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Every organization of every size struggles with change in some way. While midsize companies are no exception, their size offers a competitive advantage. Unlike small companies with limited resources, or large companies saddled by bureaucracy or “this is how we do it” norms, midsize companies are in the sweet spot for rethinking how to relate to change and uncertainty effectively. Helping your team develop and strengthen their change mindset should be a priority. Team discussions about one’s orientation to change could unlock hidden superpowers and create new pathways for internal mobility. This article discusses how to integrate scenario mapping into your strategic planning process to boost your “flux capacity” (your tolerance for change) and contribute to the kinds of futures you’d like to see.
Picture yourself as the CEO of a midsize company in 2019 who had a crystal ball and knew that a global pandemic would turn the world upside-down within months. What would you have done differently for your business at that time, given that knowledge?
Or, imagine that you were the HR leader of a small, growing organization in 2015. You’d heard about a trend called “remote work” and were interested in experimenting with it, but your leadership team was unsupportive. You also had a crystal ball with a view of the future. How might you have persuaded them otherwise?
In retrospect, these seem like excellent questions to have wrestled with early. Now it’s 2023, and more unknowns than ever demand your attention, leadership, and wisdom. Of course, you want to do the right things, but you’re not entirely sure what next week will bring, much less next year or the next decade.
In this environment of uncertainty, leaders and companies around the world are asking the same questions: What do we do about change? How do we triage uncertainty, hedge our bets, and stop fearing the future?
I am often on the receiving end of these questions. As a futurist, I help people and organizations better understand what’s on the horizon … and how they fit into it. And time and time again, a similar set of challenges emerges: For as much as we like to talk about “managing” change and uncertainty, we are not very good at simply “being” with these things. Our relationship to uncertainty is fraught: We don’t tolerate not-knowing well, and this hinders our ability to show up, to find new solutions, and to thrive.
I have good news: By expanding your focus from change management to a change mindset, then using a simple tool to reframe how you address the future, you’ll be better positioned for whatever is ahead. And thanks to their size and agility, midsize companies are especially well placed to harness these dynamics.
From Change Management to Change Mindset
The concept of change management dates back to the early 1900s and has roots in the study of human and organizational behavior. Over time, change management (which has historically been dominated by men) evolved to include myriad processes, systems, and spreadsheets which together gave humans a sense that we are in control — including control of forces and factors that are beyond anyone’s control. The Covid pandemic revealed these shortcomings, transcending spreadsheet cells or steps in a framework. Moving forward, many improvements are needed to redesign a range of systems to align and engage with the world as it is (rather than an imaginary world of human omnipotence).
The problem lies not with any particular process or framework, but rather in what these management tools exclude, especially how we feel about a given change or unknown, and whether we have developed our mental muscles for uncertainty.
Our ability to manage change hinges on our ability to manage ourselves, including our fears and anxieties. These factors drive everything else — in business and in life. The damaging effects of fear on decision-making are well documented. Yet this is typically omitted from or stigmatized by traditional change management, and as a result key strategies, investments, and decisions are compromised.
As a quick thought exercise, think about a change-related challenge you currently face: Perhaps it’s how to maintain culture and loyalty in a hybrid world, or how to prepare for ongoing climate disruption. Or maybe you’re launching a new project or navigating an upcoming leadership succession.
Next, rather than jumping straight to “What do I do about this?” ask yourself, “Am I approaching this from a place of hope or fear? What is driving me? What is my orientation to this change? And how might my orientation differ from my teammates or direct reports?” All too often, we experience tension or put up roadblocks because we haven’t shared these things. Yet when you do, not only is everyone able to learn more about one another and strengthen team culture, but your decisions tend to be greatly improved as well. Change mindset drives change management, not the other way around.
From “What Is” to “What If?”
The quest for certainty and finding “the” answer often blinds us to a much bigger universe of possible solutions. Wouldn’t it be amazing to remove those blinders and learn to see what we’ve been missing?
In this vein, one of many businesses’ most consistent stumbling blocks is to focus on trying to predict “the” future. Why? Because there is no one future. Rather, there are many different possible futures that each and every person is bringing into being every day (whether you realize it or not). At any given moment, any one of myriad potential futures could play out. And to complicate matters, by the time any particular future comes to pass, it’s not even the future. It’s the present.
The key to reconciling these conundrums is to shift from trying to predict “the” future towards preparing for many different possible futures. And one of the best ways to develop this skill is through a process called scenario planning (or scenario mapping). This simple yet powerful tool is designed to help teams and organizations imagine what could happen. It’s a shift from “what is” to “what if.”
Scenario maps are typically drawn with two axes that represent two key variables of uncertainty. For example, perhaps you are concerned about the effect of automation on organizational culture. Your X axis could be automation (depicted as a spectrum from automation that replaces human talent to automation that augments it) and your Y axis could be culture (depicted as a spectrum from weak, toxic or low-trust cultures to attuned, inclusive, high-trust cultures). Once you’ve drawn this map, then you have four quadrants, and you can start filling these out with potential scenarios together.
The point is not that any one scenario represents “the” future. Rather, scenario mapping helps you imagine and contemplate all the different ways the future could play out — and to prepare accordingly. It’s a key feature of your futures-thinking muscle — your change mindset.
Midsize Companies: The Sweet Spot of Change
Every organization of every size struggles with change in some way. While midsize companies are no exception, their size offers a competitive advantage. Unlike small companies with limited resources, or large companies saddled by bureaucracy or “this is how we do it” norms, midsize companies are in the sweet spot for rethinking how to relate to change and uncertainty effectively.
Helping your team develop and strengthen their change mindset is neither overwhelming nor trite. Team discussions about one’s orientation to change could unlock hidden superpowers and create new pathways for internal mobility. Integrating scenario mapping into your strategic planning process could involve a wide range of talent from across the organization without being overwhelming. All of these steps boost your “flux capacity” (your tolerance for change) and contribute to your future success.