Finding Stability in the ContinuousNext

Remember the good old days? Once every three years, you gathered the board and staff in a conference room with baked goods, a lot of caffeine, and a facilitator. They produced what was euphemistically called a strategic plan. Often this document had more in common with a laundry list than strategy.

I hope that total immersion with sweet rolls and Starbucks is long over for your organization. A one-and-done approach to planning is no match for the digital marketplace. Try it today and the plan you produced will be an antique before it sees action. Technology is moving too quickly. When clients engage with .orgSource for projects,  I encourage them to adopt two attitudes that I believe are critical for future success.

Expect the Unexpected

My first recommendation—acknowledge that change is the only constant in the current business environment.

Whatever type of planning strategies you choose, you must incorporate the possibility for the unexpected into goals and objectives, and prepare to address new circumstances. Gartner, a global technology and research advisory company, calls this approach ContinuousNext.

ContinuousNext, which sounds like the title of a science fiction movie, isn’t a cutting-edge idea. The term was coined in 2018. But, until recently, the nonprofit world has been slow to monitor technology trends. As an example, the phrase digital transformation was first used in—wait for it—2012. Almost a decade later, most associations are still implementing the platforms and processes required for virtual business.

ContinuousNext is exactly what the name implies—the next step. It’s the whole point of digital transformation. Once you replace outdated systems, you need to put them to work to grow and compete.

Yes, competition is a driver, and your competitors include corporations that are using technology to give your members a better product. To survive in the shark tank, Gartner advises that change management and innovation must become an integral part of every business unit.

The strongest predictor of success is what Gartner calls dynamism, or the ability to use technology in new ways. This may seem frustrating and uncomfortable to association executives and boards who are accustomed to a more conservative approach. One of the benefits of old-style strategic planning was that it provided a template—in many cases, a detailed blueprint to the future. Managing the risk that comes with uncertainty was seldom part of the equation.

Integrate Planning With Operations

Several planning strategies make voyaging in the deep space of ContinuousNext less uncertain.

Several planning strategies can make voyaging into the deep space of ContinuousNext less uncertain. The .orgSource team advocates an integrated process that involves the entire organization. The board is responsible for setting the vision, the area where they have the greatest expertise. Implementation falls to the staff. This dynamic means that tactics and objectives can be flexible and adjusted to address changing circumstances without a lengthy approval process. The availability of human and financial resources is built into the planning, and key performance indicators are regularly evaluated. 

Exercises such as scenario planning and decision trees are also tactics to manage the unexpected. Sharon Rice, .orgSource’s Managing Director, Business Strategy, describes the benefits of scenario planning like this:

“Scenario planning fills you with information and an understanding of the possibilities. It gives you some control when the external environment is rapidly changing, and people are looking to you for leadership. Understanding the potential futures steers decision-making away from reaction and towards positive action.”

Scenario planning can be quite complex. But for a recent webinar, Rice created a “just in time” process. This methodology can be used to quickly answer critical questions surrounding any pressing issues.

Anticipate the Change Before it Happens

My second recommendation—once you’ve prepared for the unexpected, know how to spot change.

Organizations need a comprehensive understanding of their place in the market and their value proposition. Armed with this information, it’s easier to adapt to the challenges that will inevitably come.

There’s just one trick; to be ready to pivot, you must know how to spot change. Trying to predict the shifts in your association’s industry can seem as haphazard as consulting a tarot card deck. Figuring out what to scan for on the larger business horizon is even more perplexing. 

It’s imperative to be aware of the major technology trends. Although some of these developments may seem far outside your current professional reality, there is a trickle-down effect. Concepts that are esoteric today are rapidly becoming commonplace. We will feel their impact sooner than we can imagine.

With that in mind, these are several of the trends that Gartner cites as driving strategy in 2021.

1. The Internet of Behaviors (IoB)

IoB seeks to influence you by understanding your digital footprint.

This sounds a little like Big Brother, and it is. IoB imposes meaning on the internet of things. It seeks to influence you by understanding your digital footprint. The idea is to turn data from connected devices such as your phone, laptop, social media, online searches, and public databases into knowledge. The goal of this convergence of technology, analytics, and behavioral science is to move beyond a record of the past to anticipating future action.

A simple example might be an app for diabetics that tracks diet, blood sugar, and other activities and makes healthy suggestions. A more complex and controversial activity would be a company using information about your habits to offer you a special value or encourage you to make a purchase.

You might say this is what advertising has been doing for decades. The difference is that IoB allows companies to explore your preferences as an individual instead of as part of a group, and you will have limited control over what information is revealed.

There are many unknowns surrounding this technology and its appropriate use. Privacy is, obviously, a critical issue.

2. Total Experience

We’re already accustomed to charting and evaluating the customer journey. Total Experience adds employees and users to the analysis. Improvements are made based on how customers, staff, and technology interact together. Gartner explains the benefits like this:

“Tightly linking all of these experiences as opposed to individually improving each one will differentiate a business from competitors in a way that is difficult to replicate, creating sustainable competitive advantage.”  

During the pandemic, many retailers used the concept of Total Experience to provide a safer environment for salespeople and shoppers. Apps managed in-store traffic and improved safety while facilitating purchases.

Total Customer Experience implies a commitment to a positive culture and places a high priority on employee well-being.

3. Hyperautomation

This trend is all about efficiency. Gartner recognizes that companies are still running legacy systems that are a drain on productivity. The goal is to automate everything that can be automated.

“Organizations that don’t focus on efficiency, efficacy, and business agility will be left behind,” Gartner says.

Connect the Dots

If I could condense these trends into a single idea, it would be—connectivity. Moving beyond sweet rolls and Starbucks means seeing business through a wide lens. We must view every initiative from an association, a market, and a global perspective.

In the ContinuousNext, organizations are no longer the sum of many parts. They are integrated systems. The initiatives, culture, people, and environment are interdependent. Performance in one area will impact the whole. Activities in other industries become as significant as what is happening inside your professional community. Associations that understand and maximize this network of relationships will find a strategy for stability in the ContinuousNext.

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