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  • Jessie Brennan, MPH

Applying Foresight: Staff Career Development for the Changing World

Over the past few years, the term “VUCA world” has been used more and more often in the managerial literature, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. What does it stand for? Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous- paints a scary picture, doesn’t it? From my point of view, it’s just a scary way of acknowledging that things are ever-changing. But we know that, don’t we? In leadership, you face changes and challenges daily that continuously shape and then re-shape your strategy.

Understanding that things are always in flux doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare for the future. In fact, preparing for the future is a big consideration when it comes to the professional development of your team members. One of the main goals of development is to build a skill and knowledge base that will help your teams and organizations better face the future. How can we know what skills will be most valuable in the future? That’s what we’ll explore today.

We explored the concept of hindsight conversations in our previous update- conversations that promote staff reflection on their skills, values, and interests and explore the ways in which they can incorporate these into their career development plans. However, making career decisions based solely on interests and preferences, with no consideration of where the future is taking your industry can lead, very quickly, to a dead-end. We don’t want staff focusing on developing skills that will soon become obsolete. To help your staff members focus their career efforts in a way that will lead to longer-term, productive outcomes, we also need to use a little foresight.

The past few years have produced some excellent examples of how foresight can make or break an organization. Could anyone have foreseen that a worldwide pandemic would have us all scrambling to adapt our work to a strictly virtual world? Probably not (and if they could, they would have bought a lot of stock in Zoom). But the world has been moving online more and more every year, this is not a new trend. With the use of foresight, there were many organizations that had already begun exploring ways to offer their services remotely, and developing their teams with the skills necessary to do so.

Foresight Conversations

The goal of foresight conversations is to open people’s minds to the future: worldwide trends, organizational issues and changes, and the implications of all of these. These types of conversations are often held and kept in the leadership circles of organizations. As leaders, you know the big picture of the organization, challenges the organization is facing, and its vision for the future. I’m sure this informs much of what you do both consciously and unconsciously, but is your team aware of these larger organizational issues? Many employees are not privy to this information, and if they are, they may not be appreciating it’s importance, or understanding its impact on the team or themselves, personally, without further conversation.

To understand what skills and knowledge will be most valuable in the future, your team needs to be aware of both external challenges and changes, as well as internal ones. External changes refer to what’s going on in the world, including changing demographics and economic shifts. Internal changes refer to what’s happening within your organization, including changing client expectations and needs, and responses to changing budgets.

Staff engagement experts and authors, Beverly Kaye and Julie Giulioni, suggest bringing your team members into the fold by not only providing information shared at the higher levels, but getting your team in on the research, themselves. Following are some of the ways your staff members can contribute to the team’s understanding of your industry, and the environment around you:

  • Engage in client conversations that explore service delivery

  • Research important issues or trends

  • Read trade publications

  • Participate in industry conferences

  • Attend management meetings (or debrief the team on these meetings)

While this is an excellent start, the conversation that follows is where true insight about the implications of the information they’ve uncovered can be developed. Ask your team to reflect on what the information means for your organization, how it might affect your services, and what it means for their jobs and career goals. Are there any new skills that they might benefit from developing in light of the research? This is where these conversations can start to spark ideas about career development. Understanding the trends in your industry and the applicable research can empower your team members to make informed decisions about their own growth.

Beverly Kaye and Julie Giulioni also suggest using sentence stems to prompt reflection in your team members:

  • The most significant change I’ve seen in our industry is . . .

  • I predict that the next big thing will be . . .

  • I was most personally affected when the organization changed . . .

  • To keep my edge and pursue my career goals, I’m going to need to . . .

Hindsight is important, but incomplete without an understanding of what skills will be needed in the future. The changing world directly impacts career decisions, strategy and success. You can assist your staff in making informed decisions by introducing foresight conversations with regularity. Over time, foresight will become a habit that can empower your team members for the long run.


Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni

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