Creating success is only half the story. For those organizations who want to survive and thrive in the long term sustaining success is the name of the game. Many do not. As you walk through your high street or local shopping mall consider how many shops arrive in a great flurry of publicity only to be plastering the CLOSING DOWN EVERYTHING MUST GO notices on their windows a few months later. Very few of the organizations who make the top 10 most successful businesses published each year in the United States, are still within that top 10 two years later. So what is the answer? It would be naive to think that there was only one reason, but one common strand has to be that there is a lack of anticipation. In this context I am using the word as a verb, a skill which can be learned and, when it is used well, it can make an enormous difference in a department or organizations ability to succeed in the first place and over time.

To develop the anticipation muscle, it is first important to understand your current performance: what is going well and why and where there is room for improvement and development. By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and being honest about both, it is then possible to plan strategically to protect those strengths and to plug any gaps.

The ability to plan strategically is absolutely central to anticipation. These words are used widely, but often as I work with clients, it is evident that the word strategically is used loosely. For the purposes of this article I am using the following definition:

A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often "winning". It should include alternatives, fall-back strategies, and the like.

When playing a game there is a need to pass the ball not to where the other player is now but to where you think they will be by the time the ball reaches them. It requires an accurate judgment of distance, speed and a sense of what the other person will do. In market terms it requires you to anticipate what will be needed in the short and medium term future. Second guessing the market, what customers will want to buy next season, what the weather will do are all elements which can affect the market. Intuition based on solid research and a “nose” for the future trends can make the difference.

It is important to appoint staff with the future in mind. Creating capacity is crucial if you are to meet the future needs of your company. Appoint people with the right attitude, who are great team members and who have the capacity for personal growth. Offer them a supportive induction and training programme. Ensure that there are high expectations which are shared explicitly and that great performance is encouraged and recognized. Plan for succession from day one so that you reap the benefits of all the training you have put in place. Do you have a plan for your organization which looks at the future needs of staff within your company? Is their an appointment, training and development programme which encourages growth and supports promotion or do you loose staff to your competition?

It is impossible to read the future with absolute accuracy, but it is entirely possible to train your staff to be aware of the implications of taking a particular action or not, to understand the available data and being able to make reasonable judgments based on it. How often do you ask your team to create a hypothesis about the future using available data? When was the last time you encouraged junior staff to discuss what might happen if…. And come up with strategies to deal with the situation. Doing so when there is no panic or pressure and taking the time to look at the relative merits and difficulties of their suggestions does take time but can pay huge dividends as they then understand the implications of actions at a much deeper level.

How do you define your resources? I would include the use of time and energy, space, people including their ability to be creative and their good will, finances, equipment and materials at your disposal. Do you have strategic plans which facilitate the most effective and economic use of your resources? Do those plans reach out to consider what your future needs would be in a variety of potential contexts? Are you constantly evaluating the relative risks and benefits of both actively doing something or of doing nothing? Does your planning include the means for effective recovery if something goes wrong?

Having plans is a great starting point to really anticipate effectively. It is important that everyone understands the plans and the part they have to play in making the plans a reality. The plans need to be dynamic and flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of the organization and effective communication at every level ensures a shared understanding. There is a huge danger in believing that simply because you have a plan that you are safe. The plan is only the start, everyone needs to translate the plan into action and to evaluate performance in order to determine how best to modify the plan for future success. Anticipation is a planned way to ensure that we fail better in the future. The learning which takes place as things go wrong determines the level of success in the future. Those individuals or organizations who fail to learn from the early signs that something isn’t working as well as it might are likely to face insurmountable problems in the future.

One of the most powerful ways to develop the skill of anticipation is to make sure the needs of the future are part of today’s conversations. Of course, you need to focus on the needs of today but ensuring that your team constantly review their current performance and ask challenging questions are a great start.

Author's Bio: 

Gina Gardiner is one of the UK's leading Leadership Coaches.
Gina supports people at individual or organizational level to develop confidence, leadership and people skills. Gina is the author of two books “Kick Start Your Career” and “How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively and is also a Neuro Linguistic Master Practitioner and a qualified coach.
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