Foresight, Competition, and Strategy– Why All 3 are Important for Your Green Career Transformation

This post is the second in a series on Green trends and foresight in support of our forthcoming GreenSense Workshop: Practical Strategies for Career Pivots


How do Foresight, Competition, and Strategy provide a foundation for Green Career transformation?


What ways can we tap into these elements using Porter’s Five Forces framework?


Summary:

  • The three elements of Foresight, Competition, and Strategy underpin Porter’s Five Forces framework

  • Both macro- and microeconomic trends and conditions point us towards possible scenarios and options for a Green career

  • Porter’s framework is directly applicable for individuals who are seeking sustainability careers


Discussion:

In Jim Burke’s recent blog post, he defined foresight and the value that it can provide to us. In short, foresight is about protecting against surprises by contemplating a range of possible and plausible stories about the future. With that understanding, we then are invited to take action today. This series is intending to support people who are taking a transformational approach to career planning and worklife success.


From a career perspective, for example, we all can appreciate the value of ongoing, fulfilling employment in the sustainability field and we then plan how we can take action to meet that established goal.


This post builds on Jim’s article by bringing in elements of Strategy and Competition and looking at ways to act on those insights. Together with Foresight, these components underpin what’s known as Porter’s Five Forces.


Described by Michael Porter in a famous 1979 Harvard Business Review article, it’s a powerful framework that planners continue to use to understand the relationship between competitive forces, and how economic and technology forces are divided among market participants. Strategy is an output – rather than a force of its own – in this framework, and it is then converted into one’s Competitive Advantage (the title of a subsequent book by Porter in 1985).


Porter’s Five Forces, 1979

Source: Harvard University Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, https://www.isc.hbs.edu/strategy/business-strategy/Pages/the-five-forces.aspx


What’s particularly notable from a green career perspective is that we are observing how Porter’s framework applies to companies and individuals. We propose that examples for Porter’s Five Forces would look like this (the boxes offer illustrations of the competitive force and the circles show the specific forces):



Foresight: Foresight can help us use trends to anticipate possible scenarios and options for our careers, allowing us to make better, more flexible, choices in service to the kinds of job outcomes we want. And in instances where things don’t go exactly as we plan or expect (i.e., reality), being aware of a range of plausible scenarios and supporting trends and forces can give us a firmer and more resilient foundation for taking action to act in our best interests.


There are several kinds of foresight data that can be useful to us. Many fall into macroeconomic categories. Longer-term investments in the stock market, for example, can point to trends. The recent growth in stakeholder and ESG investing (Environmental-Social-Governance) is a trend that is motivated by more serious involvement in sustainability. Some data sets are geographically specific, such as regional or local demographics and employment. These are useful to consider in light of their effects on one or more of the Porter forces.


Microeconomic trends, by comparison, can reflect the decisions by individuals that can grow into macrotrends. Small increases in U.S. national park visitorship a decade ago would be characterized as a microeconomic trend and would contribute to a macrotrend of growing interest in recreation experiences. A trend that emerged decades ago was the co-op markets that sold organic and locally produced food. That grew into supermarket chains replicating the experience and local growers competing in a growth of weekend Farmers’ Markets.


Futurists often consider six aspects of trends in categories of Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political and Ethical (STEEPE). What is changing? Staying the same? Going up? Down? Cycling? Paying attention to both the pace and direction of advances in each of these areas and how rapidly changes are occurring is essential for forecasting future business and employment opportunities or threats.


Competition: Take another look at the diagram for Porter’s Five Forces, and you’ll see that there are a number of competitive forces at play for companies and individuals. Direct rivals may charge less or provide better quality products or services. They might have an edge in terms of technical know-how, or their team may possess greater experience or expertise. They may be able to bargain for better pricing in order to land work. At the same time, new entrants are consistently joining the market and these firms and individuals may have competitive advantages as compared to you.

The same is true for you in your job search. Specifically, your competition consists of:

  • Direct Rivals: Other people who’ve applied and/or who are being interviewed

  • Vendors or Subcontractors: People who may be known to the employer, who have an established relationship with them and could provide services that eliminate a need for a new hire

  • New Entrants: New graduates and junior level staff members, who might be willing to take lesser pay in exchange for a growth opportunity

  • Existing Team Members: People employed in the same organization who might take a lateral move into the role, or be promoted into it

Strategy: Strategy in terms of Porter’s Five Forces is oriented towards competition – how we differentiate ourselves, as compared to other offerors in the marketplace, and how we can deliver superior performance. From a career perspective, it means establishing a clear, positive distinction between what we can provide a hiring organization as compared to all other applicants.


One of the downfalls we often encounter when we consider strategy is that of Best vs. Unique, Joan Magretta notes in her book, “What is Strategy? An Illustrated Guide to Michael Porter” (with illustrations by Emile Homewood).


There really is no “Best” way to compete, since different organizations will have different needs. It’s better if we focus on those elements that make us Unique. The question here from a career perspective is, “How can I add value in a unique way that positively distinguishes me from other candidates?”


What makes strategy challenging from a career perspective is that there is a high degree of opacity in the candidate pool for the job seeker. Unlike companies, which conduct a robust amount of competitor research and analysis on an ongoing basis, you likely will not know comparably as much about other applicants for a position.


But you can use foresight to help you get a sense of how you might stack up in terms of industry conditions or trends, and what you can do to further differentiate yourself.


What do these three elements mean for you? Your strategy needs to bear in mind all three elements of Foresight, Competition, and Strategy as you consider and craft the value that you bring to the table for a potential employer.


Questions:

  • What do you know about the macro- and microeconomic trends in your industry? In your functional area of expertise and experience?

  • How can you gather information about what employers place high value on in terms of skills, experience, expertise, and education/certifications?

  • What can you learn about competition in your chosen part of the Green industry, and about other players in the field in order to establish and build your Unique Value over time?

  • How can you take the answers and create a unique picture of who you are and what you have to offer?



Can we help with building and sustaining the skills you or your team need to advance professionally? Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, PhD, CPCC, ACC, at beth@waterfordinc.com or via phone or text at 703-623-4811 to discuss if our Green Career, Executive/Leadership Coaching, Small Group Coaching and Mentoring, or Learning & Development services are right for you. We work with professionals and organizations that have a sustainability focus in their work. All services are customized to your needs.

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