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Describe the Future Strategy Tool

This post is part of the Ordinary Leadership Toolkit.

What is this leadership tool useful for?

You can use the "describe the future" tool when you are in a strategy or planning process and are getting bogged down in the details.

The tool can help you build consensus on the key steps to implement your strategy. It can help to test out the actions you are currently proposing to see if they align with achieving your objective. Often, it challenges your thinking on strategy and helps to highlight where you might be stuck, focusing on ideas and actions that no longer serve to deliver your strategy.

# What's the main idea?

You can frame this tool in many different ways; the key is to get people to describe a positive future (3-5 years away) and the actions that they took to get there. By doing this, you are shifting the group's thinking from what they are currently doing - some of which might need to change - to a future where they have solved these challenges and asking them to describe how they did it.

The concept comes from solution-focused therapy, which has its origins in the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Centre. The idea is to focus individuals on the future and find solutions to the challenges facing them rather than looking back into the past. Executive Coaching and Facilitation have picked up on these themes, developing the OSKAR Model (Outcome, Scaling, Know-How, Action, Review) as a tool for solution-focused coaching (Passmore and Sinclair, 2020). One of the foundational questions in this coaching mode is Erickson's Crystal Ball. The coach asks: "If you have a crystal ball and looked into the future, explain how what has happened has come about?" It is this future-focused type of question that informs the framework.

How do you apply this leadership tool?

I like this tool because it is straightforward. You ask three questions.

Three steps for applying the describe the future leadership tool

Question 1: What does success look like?

This tool works best when you base the initial question on the organisation's context. You and your team might have had your story told in a well-regarded newspaper or magazine. It might be more practical than that, for example, that you have secured sustainable funding and are recognised as an important actor in your sector. Or, as HBR suggest, you ask people to imagine they are just entering their industry for the first time and how they would engage or compete. The key is to get people to think about a successful outcome without all the burdens of previous decisions.

If the team you are working with is struggling with this question, you can probe by asking questions along the lines of "Fundamentally, what would be different if you managed to solve all your problems?"

Question 2: What actions did you take to achieve success?

This question is about describing what happened. It's about telling the story of how the team achieved their success. You might find that you need to keep reminding the group to focus on the future outcome and describe what they did to achieve the outcome.

Some reframing may be necessary around these questions, especially if you have someone who sees all the challenges. In these circumstances, positive reframing can be helpful. For example: "It's great you can see the challenges; tell me about some opportunities?"

Depending on the team, sometimes it's very helpful to get practical with your questions. For example, ask: "What products, activities, solutions and services would you create?" or " How would you simplify the customer offering to create the highest value?"

Question 3: What are the first signs that you are making progress?

This is the final question. The focus here is on identifying more immediate actions and indicators that the team is on track. With this question, you are bringing the focus to the more immediate and asking the team to think about what would tell them they are progressing towards their vision.

You can follow this up with more action-oriented questions, for example, "What did you do to make progress in this area?" Or "What do you need to do to achieve that objective?"

With some teams, if they have bought into the process, you can ask them, "what have they stopped doing or need to stop doing to make progress?"


Passmore, J. and Sinclair, T., 2020. _Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide_ [Online]. Cham: Springer International Publishing. Available from: []( [Accessed 25 October 2023].


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