450px-Glaskugel_CrystalBallWhen we flip over the calendar, regardless of our fiscal year, we tend to look ahead – to think, to plan, to adjust our expectations. So I thought I’d look at what themes emerged from all the conversations I had last year – in conference sessions, at cocktail parties, at seminars, around boardroom tables, and online – to see what I think is ahead for 2014. What were the emerging ideas? What seems to be picking up steam? What are more people really ready to tackle? What’s starting to seem inevitable?

I’ll leave it to others to get into technological or economic predictions. Here are the broad themes I think we’re not quite finished talking about yet.

The need for a clear (and clearly communicated) sense of purpose:

Whether it’s for you personally as a leader, or for your team, this idea that you have to fundamentally understand why your business or organization exists, and its unique position in the universe, is going to remain relevant. People recognize that inertia is not good enough; drifting along is not a strategy and certainly not a mission.

Where I see this most markedly in the last year or so is in the association world, where I see many organizations seriously tackling questions of governance, which takes a great deal of political courage and political will, and which go deep to the heart of what the organization is. But in the private sector, too, this really has taken root, for the motivation of everyone.

And then this often leads directly to the next theme, which is:

Ideas without action = …?

It’s not enough to have a vision, of course; you have to take concrete steps towards achieving it. If you had governance or structural questions, and then those have been addressed, well, then what?

I’m hearing a lot about the question of how do you translate strategy into concrete operations. What actually changes?  How do you enable the whole organization to fulfill the strategy? Who’s actually going to do what? Staff, contractors, volunteers, board, partners, your brother-in-law, magical elves, who?

While it’s still critical to think about building an internal culture, now there are more and more people in the contracting environment who can take on tasks that might previously have been difficult to contract out, people with longer track records and greater ability to plug directly into your organization.

But you still have to think about…

Putting enough money where your mouth is

I’m not hearing the phrase “more with less” as much as I used to. And that’s a good thing, I think. It’s a real pity to see good ideas, systems, or products starved of adequate resources. I’m increasingly seeing people eager to talk on a practical basis about resources to put behind their good ideas – and earlier in the planning stages, where real decisions about significant trade-offs can be made.

We know we can’t do everything.  But it isn’t stopping us from moving forward.

Related to this is…

Willingness to invest in a decision – but still make one

If making a decision to pursue a strategy has resource implications, that puts pressure on the need to make good decisions about which strategy to pursue. We’re all increasingly familiar with the sources of information that should be at our fingertips for free – and the limitations of what’s readily available. And I am seeing groups increasingly comfortable exploring what’s knowable and what isn’t.

It’s not analysis paralysis. It’s more like taking a moment to turn on a light before striding boldly into a room. Understanding markets before jumping into them, buyers before making assumptions about them, technology before committing to it.

Seeking resilience

Did you have a flood, a tornado, a power outage, a forest fire, or an ice storm this year? Yeah, me too. (If you said “all of the above” I’ll definitely buy the next time we meet for coffee, because, ouch.)

I’m hearing more and more about resilience, agility, and flexibility in design and strategy, and that’s only going to increase as we keep on living through these wild times. And to bring things full circle here, if we deeply understand our core purpose, we can be more adaptable and resourceful in our tactics as conditions change.

So, when you put your ear to the ground what do you hear? What are the big questions or hot topics you think are going to come up again and again this year?

If you’d like to discuss how we can help you figure out how to make 2014 (and beyond) fantastic, or respond to any of these trends, please get in touch.


Image, by EvaK via Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons license.