Monday, June 25, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 5

Three weeks ago, in Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 4, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our two most recently completed Board meetings. I ended the previous post with a comment that, after making two adjustments to the scripted Scenario Planning process we were using, I would discuss how we decided to frame our discussion of strategic implications at what is now our most recently completed Board meeting.

As a quick recap, our two adjustments to the process were: (1) Prioritizing the indicators that would help us understand which future scenario was likely coming true; and (2) Developing a strategic action plan only for the one scenario that we would like to see realized for our industry. Our discussion frame closely followed that pattern.

First, we reviewed a prioritization proposal for the indicators in each of our two megatrend areas. Which indicators, we asked, would have more predictive power in the earliest stages of the next five years (the period of time we had chosen for developing our next long-range plan)? If, as our second adjustment describes, we are only going to develop a single strategic action plan, and if that plan is going to be focused on helping to create our most preferred future scenario, then by identifying the indicators with the most influence in the early stages of the plan, we would be, in fact, identifying the factors that we would most wish to influence.

Let's look at an example. One of our megatrends was the Internet of Things (IoT), and the future related to that megatrend that is embedded in our preferred scenario is the one in which our industry benefits from a successful integration of its technology with IoT technologies. In reviewing the 10 indicators we had previously developed for this megatrend -- that is, the 10 factors to monitor in our environment that would help us understand if our preferred future was coming true -- our Board identified one related to the development of common data format and data communication standards as being an important early indicator. In other words, if we're not seeing early attempts to define and use standardized data formats and data communication protocols by our industry, then it is unlikely that our preferred future of an industry successfully integrating with IoT technologies will come true.

And this, then, leads directly to the second discussion frame that we employed at the meeting. Once we understand what the early indicators are, once we agree on the things that can help create the future we're looking for, then we can talk about the strategies and tactics that our association can employ to help those indicators along.

To continue our example, if efforts to define and use data standards is key to our industry realizing the positive future we have defined for it, then there are many strategies and tactics that our association can employ to help make that happen. We can review many of the open data communication protocols that are in use in our sector and provide education to our members about their strengths and weaknesses. We can bring technical experts from our member companies together with their counterparts in some of our industry's core customer markets, and help them co-define the data needs associated with important value-added services. We can even, if necessary, facilitate the creation of new standards that address the needs identified in those discussions. Knowing what lever needs to be moved easily opens the door to productive conversations about how to move it.

And that, essentially, is the frame that we used for our discussion about the strategic implications of our preferred future scenario. First, define the external factors that will most dramatically affect the course of our industry, and then identify the strategies and tactics that our association should employ in order to help those things happen.

This discussion frame served as well, but, if truth be told, it was not universally applicable to all the challenges facing our industry. Because sometimes there were factors that were clearly going to affect our industry's future but for which, given the association's resource pool and existing strategic focus, we had a difficult time defining strategies or tactics for our organization to productively employ. I'll write more about that in the next post in this series.

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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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