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Set Preferred Outcomes and Backcast: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning

This is the last article in a series of eight blog posts that focus on Strategic Workforce Planning, with blog post 1 providing an overview of all seven steps.

Our focus this week is setting preferred outcomes and backcasting from those options.

Begin by going back to Step 7: Develop Alternative Scenarios. You want to look back at the 4 x 4 chart you created, which includes four different scenarios and the accompanying narratives for each. Again, as in Step 7, you’ll want to tap into the insights and the ideas of your stakeholders from across the organization.

Ask your stakeholders to work their way backward (“backcast”) from your future envisioned possibilities to today.

Backcasting is a forecasting method first described by John B. Robinson from the University of Waterloo in 1990. It’s used by futurists and strategic planners alike across many fields. For instance, the Natural Step, a sustainable development planning framework used internationally, draws on backcasting to connect it to sustainability principles.

Have stakeholders consider a range of perspectives as they backcast, among them:

  • What potential events occurred that put this scenario into action, internal and external?

  • What market dynamics are in place along the way?

  • What possible changes to laws and regulations perhaps had a role in creating this future state?

  • What changes in technology might have led to this future state?

If you’ve been reading this blog series, I hope you notice the presence of STEEP in several of these questions. STEEP is the acronym for Social, Technical, Economic, Environmental, and Political trends (see Step 3: Look for Hidden Patterns for more details).

Perhaps most notably, you want to backcast considering positive and negative options. For example, you might want to consider for a shorter-term scenario the implications of the Biden infrastructure bill on your organization’s ongoing operations. How might the bill benefit your organization if it becomes law? How might it be a drawback?

The idea here is to be prepared to address those twists and turns. The point is, as my colleague and fellow futurist Jim Burke notes, to “avoid being surprised.”

The Natural Step uses a four-step approach called A-B-C-D for backcasting:

A: Awareness and Visioning

B: Baseline Mapping

C: Creative Solutions

D: Decide on Priorities

Next, score the elements you’ve backcasted for each scenario on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “highly unlikely” to 10 being “highly likely.” Ask your risk management shop to also do an analysis of the level of risk associated with each of the scenarios and its elements.

What programs, systems, and processes do you need to have in place or at least waiting in the wings if one or more elements of these scenarios start to advance?

Most notably, from a workforce development perspective, your Chief Human Resources Officer and the Human Resources team will want to think about questions such as:

  • What implications might each of the scenarios have for the people in your organization?

  • How will these scenarios affect recruitment, retention, and/or attrition?

  • How might you control for possibly adverse workforce impacts that also might affect your bottom line?

  • What strategic initiatives can you put in place to proactively offset possible negative impacts from some of the factors you’ve identified through the backcasting process?

The goal of this seventh step is to take action based on the gap between a present and the desired future for your organization.

The final component of the Green Strategic Workforce Planning process is to again consider, post-scenario creation, what is the desired future for your organization?

This is the strategic plan that your Board of Directors and senior management are charged with implementing. Both the ideas and scenarios you discover and discuss throughout this process can be valuable for further honing your organization’s short- and longer-term strategic plan.

A few questions to ponder:

  • How do you continue driving the organization toward its desired future?

  • What ways can you avoid being temporarily or permanently derailed by the internal and external factors or risks you’ve identified throughout the Green Strategic Workforce Planning process?

ICYMI...Strategic Workforce Planning Series: -7 Steps for “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Frame Your Project: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Broaden Your Aperture: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Looking for Patterns: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Expand Your Aperture Further: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Speed and Trajectory: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning -Developing Alternative Scenarios: “Green” Strategic Workforce Planning

Can we help with building the skills you need to advance greener outcomes?

Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, PhD, CPCC, ACC, at or via phone or text at (703) 623-4811 to discuss if our Green Career, Executive/Leadership Coaching, Strategic Workforce Planning, Small Group Mentoring, Stakeholder Engagement, or Learning & Development services are right for you.

We work with professionals and organizations that have a sustainability focus. All services are customized to your needs.

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