What does the future have in store for us? How do we respond? How can we help shape this future? This report addresses these fundamental questions for business strategists.
Planning for the future is an essential part of business leadership. Traditional approaches to strategic planning have limits, particularly when assessing long-term risks from issues such as climate change. Increasing change and complexity make it difficult to accurately project the future.
In 2013, business leaders in South Africa asked: “How can businesses engage in strategic planning that is linked to a shared vision for a sustainable future?” In response, NBS South Africa (SA) commissioned a systematic review conducted by Dr Martina Linnenluecke, Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers, Mr Sarel Grönum, and Ms. Chanel Venter. The researchers reviewed 195 academic and industry sources.
This guide summarizes their findings.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to planning.
Research identifies four dominant planning approaches in business: projection, adaptation, visionary planning (shaping the future) and transformation.
The NBS-SA research helps decision-makers navigate these planning approaches. It also outlines specific planning mechanisms and helps practitioners know when to apply them.
In the systematic review, multiple case examples highlight how companies integrate novel planning approaches into their business models.
Determine the right fit.
Organizations should ask three questions before choosing the planning approach that best fits them.
- How complex is the issue at hand?
- What are our underlying beliefs and assumptions?
- How active do we want to be in influencing societal change?
For more detail on how to answer these questions, check out the systematic review.
Select from four planning approaches.
Depending on the answers to the questions above, organizations can choose between four planning approaches. These approaches differ from each other along two dimensions:
- how engaged the organization is in influencing the future, and
- how predictable future outcomes are.
Figure 1. Four Planning Approaches
This approach involves a low level of engagement in shaping the future and assumes that the environment is highly predictable. For example, forecasting is a mechanism that implements a projection approach by extrapolating key trends from past data.
This approach still involves a low level of engagement, but emphasizes the need for quick responses to changes. An example of this approach is enhancing agility, by developing organizational capabilities to detect and respond to emerging changes.
Shaping the Future
This is a proactive approach for the organization, based on greater predictability with a large role for the organization in identifying and shaping a desired future. Related approaches include lobbying, stakeholder consultations and entrepreneurial actions.
Transformational planning involves a high level of engagement, while emphasizing that envisioning and influencing the future is a collective effort. It is based on the belief that growing challenges present opportunities for organizations to define a vision with others. For example, in transformative scenario planning, a broad array of stakeholders engages in identifying scenarios and designing coordinated responses.
The full research (systematic review) provides advantages and disadvantages of each approach, as well as case examples.
Who should read this report?
Planning for a shared vision can involve stakeholders from across society. This report is designed for:
- CEOs and business strategists who engage in strategic planning in a changing, complex environment.
- Government officials who are involved in economic development and want to work with businesses to develop a shared vision that addresses social and environmental concerns.
- Civil society representatives who want to engage in shaping the future in collaboration with business and government.
- Planning for a Shared Vision of a Sustainable Future: A Systematic Review (link to full report)