Future Search The Method

Applications in Business

Overview Cases FAQ's Sponsors

Business FAQ's

How long does a future search take compared to other change models?

We find that "time to implementation" is greatly reduced under future search, sometimes by many orders of magnitude.  Getting full participation and ownership from the outset speeds up planning and implementation at every level and every stage.

A striking example:  Ikea, the furniture manufacturer and global retailer decided to take on a challenge: can we identify a specific product in our inventory and double sales in a year, while also decreasing manufacturing costs and lowering the retail price?

This was a major challenge; it involved global planning and coordination among suppliers, manufacturing groups, transportation providers, sales and marketing, a global network of retail outlets and customers.  It was really a re-design project, as meeting this goal would certainly entail changes in this global product network, including modifications in design, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.  Traditionally, this kind of re-design could take years and involve a number of internal and external consulting teams to design and implement the necessary changes at all levels of the global network.  The future search allowed this global network of teams to pool their experience and vision to design an integrated plan that each could take back to their local sites for implementation.  And it was accomplished in 18 hours!  Implementation of the re-design is occurring at a pace that far exceeds anything the company has previously experienced.

How does future search relate to strategic planning?

There is a common maxim that strategic plans make good doorstops.  This is because they are often easier to write than to implement.  When a plan is developed by a committee or consultant team - even with input from focus groups, interviews or surveys - it often meets resistance or is poorly understood during implmentation.  Because future search involves people from all levels of the company, from CEOs to line people, these problems are avoided.  In fact, many businesses find that employees who have participated in a future search take the initiative on implementation.  This results from seeing their own handiwork in the plan.  In addition, in a future search participants make a public commitment to tasks they have chosen to take on.  Since this is a free will commitment, it acts as a strong motivator.

Future search can be used to develop a strategic plan from scratch, engaging the full breadth and depth of your company in a way that assures it will be implemented.  When a plan is already in place, a future search can be used to move the plan into action.  Many businesses have used future search to implement a plan that has met points of resistance

What do we do about lost production during the conference?

Many companies find that the increased productivity - sometimes many times over - which results from participating in a future search, more than makes up for any impacts from time away from the job.  In addition, businesses have found many ways to mitigate for short term lost productivity: make planning part of the job description and work it into your productivity schedule; don't take a whole line or plant down, rather, leave some people to manage the work at a reduced level while others participate in the future search; plan several sequential future searches in order to keep operations up and increase total participation; build ahead to cover expected orders; or schedule the future search during planned shutdowns for maintenance or other reasons.

How will the union be involved in all of this?

As a full partner.  Future search can change an adversarial relationship between union and management into a collaborative partnership, long before issues develop, or even after they have developed. We recommend meeting with union representatives as early as possible to answer their questions and get their agreement to participate. Union members should be part of the steering committee. Union members usually also form at least one of the stakeholder groups in the conference. Sometimes it is hard to convince the union that this is not some management trick to get around traditional bargaining and contractual issues. We emphasize that all decisions made in the meeting are based on common ground agreement and that no one has to change his or her mind for this process to be a success. The key here is that in a future search, the pattern of conversation and information exchange between union and management changes resulting in new ways of working together.

How can future search benefit our customers?

We have found that strategic customers, those who rely on your products and services, want to have input on your future. A future search gives them this voice and builds their ownership in your company, contributing to long term customer loyalty.  Our experience shows that customers add tremendous value to the conversation. In fact, the future search is a learning experience for customers. During your planning meetings, let your planning group brainstorm a list of benefits for customers to come the future search. It will give them a deeper understanding of the good reasons for spending this valuable time together.

Will we have to air our "dirty laundry" in front of customers.

Chances are that your customers are dealing with many of the same issues you are: tight delivery requirements, workforce issues, environmental regulations, changing markets and quality problems. They are very likely to relate to your problems. And, very likely, they already know your problems. Our experience has been that customers appreciate being in on the conversation and will be more impressed with your proactive attempt to chart your future than they are concerned about real-life problems you might be having. As your customers see you changing in ways to better support their business requirements, they will be thankful for having been invited into the conversation.

What if the group comes up with ideas I can't live with?

It is up to you to set the parameters of influence up front.  A future search can give participants a range of influence from full planning and implementation authority to playing an advisory roll.  In this way, future search doesn't inherently challenge the culture of an organization.  At the same time, through entering into a future search process, many businesses have discovered that too much top down control may have been stifling an organization.  A future search can change this, giving authority to those who understand the company at each level of operation and recruiting employees at all levels as agents of change.  This can build employee ownership, productivity, customer loyalty and other factors that have a longterm positive affects on a business.

In addition, you will be one of the participants.  During the future search, only decisions supported by everyone present will be accepted as part of the output of the conference.

What percentage of the workforce needs to be involved?

A good beginning level of participation is 20-40% of the workforce If you have a workforce of 50 or less, you might want to include everyone, or nearly everyone. If you have a workforce of 500 or more, you may want to structure parallel conferences of 80 or so people. We can help you strategize ways to involve and inform people who are not involved in the actual future search conference.  Even when every employee is not present, we have found that the entire culture and responsiveness of an organization can be impacted by future search.

Does this process work with employees with all levels of organizational skills, understanding and education?

Yes. This has been proven over and over. Actually the people closest to the work often have profound information to share with leadership. Education and literacy levels are irrelevant to the success of the conference.  Many participants discover that their pre-conceptions about each other are inaccurate and that there is a much deeper understanding of what is going on in the organization at all levels.  Sometimes the people at the top have less information than they think.

How do we decide who to invite and who has to stay behind to keep production going?

If you have a small workforce, you may want to calculate the minimum number of people you need to operate a skeleton shift. Some manufacturers close their shop during a slow period and use that time to plan their future. It is possible to have several sequential future searches to include a large part of the organization.  This can be followed by a one day integration meeting.  Thanking the people who stay behind to keep the ship running is important.

I want to be able to approve all actions after the conference.

You can make this a condition up front, making it clear that the conference is advisory.  On the other hand, we have found that the best way to kill effective implementation is to thwart participants at the point they are ready to move into action.  If you have a high need to "control" the outcomes of the conference, future search may not be for you. If you want effective and long lasting results, it is important that you, as the leader, support the work product of the future search. This means allocating resources to support the outcomes, keeping people informed of progress toward the goals and continuing to speak to and reinforce the shared vision.







home | introducing the method | what is future search? | conditions for success | methodology
applications | public workshops