I was pondering a comment made recently about a paper I had written about the focus of my work in organisations:

Contains practical examples? Good here, but they are only departmental planning, not divisional, business unit, or corporate. In other words, entry level practice with middle managers.

My reading of this comment is that futures work is best done at divisional, business unit or corporate levels, and not with middle managers. That is, don't work with the staff, work only with the senior and executive managers of an organisations.  Don't focus on 'entry level practice' (whatever that is!), only focus on advanced practice. There are two assumptions at work here:

  • that only senior managers can think strategically, and staff just need to do what they are told, and
  • that senior managers know how to think long term by virtue of their position in organisations,

and they are two assumptions to be challenged quickly!

My view is that all staff can think strategically if given the opportunity, but senior managers and leaders often underestimate the abilities of their staff in this area, and don't provide the opportunities when they are developing strategy. My experience with working with staff in departments is that their ideas and views about the future are usually very long-sighted and provide a different perspective for leaders to integrate into their thinking.

Of course, many leaders aren't ready to integrate anyone's thinking into their own, yet having an open mind and a willingness to seek diversity of perspectives are two leadership literacies for the knowledge era (thanks to Heather Davis of Waypoint Consulting for this term). If a leader thinks that her or his thinking is just fine, thank you, why would they insist that staff have authentic opportunities to contribute to the strategy development process? These types of leaders - those who don't seek out others perspectives in the strategy process - are demonstrating the command and control approach to leadership that will do them and their organisations no favours into the future.

I'll keep doing my 'entry level practice' with people in departments to strengthen their strategic thinking, because this is where we will start to build a critical mass of people who understand why strategic thinking - strategic foresight, thinking long term - will be critical to our futures.  These are the people who may well be leaders of our educational institutions in the future, and they will then bring to those senior roles the ability to think strategically.

Everyone has the ability to think strategically about the future, and we need to spend some time and money developing this ability as a core capability for our workforce today and for the future.