Future Friday: 7 Steps to being a practical HR futurist

by Michael Haberman on August 15, 2014 · 4 comments


Seven steps

Seven steps to being a futurist in HR

Last week I promised the publication of my 7 Steps to being a practical HR futurist, based on the hour presentation I have done several times. I became interest in the future a long time ago. I was a fan of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov as a kid. After getting into HR I got frustrated by working in a field that was mostly reactionary and seldom visionary. Over time however, I came to realize how short-sighted that is and how much harm it can do a company. I think it is important for HR professionals to have an eye on the horizon and to anticipate things headed their way. This anticipation combined with some preparation allows the HR professional to have a plan in place when the “thing” arrives.

The 7 Steps

Before I get to the kinds of things that could have an impact in the future I will tell you the seven steps.

Step 1: Engage in systems thinking and understand your organization’s mental models.

This means it is important for you to understand how the organization thinks. What are the inherent assumptions within the organization? How does management view its current workforce? Is the organization an early adopter of technology or a “Johnny-come-lately”? What biases are there toward people, things, culture and change? Understanding these will help you determine what you need to attend to and how receptive the organization will be toward the scenarios you develop.

Step 2: Look back to look forward

This means it is important to understand the history of your organization. What are its roots? What is the history of the industry you are in? Few of us have the luxury of having been in on the ground floor. Understanding  how you got to where you are is important.

Step 3: Scan the environment

This means you need to pay attention to what is going on in the world, in HR, in your industry, your geography and more. It means you have to be aware. This is hard because of the mass of information that is out there.  There is the acronym STEEP that is taught in the certification material. It stands for Society, Technology, Environment, Economics and Political. There are variations of this, but this is the basic one I use. You can make good use of technology, specifically Google, to define alerts that will send to you information on whatever you want. But you also have to be pretty well read and pretty aware as well. Reading an assortment of blogs and newsletters would be a good start. Oh by the way, look beyond your comfort zone and delve into  something you are unfamiliar with.

Step 4: Look at the trends

This means once you have started identifying things that may be of importance you must collect the data on the trends that are occurring in that area. You need to be looking at whether that “thing” is just a single data point or whether it is turning into something that will have an impact on your organization. As an example, say your organization employs high school graduates who stay in the home town and go to work for you organization because you are a good paying and respected company. You would need to be paying attention to things like graduation rate, immigration rate, and migration rate to determine if you are going to have the labor force you need in five years. Or is that labor force graduating and leaving the home town for the big city? Or are they going to college and have no interest in working for you? Is there a new population in town that can take their place? If not, what are you doing to prepare for this?

Step 5: Develop scenarios

Scenarios are stories. This step means you need to develop stories to explain to your management team why they need to be paying attention to what you are telling them. Take my example above. You need to be able to tell the story of the potential change in your employee population. There are typically four scenarios that you develop. These are probable, preferred, plausible and possible. With these you are telling what is most likely to occur; what you would like to occur; what could occur; and what disaster might happen.

Step 6: Do your forecasting

Using the trend reports and the data you have gathered you then forecast what you think is the most likely event to happen. This is not a prediction. This is identifying a possible future and having a plan for it. You CANNOT predict the future, but you can prepare for different futures and by doing so you might be able to steer toward the one that is best suited for you.

Step 7: DO!

This step means actually taking action on the other steps. This is not meant to be an academic exercise. This is meant for you to actually devote time and resources to doing these things. I suggest you begin by taking 5% of your time to look at information. See if trends are arising you need to be aware of. Compile this data. Assign different areas of environment scanning to your staff and have them note trends. Once you arrive on something you think may be of importance then start focusing in on it and begin to develop scenarios or stories. To paraphrase futurist Richard Watson, when you start to think differently about the future you start to think differently about now. Edward Cornish tells us that “futuring is not about predicting the future, but about improving it.”

I hope you find these steps will get you to start thinking about how you can have a major impact on your organization by anticipating and planning for the future.


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