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Performing due diligence in the future

Today in your role, you have to think about a range of issues from new and changing legislation and regulations, changing political agendas on issues from zero hours contracts to maternity/paternity leave, accelerating digital disruption that might be changing how your people can or want to work, keeping your workforce fit for purpose and appropriately skilled, to what is happening in the external competitive environment of which your business is a part. 

So, how do you work with colleagues to plan for the skills you will need in 15-10 years, and if you attract those skills, how will you manage their talent and expectations? More fundamentally, what is the primary role of HR in 10 years-time? The future of work has many uncertainties, as does the future of HR; does this mean the future is unforeseeable at a long distance?

Experience proves that we cannot precisely predict the future. Even when you use the very best methods, you end up like in the film Back to the Future II (where Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrived in 2015), having got some things right, some things wrong and having missed out something(s) that turn out to be really important (The film came out in 1989, the year that Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web, hence it missed the disruptive technology of smart phones).

It isn’t the role of HR to predict global technology change, but, you need to be aware of it and you can start to think more strategically about the future of the people in your organisation, how and where they will work, and what their work will be like in 5 to 10 years-time. Then you can start to build multiple potential futures (scenarios) to assess the possible impact. The discipline of Strategic Foresight enables executives in HR – and colleagues across the Board Room – to assess the possible changes their organisation may face, and it provides the skills, tools and methodologies to engage in “Future Due Diligence”.

Working through a series of potential futures, you exercise your ‘foresight muscles’ so that you can recognise when a particular future (or part of it) is actually unfolding and having thought about it in advance, you’ve got a plan for what to do about it. Strategic foresight is about looking at different potential futures and having a Plan A, B, C and D to cover possible issues you may face. It helps you to get as much right as you can and minimise what you might miss.

Future Due Diligence
The following five steps are what you need to go through to ensure future due diligence and they need to be repeated – some more frequently than others – not just put in a report on a shelf. Look for emerging trends, watch for new things.  Which of them might disrupt your business? How might different trends combine and what would that mean to you? What advantages could you develop? This must be an ongoing activity. Develop a range of possible, probable futures based on how particular trends may unfold. A direct extrapolation from the past wastes your time. Exercise your “foresight muscles” and think out of the box. Add a wild card future – one with a highly improbable event. 

What early warning signs do you need to look for that would indicate that one of the futures you developed was actually emerging? These will help you (when monitoring, Step 5) to recognise when you are approaching one of the futures you’ve thought through, so you can activate the relevant plan. Develop a plan for each of your range of futures. If this future emerged, what would you do to: take the best advantage of the situation, stop doing? to innovate and to protect yourself from? Once you’ve made your plans, monitor for the signs that a particular future is unfolding. The early warning signs you identified will help you to recognise it and then you can execute the appropriate plan for that future giving you the best opportunity to thrive. If you conduct your future due diligence, keep watching emerging trends, and explore several potential, probable futures, you will get some things right. You will also get some things wrong, possibly because you missed a trend or you didn’t consider how two different trends might combine. Keeping an eye on not just how the future unfolds in the present but how it could emerge for the future will enable robust decision making for an enduring and successful future.

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