Standing in the Future
A CEO’s role essentially boils down to worrying about his/her company’s future. The CEO has to orient the company to grow and increase in value—both financially and in people terms—for years to come. The senior executive has to think ahead six months, two years, or more.
And, for a company to be sustainably successful in the current business climate, everyone from top to bottom has to be thinking ahead.
Two natural tendencies get in the way of this being the norm: first, most people operate from a negativity bias (e.g. focusing on what’s wrong); and second, when things become overwhelming, there’s an inclination to zero in only on what’s in front of us or under our control, a.k.a. “getting into the weeds.” These dynamics are why most employees default to leaving the company’s overall success up to the CEO or C-Suite. They simply don’t have the energy for it.
One way to solve for this challenge and restore some of that energy is by asking your teams to “stand in the future” and have an open conversation to answer three questions:
If nothing changes, what will the company look like five years from now?
What would it look like, instead, if we were doing the right things day-to-day?
What are those “right things?”
Business growth isn’t linear (as much as we would like to think it is). Growth, as a business and as humans, requires learning, iterating, messing up, and trying again. Everyone has to dedicate time away from the tyranny of their inbox and firefighting to reach critical mass in the culture – not only the CEO and senior leaders. (Only so much can get done at off-sites and strategy sessions!)
The “Standing in the Future” exercise allows employees to voice their concerns from an objective perspective, and it gives you, the leader, the opportunity to show curiosity and create space to safely voice edgy topics. Most importantly, it challenges everyone in the conversation to collectively imagine what the company would look like as a healthy, successful, growing environment. By shaping a positive future in their mind’s eye, and without sugarcoating the present, the exercise encourages employees to invest in that future, and consider what it would take from each and every person to make it happen.
The discussions that emerge from asking these three specific questions empowers employees to voice their concerns and discuss long-term strategies, and possibly offer new insight to the leadership team. In another way, it’s a microcosm of the things CEOs and executives should be doing. By standing in the future, employees have a chance to highlight important issues and focus on what's essential.
So, if you want to have open and honest conversations about what it looks like when your company falls down and what is needed to change course or get back up, take the time to stand in the future.
Where is your organization headed?
What, specifically, needs to change?
What conversations are the ones we can’t afford to skip?
Have you tried this exercise with your team? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how it went.