Strategic planning often proves a challenge for companies, particularly smaller companies because often don’t know what tools to use. People are aware that they can create various scenarios of alternative futures and indeed looking at alternative futures can prepare you for what might occur. But just being aware of what might occur does not really help you in making plans for where you want to go. A better method is to look back in order to look forward. Let me explain.
Backcasting is, according to futurist Edward Cornish, where “we postulate a future goal, event or circumstance and then try to develop a sequence of steps or stages to explain the imagined future event or goal came to pass.” Cornish further explains that backcasting “… does not begin with where we are, but rather with where we want to be or might be at some future date.” Futurist Thomas Frey describes it as “ a forecasting technique that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify technologies, policies, and operational plans needed to build a path between the present and the future.”
Your task becomes to develop a scenario on how that envisioned future came to be. You work backwards developing what conditions must exist, what events must occur, what steps must be taken to determine if that future can actually occur. As Cornish says “Backcasting can be used to decide what is likely to happen in the future and to determine how to achieve one’s chosen goal.” Probably the most famous example of backcasting is President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon. NASA had to take that goal and backcast to determine what was needed to accomplish it.
Application to HR
In terms of you HR department this can be a very useful tool, but it takes the ability to use a different perspective. Suppose you get the mandate that in two years you will have to be serving twice as many employees, in twice as many locations, with half the staff you currently have. What would you do? Rather than starting with today and saying “what do we have to do tomorrow?” you would paint the picture of what your HR department is going to look like in the future and then work backwards thinking of methods, times, abilities, staffing, automation, costs, etc. until you arrive at your present time. You would determine whether that goal could then be accomplished or, if not, what an acceptable alternative might be.
It may take practice
Initially this may seem a bit daunting, after all we tend to think from now to then and not then until now. So you can start small as practice. Think of a task or an event that you have in the near term and use it as practice. If you have a presentation to give think of it. What do you want that presentation to look like? What is required to make it look and sound correctly? Do you have that capability? Do you have that technology? Work a backwards time line to make sure you be able to accomplish it. Going backwards to the present now gives you the ability to start and now move forward.
So as you are tasked in your HR department to be more strategic, think of using the method of backcasting to be creative and to look at possible alternatives. Look backwards to look forward.
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