How future-oriented is your organization?

How will people and organizations thrive in the future? By preparing for all kinds of scenarios. But how do you prepare? By opening yourself up to information, also from outside your bubble. By learning and being inspired through dialogue, brainstorming, analyzing, interpreting, and developing scenarios. “What if….?” Forward-looking organizations are learning organizations that are willing and able to change.

But does it make sense to prepare for the future in this unpredictable VUCA world? Here’s some inspiration from futurist Peter van der Wel’s book Future Exploration (Dutch only, sorry).

First, the why. Van der Wel says: If you conduct regular foresight exercises, they contribute to a more effective organizational culture by encouraging strategic thinking and action. As we say in Dutch: forewarned (or prepared) people count double. If you take all kinds of options into account, you’ll be less caught off guard and you’ll be able to move faster if a scenario actually happens.

Return on investment of exploring the future

That sounds great, but what is the return on investment of future exploration? Do forward-looking organizations do better than those that are only concerned with the present? René Rohrbeck of Aarhus University did some research.

For companies operating in a stable market in which little is changing (for now), future exploration is less important than for companies moving in a turbulent, complex market. So, for organizations in a turbulent market, Rohrbeck looked at their degree of “foresight maturity”.

Foresight-maturity has five dimensions:
1. Gathering information.
How does an organization do it and what kind of information does it pick up?
2. The approach
Does an organization have a structured process, or does it improvise?
3. The organizational structure
Is there an internal network of people who spend part of their time exploring the future
involved? Are they in the same department or is it a network through all organizational layers? Even better, do they network with people from other organizations who have embedded future exploration as well?
4. Dealing with new information
Do they view future exploration as a stand-alone project? Do they succeed in interpreting the outcomes in such a way that they are translated into pilots and projects?
5. The culture
Is it common in an organization to talk about trends and signals?
Are employees aware that a dynamic, complex environment always brings changes and that it is necessary for the success of the organization to respond?

Rohrbeck and his team examined more than three hundred large companies between 2005-2015. These were mostly German concerns such as Daimler, Basf, T-Mobile and DHL. They divided the companies into overperformers and underperformers based on profitability and market capitalization. Then they compared the future orientation of these organizations with the urgency given to future research and with their results.
They distinguished four types: vigilant organizations, vulnerable organizations, organizations in the danger zone, and neurotic organizations that research so much that they lose sight of the short term.
The results were clear. Vigilant companies are 33 percent more profitable than the average in their industry. Neurotic and vulnerable organizations performed 37 percent less than vigilant companies. Companies in the danger zone performed even 44 percent less.

Five mega trends

So, what should you prepare for? There are five Megatrends underway that affect the future, and set in motion all sorts of other developments. The world may be VOCA, but these megatrends you can expect to see in the future. They are:

  1. Digitization
  2. Globalization
  3. Demographic change
  4. Climate Change
  5. Sustainability

McKinsey, for example, surveyed a thousand organizations in 2023 on the topic of digitization, including generative or self-learning artificial intelligence (Gen AI). Gen AI can add value for customers but also for the organization itself, but you have to be open to it. That means you need an open, learning culture with trust.
For example, one company uses a Gen AI application where employees ask questions and the app provides answers based on all company systems, information, and experts. Employees felt more informed and connected as a result, but the app did increase transparency. All kinds of information became public within the organization. People helped each other through the app, and that too became visible. That fits especially with an open organizational culture with trust, where you are allowed to learn, ask questions, and make mistakes.

So, companies that do not prepare for the future already have worse results. But they also risk losing their position in future markets.
Vigilant organizations owe their future orientation to three activities: (1) a well-functioning strategic radar; (2) a process for arriving at new insights; (3) trying out new ideas. This can lead to new products, services, or ways of working.

How to scan and anticipate the future

Get to work exploring the future, but also be sure to work on a culture that supports foresight maturity. Van der Wel offers the following tips:

Build a strategic radar
Cisco, for example, built a network of technology scouts and was therefore able to release outdated thinking more easily. Ideas from across the organization came to the retina of management. Moreover, contact between people from different departments was intensified. Equally important, most people enjoyed being involved. Cisco was thus also building organizational culture.

Encourage experiments
That’s why it’s so important to start a team that has the space to experiment with new ideas. That team translates insights into value-added products, services, or models. They must be able to operate autonomously to experiment.

Continuously scanning and anticipating
Forward-looking organizations are constantly working with the future – implicitly through the way of seeing and analyzing that employees have learned, or explicitly in a scenario trajectory. It is not a project, but an ongoing process, just like working on culture. Keeping an open mind, asking critical questions, learning new things – these are elements of a future-fit organizational culture.

Ensure good leadership and culture
Organizations that are forward-looking often do not have a hierarchical divisional structure. Often there are independently operating networks looking for solutions. Here there is room to
experiment, without a proposal having to go down the line to be sealed by the boss. Small experiments are allowed to fail. In the small, you can learn and avoid the failure costs of large projects.
In networks, the customer is often the focus so they see earlier if the customer is still satisfied or the market is changing. They are better at signaling. They help the organization to be agile, adaptive, and resilient. To manage such an agile organization well, you need courage, trust, and leadership.

In the Competing Values Framework (on which the OCAI culture measurement is based), for a future-oriented organization, you certainly need values and behaviors from the learning create culture, but also from the people-focused collaborative culture. Check out how your organization scores.

© Marcella Bremer, 2024

The time for a positive transition is now. This decade until 2030 determines the future. Let’s help people and organizations become future-fit.

Learn from positivity research and practices to develop resilience and collaboration skills. Just enroll in the online Positive Culture Academy. Join today!

Buy The Positive Culture Book and develop a positive organization.

Check out the next online Culture Change Leadership workshop! Registration is open – places are limited to guarantee interaction and quality.

Leave a Reply

Prep your organization for 2030

Welcome to the new challenges: we are facing climate change, geopolitical and military conflicts, polarization, and rapidly emerging technology such as AI. People aren’t great

Read More »

This is a new beginning

How can you contribute to the necessary organizational change, personal change, and climate change? Alone we can do little, but together we can do a

Read More »

This is not the End

With a new year, we make new resolutions. What are yours? And why is it not easy to change? Let’s contribute to necessary organizational change,

Read More »