How Leaders Prepare for the Future

Leadership Strategy

This week I attended the president’s lecture at the University of the Fraser Valley. The speaker was Dr. George Siemens from the University of Texas who is renown for his research and commentary on the influence of technology and media on education, organizations, and society.

There was some great information but the main comment that stood out to me was the fact that most businesses and organizations are not prepared for the new realities that are coming. The rate of change in the world is far surpassing the internal structure and capacity of organizations to keep up.

So the key question is, how should a leader prepare for the future?

Three insights that I gained from Dr. Siemens and my own experiences and learning are:

1. Become a Learning Organization. It’s not just a knowledge economy that we’re in—it’s a learning economy. Everyone will need to be able to learn quickly, unlearn, and learn again as technology and disruptive innovation become more prevalent. This will place a lot of pressure on developing progressive HR strategies that include recruiting, training, and different compensation programs and organizational structures. Preparing people and infrastructure for constant change will be an issue every organization will struggle through.

2. Personally and constantly scan the horizon. The captain of a ship is always scanning the horizon and checking to see what’s coming next. The truth with many small- to medium-sized enterprises is that the leaders are so fully involved in the day-to-day operations that they don’t take the time to see the trends and technology that could affect them. I also don’t feel it’s something that can be entirely delegated to a “task force” or another employee because the consequences and insights are not always apparent to others as they would be to a leader. Be sure to track, monitor and build new insights and trends into annual strategic planning processes.

3. Build enough capacity for unforeseen opportunities. If chance favours the prepared mind then opportunity favours the organization with capacity. The recession of 2008 gave organizations an opportunity to become more lean and mean with regard to operational effectiveness. However, leaner organizations tend to be more focused on the present realities and future-focused initiatives such as R&D, research, think labs, or special projects tend to be cut, especially in smaller organizations. A good leader must build more contingencies and financial “war chests” in the annual budget or at least have resource capacity (human and financial) to take advantage of opportunities that arise. These could be strategic hires, acquisitions, adoption of new technology, or setting up a new division outside of the organizational structure as a “skunk works” program.

No one can predict the future but every leader can prepare their organization and themselves for whatever the future may bring. In the meantime, I’m still holding out hope for the Marty McFly hover board.