As industries become increasingly disintermediated, social media chatter shapes trends and demand, and shifting demographics bring changing expectations, leaders across every sector have to rethink their customer-focused strategies. Simultaneously, employee expectations, personal networks, and information channels continue to expand, forcing these same leaders to reconsider and reshape their organizational constructs. With so much to address in the immediate timeframe, it’s not surprising that only a handful of companies look farther than a traditional five-year planning horizon.
Yet as Paul Saginaw, co-founder of award-winning Zingerman’s Delicatessen, says of laying out a long-term plan – “This is the work of leaders.” We’ve seen this to be true, time and again. The process of looking out five, ten, even twelve years while continuing to pay due attention to the needs of the present often is the difference between an organization equipped for growth in a globalized environment of hyper-change and one that is unprepared for future disruption.
Riding SoulCycle to Triple-Digit Growth
In the July-August 2017 issue of HBR SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan shares the scenario she faced when she joined SoulCycle – and what factors have contributed to the massive and rapid growth of what looked at the outset like a ‘fad’ company. Her story is an interesting and epitomizing case study for the value of addressing challenges and opportunities in the immediate time frame while simultaneously stepping into the future to understand what will be necessary as the market environment changes.
In 2012 I joined SoulCycle full-time to develop and lead the company’s operations, and in 2015 I became CEO. In both those roles my goal has been to see how far we can grow the business and the brand. When I first joined the team, we believed that SoulCycle had the potential to operate 20 or 25 locations concentrated in U.S. coastal cities. Today we have 74 studios, and we’ve been steadily growing by about 15 locations a year in noncoastal cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Austin, and Houston. We just opened our first international studio, in Toronto. We now know we have a long runway for growth.
As we expand, we stay acutely aware of a potential pitfall: The performance of the fitness and wellness industries tends to be cyclical. That’s true for workouts, and it’s true for diets. This is a space where things may come and go, and trends may disappear entirely. You can probably think of examples: Jazzercise and Tae Bo and a continual stream of short-lived at-home fitness products—the kinds typically sold on infomercials. Some workouts just repeat the same thing again and again; fatigue, boredom, or distraction sets in, and people decide to try something new. Our challenge is to ensure that SoulCycle never falls into this trap.
Excerpted from Harvard Business Review:
Building a Future-Proof® Business Model
The challenge of balancing the demands of today while preparing for the future plagues CEOs in every industry. It is just as easy to get wrapped up completely in today and forget strategic vision as it is to focus solely on the future and lose sight of the leadership of your team today. Toffler Associates works with our clients to ensure this balance is not only maintained at the CEO level, but it is diffused to leaders at the right levels across their organizations. To link performance in the near term with sustainable success in the future, leaders must not only inspire through vision and passion, but they must empower their team to operationalize that vision. Getting the steps right in that process takes fortitude and resources. Toffler Associates has honed a three-phase Future Proof® methodology that positions our clients for long-term resiliency.
- Understand: Rather than filter current information into a short-range strategy, we help companies look beyond the horizon and envision the world 20 years in the future. This process of stepping outside of the immediate situation enables leaders to consider the strategic environment.
- Plan: With the future in mind, we develop strategic and operational plans that engage the entire organization. In doing so, the company invites the entire workforce to share in the knowledge transfer and tasks necessary to pre-position the organization to meet change with agility.
- Adapt: Having a knowledgeable, objective ally is vital for companies engaged in transformation. During the processes of planning for the future and instituting organizational changes, we help leaders to engage every member of the organization and provide the coaching necessary for success.
By engaging every member of the organization in a methodical practice of understanding, planning and adapting, leaders position their organizations to weather future disruptions. They also experience greater value within the organizations – a workforce rallied around a future vision, less waste across systems, and more efficient operations.
Solving the Challenge of Change
Toffler Associates recognizes that every decision made now becomes a prompt for re-evaluation, new plans, and further transformation. Future-proofing is an ongoing, iterative process that demands consistency and precision. We help organizations craft manageable strategies informed by disciplined foresight, agile relationship structures, workforce behaviors, operations advancements, and collective learning.
A carefully shaped future-proof strategy strengthens current and future agility by replacing segmented processes, technologies, and people with a fully integrated approach. Every relevant member of the organization has responsibility for the work and the outcomes. As the workforce connects through the pursuit of shared near-term and far-term goals, the culture of the organization strengthens. Market changes become as much a source of opportunity as challenge or complexity, and you are more like to see the fruits of this ‘work of leaders.’
It’s time to balance your strategic focus on those decisions that impact the present with those that have a long trajectory and lasting implications.