Skill 8. Reviewing (Adjustment thinking).
The last critical type of foresight thinking requires looking at the recent past to improve our future. Nothing is perfect. Everything can be improved. How do you know when you are missing the mark? And when you fall short, how do you generate the momentum to change? That is the reviewing skill, and adjustment thinking. Like the other seven skills, reviewing is very helpful to a point, but it can also be overdone, and must be balanced with the other seven skills.
One key reviewing function is Scorecards (feedback systems). Balanced scorecards are a popular business performance management tool, developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton in 1992, that focus the team on a small, mentally memorable set of financial and non-financial performance items, giving them target values, and generating corrective interventions when performance falls short of targets. The first and still the majority of such scorecard systems use four organizational vision and strategy perspectives: Customer-Stakeholder, Financial, Internal Processes, and Organizational Capacity (People and Technology) performance.
These scorecards are linked to a strategy map, to outcome measures (lagging indicators), to targets (OKRs, leading indicators), and to strategic initiatives to achieve the targets. Scorecards go beyond metrics (a learning function) in their inclusion of performance targets, and in the review that comes from missing targets. Scorecards must be aligned to current management strategies, and thus redesigned when that strategy has outlived its usefulness. Proactive leaders can use them to signal when a crisis is emerging, and to initiate politically painful change.
Niven’s Balanced Scorecard Step-by-Step (2006), and Kaplan and Norton’s, The Strategy-Focused Organization (2001) and Alignment (2006), are a few good balanced scorecard primers. The Balanced Scorecard Institute offers a BS Professional and BS Master Professional certificate. Results-based management is another scorecard style management approach that gets all the actors to plan, measure, and review the results of their interventions. It is gaining popularity in nonprofit sectors, and for dealing with any abstract projects where predefining ideal outcomes and impact are important to keep the organization accountable. The International Red Cross provides a nice overview of their use of results-based scorecards.
Another classic reviewing function is Quality. We’ve discussed the Shewhart-Deming quality (learning) cycle, a variation of the Learn-See-Do-Review cycle (Do loop). Notice that Reviewing, the eighth foresight skill, spans the last two steps in the OPDCA cycle (both “Checking” and then “Adjusting” after inspection). When we see it as two fifths of the Shewhart-Deming cycle, we recognize reviewing is a critical skill for all organizations.
In business contexts, quality is defined as the “non-inferiority or superiority” of a product or service, or its “fitness for purpose.” As we pursue it, we should recall Voltaire’s adage to perfectionists that “the best is the enemy of good.” We need only achieve quality that is sufficient for the purpose and the strategy. Many business competitions have been won by more rapid development and better promotion of technically inferior but still useful products or standards. Think of all the format wars we see in technical products (AC vs. DC, CDMA vs. GSM, etc.).
Learning from your customers the quality they need, by quickly running several Do loops, and then hitting that target consistently, is more important than being the best. Nancy Tague’s Quality Toolbox (2005), is a good primer for useful quality management methods.
The last reviewing function we will consider is Change Management. When used in its most general meaning, change management can be considered an alternate title for the eighth skill—a phrase that focuses not on the reviewing that clarifies the need for change, but on the challenge of change itself. But in its typical meaning, change management refers to a more specific set of practices to alter or turn around business processes and organizational strategy, often against political inertia.
One can even formalize the change management position within an organization. As Murray Lincoln, one of the 20th century leaders of the cooperative movement liked to say, every company should have a “vice president in charge of revolution,” someone who’s primary task is to critique, challenge, and engender ferment among the more conventional colleagues. Regularly questioning our foundations is how they stay strong.
Like all the functions we’ve described, change management happens as part of a Do loop, so the faster, more efficiently, and more frequently members of your organization can run that loop, the more adaptive you’ll likely be. Recall Boyd’s OODA loop, and Kotter’s eight-step model in Leading Change (2012). A good source on guiding group behavior change, using both influence and change management skills, is Grenny et al.’s Infuencer: The Science of Leading Change (2013).
These and other change management models stress strategies that include focusing on small behaviors that clearly signal the new direction to the group, publicly empowering the early adopters who model the changes you seek, and structuring the peer, physical, and digital environments to encourage change. Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits (2013) is a nice summary of the power of the “small good habit” strategy, both personally and for groups. Defining, asking for, and publicly rewarding small and very achievable “vital behaviors” that signal the new direction will help the organization change more rapidly and confidently.
Unlearning bad habits, and modeling forgiveness, both of others and yourself for past mistakes, may also be required. Jack Uldrich’s Higher Unlearning (2011) offers more on that. Resistance will be mounted, and must be dealt with caringly but firmly. Those who cannot accomplish the new behaviors signal their unwillingness or may have other learning problems, and can be given extra attention until they do, or are managed out of the firm.
For those leaders seeking motivating examples of how much organizational change can be accomplished when an organization faces real crisis, read William Bratton, Turnaround (1998), on the NYPD, Lou Gerstner, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (2003), on IBM, and Carlos Ghosn, Shift (2006), on Nissan. These are three rather impressive turnaround stories captured well in the business literature (even if their CEO’s take credit for more than they should). Turnarounds always require some forgiveness of old grievances and willingness to abandon old ways (forgiveness and unlearning, Skill 8), and some time for the (usually new) leader to learn the lay of the land (learning, Skill 1) and to try new things (innovation, Skill 2) before employee judgment is rendered. In other words, employees need the freedom and the trust to be able to mentally start their Do loops again.
Good foresight consultants continually review, adjust, and critique their own work in order to keep improving professionally. Those that build critical feedback into their production activities, including anonymous feedback when politics or friendships might otherwise weaken its quality, and who subject each step in their process to after-action evaluation will rapidly improve. But critiquing isn’t enough. After we find fault we must seek a practical way to fix what we don’t like. And if we can’t fix it, we must learn to live with and continue to value what exists. After all, to be human is to continually make mistakes, and to continually hope to better ourselves, by trial and error.
We hope this overview of the Adaptive Foresight and Management model is helpful to your practice. To deepen its value, the Eight Skills would benefit from online diagnostics for self-assessing and 360-feedback assessing each skill in individual, team, and organizational contexts. It will also need training curricula to help those weak in any skill to build it up, and create skills-complementary teams. All of this should be done in a quantitative manner, to help validate the model.
Our model is Creative Commons BY-SA licensed, so any reader is free to adapt it themselves if they like. We will do many further adaptations ourselves in future versions of the Guide.