Monday, December 18, 2017

Letting the Future Guide the Present

I had a good discussion with my Board chair this week. We're looking ahead to our next Board meeting and it's time to start framing an agenda for the discussions that will take place there. At the end of our discussion we had settled on something that should not only keep our Board focused on the future, but create a structure within which we can take action today.

First, a little background. At our last Board meeting in October, it was observed that almost five years had passed since the Board engaged in a structured visioning exercise. Then, in 2013, we themed that exercise around the "future of our industry," and the future that we envisioned was five years forward -- 2018.

Then, we used the scenario planning methodology that I've described in a previous post to both identify and describe four different possible futures for our industry, each based on the juxtaposition of two uncertain outcomes of two vexing megatrends. Looking at those four futures with the benefit of hindsight, one of them now appears much more plausible that the other three, but that perspective ignores the very premise of the scenario planning methodology. The future is uncertain -- by definition. If you're going to position your association effectively for the future, you have to prepare for not one but several different possible futures, and adjust only when it becomes clear which possible future is coming true.

And that was the piece of the 2013 exercise that we realized we hadn't carried through on. Five years ago, our Board has described four different possible futures and developed strategic positioning plans for each of them. And although we had certainly reacted to the actual evolving future over the last five years, we didn't return regularly to the 2013 exercise and the predictions and plans it contained to help guide those decisions. Like so many other strategic planning exercises, I'm ashamed to admit, our 2013 future of the industry exercise had, once completed, basically sat on a shelf.

So one decision my Board chair and I made was not to let that happen again. Here we were, almost five years away from that 2013 discussion, almost in the 2018 that was imagined then. It was clearly time to not just dust off the 2013 report, but to use its methodology to look forward again, five more years, to 2023. Not only would we engage the Board in another visioning exercise, this time we would find a way to use that exercise to actively guide the decisions of the Board moving forward.

I'll describe more about how we intend to do that in future posts.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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