Below are a number of case studies outlining the situation, objectives, solution, and outcomes experienced in a number of illustrative engagements. The names of the clients are confidential and not provided but the details are accurate. They represent a good cross-section of some of the work we have done over the last six years.
National Association setting Direction using Scenario Analysis
A national association representing organizations who hold as members those exhibiting exceptional performance and achievement within their field. They have a large governing body, the Council, which meets once a year. Between those meetings there is an Executive Committee that is entrusted to carry out the Council’s work. There is a great disparity among their members in regards to size and wealth.
The infrequent meetings and the overly large size of the Council make decision-making difficult. Many of the council members are towards the end of their careers and comfortable with the way things have been. The association and its members are under attack from competing organizations. Some of them have evolved a for-profit business model and are winning significant amounts of the "market" in terms of numbers and dollars. Several of them have taken advantage of the World Wide Web to market to a pay-for-recognition member. The governance situation makes it difficult to deal with the challenge.
• Increase the entire Council’s understanding of the threats and challenges faced.
• Illustrate how those challenges might grow into serious threats over time.
• Provide a forum and safe harbor for strategic learning and discourse.
• Involve the entire Council in the process of setting a new direction.
• Create a set of priorities for the coming year.
Scenario planning was chosen as the mechanism to create the forum and safe harbor for strategic learning and conversation. The Council was surveyed in advance of the session to determine core values, main purposes and key trends, variables and forces. They had two _ day sessions in which to do their work. The first of these they spent building stories and contingent plans. The second was spent analyzing and prioritizing.
Outcome & Analysis
• In the large group session there were a number of fundamental issues outside the scope of the process that surfaced repeatedly. They were core issues of purpose as well as specific threats for which members on the floor wanted immediate action.
• At the end of the session a set of priorities was developed and a direction was given to the executive committee.
• We facilitated the Executive Committee’s application of the learning to the organization's strategy.
• The Executive Committee set a course for change.
• Limited but vocal dissension from factions of the Council has slowed the strategic process.
• In debriefing with a member of the Executive Committee we have decided that we had misjudged organizational readiness. Dissenting members of the Council were not ready to learn, let alone change.
• After several bumps in the road, the Executive Committee is moving forward with the process. It appears that they have support from many or most of the Council.
Regional Association making Tough Decisions with Scenario Analysis
An association representing information based organizations within a geographic region. They have a relatively small Staff and a very supportive Board. Their main source of revenue comes from the reselling of products and services. They are able to use the leverage of their membership numbers to negotiate below market prices. They use these revenues to provide education, communications and critical programs that could not support themselves. In addition they serve as the community builder and leading edge thinker in the field.
They had recently (within the last 3 years) experienced a positive turnaround. Things were going well in membership, revenues and revenues in excess funds. Much of their industry was undergoing rapid and drastic change due to new technology and business models. The Executive Director was uncertain as to the degree of opportunity and risk associated with alternatives because it was difficult to predict the future. His question to us was "How can I make important strategic decisions with long-term impact under this level of uncertainty? I am foregoing opportunities because I do not know how the critical elements that will determine outcomes will develop."
• Clarify the potential outcomes of some of the most important changes.
• Build a strategic foundation on which future strategy can be built.
• Involve the Staff and the Board in the process so that they can learn from each other and develop an understanding of the organization that includes both perspectives.
• Uncover any hidden threats or opportunities that are not readily visible.
Scenario analysis was selected as the right tool for the job. A team that included both Staff and Board was formed. The scenario analysis was conducted in six _ day sessions over the course of three months. The knowledge gained from the scenarios was turned into strategic and operational plans.
Outcome & Analysis
• The association was able to see that it was to their advantage to make sure that they played a major leadership role in a key initiative in the industry.
• Since that time, circumstances have changed and they are less involved with the initiative.
• A strong strategic foundation has allowed the organization to be flexible while still working within its stated purposes.
• Their success has continued and their stature within the industry, which was already strong, has been further enhanced.
National Society building a successful Future using Scenario Analysis
A national non-profit association which represents the students, faculty and practitioners within a field of study. They are forward thinkers but operate on a limited budget. They were practicing strategic thinking before most of us had even heard the term. They compete with several other associations and societies for their members. Their emphasis is on leadership development and scholarship.
The Executive Director attended a seminar on Scenario Analysis that we presented for the Michigan Association of Society Executives. She was intrigued and saw direct application of the process to her organization’s ongoing strategic planning. While the association is strong, the field of study is losing standing and influence on the campus and in the community. It is in the middle of a rebranding and is suffering identity uncertainty.
• Determine where their field was going and why.
• Determine what role they could play in helping the field thrive.
• Expand their Board’s strategic conversation.
• Develop knowledge that could then be used for that year’s annual strategic renewal process.
• Explore the future to better plan for it.
Scenario analysis was chosen as the right tool to achieve the objectives given the situation. An
e-mail survey was sent to a sampling of members and all of the Board. In addition one-on-one interviews were conducted via telephone. This information was summarized and used to develop several different future worlds. The Board had _ day to conduct build and analyze their scenarios. The participants were divided into small study groups to develop the stories and then reconvened to share what they had discovered. This knowledge was used later in the day to review and adjust their strategic direction.
Outcome & Analysis
• The association learned many new things about its current situation and the underlying causes.
• They fine-tuned their direction for the organization.
• They still refer to the scenarios and what they revealed.
• Since that time they have used scenario analysis to accomplish other ends.
• They have used it in an attempt to foster cooperation and collaboration with a partner who has not yet seen the value.
• They have also used it to widen the Board’s strategic conversation to the membership by conducting a workshop and exploration of their role in the field at a national conference.
Self Insurance Group renewing and reprioritizing Strategic Choices
A number of local cooperatives for rural electrical utilities who joined together to create a self-insurance pool. The Board has individual representatives with varying degrees of management sophistication. Some are Board members on their local utility cooperative, others are the General Mangers of the electrical utility.
The state in which they reside was in the third year of deregulation. This deregulation had opened many choices that they had not had in the past. There were new ways of organizing and conducting business. We had originally helped them create a strategic framework to prioritize some of these opportunities. Now the opportunities were turning into challenges as well. Some of the new freedoms had also carried increased risk. Looking back with a new understanding of those risks they needed to redefine their structure. There were three competing methods from which they had to choose.
• To renew the strategic framework formed two years prior.
• To utilize the framework and the foundation built to make a strategic choice among the three options.
• To consider the impact of the decision on the organization and its individual members.
• To develop a plan of action once the decision had been made.
It was decided to use a combination of strategic conversation and dynamic decision making as the tools to achieve the objectives. A Board retreat was scheduled. The first order of business was to update our knowledge of the competitive environment. Next the key factors for success over the next 2-5 years were developed. Lastly we reaffirmed and renewed the organizational values and purposes. Each of the three alternatives was explained by a professional representing the given structure. The alternatives were then analyzed using the organizational values, purposes and the key factors for success. The Board ranked the three alternatives on each of several critical factors and then, as a group, selected the structure that was the best answer.
Outcome & Analysis
• The Board was able to make an informed decision, taking into account many underlying dynamics.
• The decision was made with a focus on future developments and needs, not just today’s.
• During the strategic conversation several other hidden issues were uncovered that the Board wanted to research.
• While not everyone on the Board agreed with the choice, they understood the reason it was chosen and the important factors that had to be considered.
• A structure was tentatively chosen, pending further research that the process indicated was needed.
• The Staff was provided with a clear direction in which to head and was given list of prioritized objectives.