinking about right now. They’re hidden around the corner or over the horizon.

That’s why I use techniques in strategy sessions to draw them out. Lay them in front of leadership. Examine their place in the spectrum of what’s ahead. Contemplate the after-effects and consequences of their occurrence. Develop a range of approaches to deal with them. Perhaps even compile contingency plans to address them.

Should you plan for the obvious? Of course. A mark of a truly robust organization, however, is one that looks for the unseen, the hidden, the events ahead that are not obvious.

2012 - The first half in the practice

2012 began as our busiest year in a decade. For the first six months of the year I’ve been on an almost non-stop schedule of strategy sessions, conference presentations, retreats, decision-making meetings, and consulting projects. Financial services, telecommunications, agriculture, executive education, information technology, and healthcare have been the most prominent sectors.

Among the highlights:
  • An interesting decision-making project for a financial services client. The eventual outcome will establish a path for the organization for at least the next two decades. Like all of my best clients this group is taking time and a major due-diligence discipline in order to choose correctly.

  • Executive education sessions in strategic leadership and “anticipatory habits.” I’m usually in front of a few hundred mid to top level managers from corporate environments and a similar number of governance participants from the association and cooperative space. This is some of my most rewarding work.

  • National-level strategic planning for resource-based industries in North America. The global focus of my work and scope of my forecasting background helps provide a baseline for advising and facilitating planning in this environment. Two very engrossing projects stand out in the first half of 2012. Both involve organizations with huge upside opportunities in a world with growing populations and burgeoning middle classes.

  • A deep dive into government agencies as advisor and strategic advisor. While I’ve done advising work with government clients in the past (look here) I worked on a project that broke new ground in the past six months. It was a government agency that had never gone through a formal strategy process before. It was a combination of education, facilitation, and development. Very interesting to see the group take to the processes under a highly respected leader.

  • I moderated professional society meetings recently that gave me a global perspective and insight to the intersection between business considerations and those of specialized expertise within organizations. Every organization needs professionals that generate the intellectual property, streamline the workflows, manage risk, and protect the most precious assets. As an attendee/reporter/moderator/presenter I was able to see connections, take away lessons, and pass along advice from a high-level observer’s perspective.