In the Back to the Future trilogy, Michael J. Fox revs his plutonium powered DeLorean time machine to 88mph and is instantly transported into the future. The insight he gains of the future is the realisation that it is a result of his actions in the present or in the past. Christopher Lloyd, who plays the white haired scientist in the films, constantly reminds Michael J. Fox that the future is unwritten. It is what you make it. So they journey back to the past in order to correct some bad decisions that had inadvertently set the space-time continuum off in negative directions.
The same truth applies to associations today – the future of associations is unwritten, and is what you make it. The decisions associations make today will directly influence the future for better or for worse. The space-time continuum is essentially a force of causality – cause and effect. Every major decision has an effect on the members, the market and the association itself. In turn, this causes another effect to create a cycle of interlocking events. The power associations have to influence the future is in deciding whether this becomes a virtuous cycle or a vicious one.
Admittedly, it would be so much easier if we all had a DeLorean to change the past. However, we all have power over our decisions in the present, and it is surprising how quickly these can ignite positive change for the future. The challenge then, is identifying the potential long-term causality of each opportunity and integrating this into the decision making process.
Here are six steps that link with the 6-Step Roadmap to keep decision making focused on the future.
- Do What’s Needed (Tackle Disruption)
Embrace the elephant in the room. Sometimes the most critical threats disrupting an association are kept unspoken because they may seem insurmountable, or because people don’t have all the answers. Scary though it may seem the elephant must be confronted. Doing what’s easy and avoiding the issue that’s blocking progress only makes it more threatening in the future. Doing what’s needed and tackling it will create new opportunities for progress. You don’t need all the answers. You just need to get started. Like every journey, it begins with the courage to take the first step.
- Bring Stakeholders Together (Mission & Vision)
Mission and vision includes serving all stakeholders. When the differing needs of members, the market and the association come into potential conflict, look to align them all. It’s easy to take a zero sum approach and prioritise one against the other, but the causality created by this is often negative. When stakeholders start fighting, it can tear associations apart. Again, you don’t need all the answers upfront to bring stakeholders together. You just need to get a healthy debate started, and be open to the feedback and insights this will reveal. Once stakeholders trust the association’s integrity of intent, they become more open to negotiation and compromise in search of win-win solutions. The priority isn’t to meet every single need, but to bring the stakeholders together first and then work collaboratively from there.
- Embrace Fear to Manage Risk (Good Governance)
A future strategy necessarily involves some risk. Good governance includes the board clarifying how much risk the association is willing to take to enable progress. Fear is normal, but progress necessitates the courage to take action in spite of it. Embrace fear and manage risk. The risk profile provides a benchmark for future decision making, making it easier to do what’s needed. Embracing fear helps overcome limiting beliefs – for example, that things must always be done in a ‘certain way’, that innovation is ‘too hard’ or that resources are ‘too few’. The board and CEO must overcome the association’s limiting beliefs so the staff can follow suit. The future requires a confident, progressive mindset and the courage of convictions to pursue positive change within the parameters of an appropriate risk profile.
- Let Go of Control to Engage Members (External Strategy)
The future cannot be controlled, it can only be embraced. Similarly, the future cannot be held back, it can only be accelerated. So let go of trying to be in control, trying to know all the answers and trying to avoid mistakes. Embrace an openness to enable, care and help members and the market. Try new approaches, be willing to fail and embrace new learnings. The old top down, control and command model has been replaced by an engaged, collaborative approach to engage members. Once an association sets its agenda for the future, it necessarily means it must try new things and move outside of its comfort zone. Letting go of trying to control outcomes releases associations to focus simply on making the right choices, doing what’s needed and what’s good – and accepting where this may lead. It is the integrity of decisions aligned seamlessly to mission and vision that sparks future engagement, trust and confidence in members and markets.
- Socialise Change and Learning (Internal Alignment)
Empower your employees to align their thinking and actions with the future, by socialising the benefits of change and learning. Many may be fearful to try new things. They will take your lead when you encourage initiative and innovation, and normalise change as an inherent part of the journey into the future. Once they trust that they won’t be punished for trying new things, they will be less fearful of change. This confidence opens up so many opportunities because once employees feel comfortable igniting change, the possibilities are endless. It is always people, not associations who create change. Encourage them to learn, and strive for more.
- What You Think About Expands (Future Focus)
The more you think about the future, the stronger it gets. The more your decision making is focused on future outcomes, the better it gets. It becomes easier to see the long-term causality of decisions when you purposefully look for them. Each future focused decision reinforces the next, improving the efficacy of the process through time. The implicit messages of not focusing on the future is that tomorrow will always be the same as today, that member expectations won’t change and that the association will live on forever. All are dangerous assumptions. Becoming a futurist may sound difficult, but becoming more future focused with each and every subsequent decision is really quite simple. The future is unwritten and your journey there is a process.
You don’t need a DeLorean time machine to see the future. You only need to be aware that you are writing your association’s own future with every decision you make in the present. A slight shift of emphasis can make all the difference.
Just hold onto the steering wheel.