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(October 22, 2003) - The whole point of strategic planning is getting the organization's mind open enough to really anticipate the changes the future might bring. Far too often, the use of scenarios in the process boils down to different assumptions about growth in the coming years. Our industry, and the critical recruiting function it serves, is far too important as an investment variable to limit our notional futures to revenue changes.

Good planning has its roots in quarterly incremental changes. Although we've detailed the process for 'back of the envelope workforce planning' repeatedly (see the archives), HR's ability to create and present forecast driven requirements remains hypothetical. Scenario planning, which takes the open minded organization beyond the realms of today's anticipations and into the possibility of real change, appears to be beyond the grasp of normal HR functionaries.

If ever hopes to find a meaningful seat at the executive table, HR will have to incorporate solid strategic scenario development skills into its offering.

There are four basic areas to cover in the development of a scenario used for breakthrough strategic thinking.

    1.) Social dynamics: Quantitative, demographic issues (e.g. increased immigration and visible minorities, aging baby boomers and Generation-X) and softer issues of values, lifestyle, demand or political energy (e.g. more surveillance, more autonomy or more reliance on fellow citizens)

    2.) Economic issues: Macroeconomic trends and forces shaping the economy as a whole, microeconomics (e.g. competition between small, innovator companies) and forces at work or within the company itself (e.g. employee training, "intranet")

    3.) Technological issues: Direct (e.g. updating and innovating technologies or software), enabling (e.g. autonomous banking) and indirect (e.g. increased need for security experts)

    4.) Political issues: ie, Will there be government intervention or a free, competitive market? How will taxation work? Will participatory government prevail in the upcoming century?)

Here are a couple of powerful examples of the kinds of breakthrough thinking should be coming out of HR departments:

For a deeper look at the subject see Strategic Thinking with Scenarios.

John Sumser

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