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Seven Things Executive Coaches Should Know About Scenario Planning

February 11, 2013

1. What is Scenario Planning?

Originally developed by the oil company Shell in the 1970s, Scenario Planning is the name given to pre-defined processes which create alternative views of the future.

Scenario Planning ensures that awareness of external changes which could affect the future sustainability of an organisation can be built into the corporate culture, increasing the capability to anticipate and to act appropriately.

A scenario planning project needs top-level sponsorship in order to gain access to the right people in the organisation and to ensure that the implications can be acted upon.

Scenarios, typically three or four of which are derived from the planning process, allow people and organisations to anticipate the future through a well-supported alternative set of models of the world.

By giving the scenarios names, they become a powerful common currency within the organisation; a short-hand form of well-understood potential outcomes.

2. What are the benefits?

By creating possible scenarios an organisation is forced to look forwards to the future. This means that it is likely to be better able to anticipate and to act to the business environment than its competitors.

Scenarios become embedded in the corporate culture enabling an organisation’s workforce to understand changing circumstances and therefore to be better prepared in dealing with anticipated or unexpected events.

Organisations concerned that the normal strategic planning process may be missing some potential disruptive changes in the business environment are able to plug the gap.

3. How is Scenario Planning relevant to Executive Coaching?

The Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS) defines an ‘Executive’ as “a person who has a level of leadership responsibility (financial / operational / people) and / or responsibility for policy formulation and / or who makes a senior level individual contribution in the organisation.”

If you are an Executive Coach and your client’s organisation has been through a scenario planning exercise, those scenarios will be an integral part of your client’s corporate thinking (their ‘mental models’), be they an individual or a team. As such, exploring the scenarios with your client can be a powerful way for them to see themselves and their organisation in various possible futures.

There are fundamental similarities and issues here between coaching and scenario planning. Coaching is concerned with the ‘here and now’ and the future, not with the past. So are scenarios.

Scenarios inform the organisation as to how it might (have to) behave given certain outcomes. How will your client respond? Are the values and beliefs of the company, given a particular scenario, at one with those of the executive? What would happen if they are not? What would be the effects on a team given a particular scenario? Would all team members react together or could the scenario render them dysfunctional?

Coaching can incorporate some powerful interventions which may include the use of metaphor and story-telling. Scenarios carry a similar weight, given a simple name which belies a detailed life of its own given a particular set of outcomes. How do these mesh for your client?

Taken as a metaphor for itself, scenario planning has been described as “driving, looking through the windscreen of the car, rather than looking in the rear-view mirror”. Executive coaching might be similarly regarded.

4. This sounds like quite a powerful intervention. Is it?

Yes, although the key, of course, is whether or not your client’s organisation has already embraced scenario planning in its strategic view of the future. If so, scenarios in their own right are considerably powerful. Combined with coaching interventions, there is wide scope to explore your client’s possible futures in the organisation and their performance within it.

5. So how could my clients benefit?

Metaphor and story-telling have been shown to be powerful coaching tools which benefit the client by vividly describing potential outcomes which in turn enables the client (as an individual or team) to explore their own thinking and performance. As background, scenarios can only enforce these coaching methods.

6. Could Executive Coaching be integrated into a Scenario Planning exercise?

Absolutely. As an executive coach, it is important to understand your clients and their relationship with the business. If scenario planning is part of your client’s corporate strategy, then it makes sense to reference this in your coaching.

Moreover, building scenarios requires extensive, in-depth conversations with relevant stakeholders. Who better to listen and ask searching questions than a proficient executive coach?

7. Where can I find out more?

SAMI Consulting specialise in Scenario Planning and have undertaken many projects in both the private and public sectors. Clients include FTSE100 companies and government. The CEO, Gill Ringland, has written several books on the subject. gill.ringland@samiconsulting.co.uk

Jonathan Soar is a SAMI Associate who is also a qualified executive coach working with Professional Coaching International. He has helped facilitate scenario planning exercises with SAMI and is also an Associate Member of APECS.

jon.soar@samiconsulting.co.uk jon.soar@pciperformance.com

http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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