Future Search in Business

Future Search has helped many businesses overcome tough challenges and achieve new levels of performance by bringing people together to build a common framework that supports shared agreements on action. Future Search can do this no matter how different participants’ roles, status, areas of expertise, or opinions.  Future Search builds ownership and self-motivation. It can help you create the learning organization you will be proud of.  Because Future Search engages and motivates a large number of people, it supports fast change. Future Search unleashes the energy of your organization, aligning actions to desired results.

One Example: 

IKEA had decided to overhaul its “pipeline,” the flow of products from the drawing boards in Almhult, Sweden to its far-flung factories, assembly and distribution points, stores, and ultimately customers in dozens of countries. With 11 major product lines, 140 stores, manufacturing facilities around the world, and thousands of staff involved in tracking and managing the system; this was a daunting task.

Executives at IKEA had attended Future Search workshops, and observed that the Future Search principles supported their corporate values. They would guarantee the right people in the room for whatever time was needed. Together we adapted the Future Search method to a single product, the “Ektorp” sofa, to re-imagine its journey from design center to customer. This would be the prototype for all product lines.

52 stakeholders including suppliers from Poland, Mexico and China, executives starting with the company president and top staff and line people from Sweden, Canada, the U.S. and other countries, and several Ektorp customers from Hamburg, Germany (site of the meeting), came together for three days. Many had never met before. Nonetheless, they described the existing system, documented required changes, proposed a variety of new systems, agreed on common specs for a new design, created an implementation plan and got buy-in from all relevant levels and functions—design, production, distribution, information technology, retailing, and customers.

The plan was made, validated at the top, and launched with multi-level task forces in 18 hours of work. Within a month, seven task forces were at work around the world, redoing every aspect of the system. The main coordination and control mechanism? A regular conference call buttressed by emails. Having all in touch with one another enabled a degree of self-organizing not previously seen.

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How Future Search Can Help Your Business Face Challenges Effectively:

In many meetings we spend 80% of our time focused on the 20% of the things we disagree about. Discover common ground and increase business performance through Future Search.

Business leaders everywhere are wrestling with tough questions. Explore how Future Search can help you meet these challenges with quick, effective and lasting results:

  • How do we respond to fundamental changes in local or global markets?
  • How do we build an organization fully committed to achieving critical goals while avoiding burn out?
  • How do we integrate new suppliers?  Subsidiaries?  Make ourselves more productive?
  • How do we build environmentally sound business practices, attract investors and build partnerships with local communities?

Some of the ways Future Search has been used to help businesses:

  • Addressing a specific aspect of business performance
  • Integrating cultures following a merger of any size
  • Addressing quality, safety and productivity issues
  • Restructuring or redesigning a product line or the entire company
  • Revitalizing competitive potential
  • Enacting a vision for global customer service
  • Improving workplace learning and performance
  • Focusing together on a critical issue
  • Strengthening your business’s culture and values
  • Turning around performance and increasing productivity
  • Resolving Union/Management issues
  • Planning and managing organizational growth
  • Designing or implementing a new production line


» Reinventing the Community Bookstore
Booksellers, publishers, authors, and members of the Kepler’s Books community from across the country gathered in Palo Alto to participate in a Future Search project on Reinventing the Community Bookstore in general and Kepler’s Books in particular.  “The overriding goal of Future Search was to expand the circle of committed and engaged stakeholders who are going to work with Kepler’s and other community bookstores to build a better and sustainable business model,” said Mr. Madan, who described the event as a success.

» Education Curriculum Organisation in the UK
AQA, the largest curriculum organisation in the UK, preparing and marking exams and courses for 1.5 million students each year, turned to Future Search for a new conversation and a different way of working. The biggest surprise to the participants of the Future Search was how open and honest they were once they understood that they all were toward a common goal. They aligned their ambitions and took action that they hadn’t done in years.

» Fishing Industry Summit for Health (FISH) Future Search
To create a shared vision, commitment, and action plan to improve the commercial fishing communities, New England Fishermen faced the challenges to their physical, psychological, behavioral and financial health. One of the frontline agencies, the Fishing Partnership Support Services convened the Future Search.  In that meeting, diverse stakeholders created a strategic plan that included the perspectives of the fishermen and their families for the first time.

Canadian Global Asset Management Company
In Montreal, Quebec Canada, a leading Canadian global asset management company used Future Search as part of a strategic planning process. The goal was to develop and reach consensus on a new vision, following a change in ownership.  The process brought together senior and middle management, all functional and operational departments, clients, suppliers, and advisers. This was an innovation for this company which was used to more traditional top down planning and development.  It grew out of a contract to implement a traditional strategic planning process.  With the help of the consultant, the process moved from “telling” approach to a collaborative approach.  Once this shift was made, there was broad support for the process throughout the organization and enthusiasm for implementing the results.  Following the Future Search, all employees participated in work sessions with senior management and members of the planning team. A new culture and a new style of leadership are now emerging in the company.

» Functional Assessment in Job Injuries in Southern Ontario Province, Canada
A Future Search was held to look at how functional assessment of injured workers is done in Southern Ontario Province in Canada. The stakeholders included injured workers, health care representatives, assessment providers, labour groups, employers and the Workplace Safety Insurance Board.  The theme of the conference was “Functional Assessment: A Time for Consensus, A Time for Change.”

Telecommunication Company, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Internal and external partners of a telecommunication company, with product penetration in 85 countries and speaking 14 different languages, got together to create a new vision. As a result, their shared decisions are transforming this organization from product driven to market driven, from costs to quality, from hierarchy centered to decentralized decision making. A participating client made a commitment to a real business partnership by saying, “we will share our market intelligence with you.”

Multi-national Specialty Chemicals, Washington DC, USA
Having split into two companies and reorganized to meet changing market conditions, this company used Future Search to help the newly formed, world-wide Human Resource function develop a new vision for their role. Human Resources plus their customers, a cross section of employees and managers from various divisions around the world, set a common agenda for the future

American Society of Training and Development (ASTD)
Members from across United States, Caribbean, Europe and Asia met in Orlando, Florida on the future of workplace learning and performance. Conference outcomes include a book on the future of the HRD profession and an on-line knowledge management system. The theme of the conference was:  “Collaboration in a Virtual Team Environment: A Case Study in Planning the ASTD/AHRD 2001 Future Search Conference ”

Law Firm, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA
Experiencing considerable growth, the key issue for this law firm was the tension between expanding and maintaining a strong collegial culture. One outcome of the Future Search was unanimity on a specific approach to growth for central and branch offices. This was significant accomplishment because the partners were unable to agree on a coherent strategy prior to the Future Search. Future Search principles were used in successive planning meetings, unusual for law firms, as you can imagine.

Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association. Chicago, IL, USA
This is the group within the ABA that focuses on how law firms manage their practices. They created a future for the management section and their stakeholders that included fresh ideas on how to stay relevant and close to their client base.

High-Tech Medical Equipment Manufacturer, New York, USA
Using Future Search to address major quality, safety and productivity problems, everyone in the plant, including engineers, permanent and contract workers and corporate executives achieved a common vision of how the workplace should operate. Over the next year, follow-up activities led to dramatic improvements in quality and workplace safety, along with redesigned production lines and warehouse areas.

Penn Ventilator Corp., Philadelphia, PA, USA
“The Future of Non-Residential Ventilation Systems”, sponsored by Penn Ventilator. PVC brought together customers, suppliers, consultant engineers & systems designers and a cross section of the organization. The unique nature of this Future Search was that the client explored the future of the sector and also invited competitors to the meeting. Together they came to understand the nature of the sector and the environmental impacts on their businesses in a profound way. One major outcome for Pen Ventilator was decentralizing to create flexibility in the organization and responsiveness to customers.

» “A Vision for Whole Foods Markets” – John Mackey, CEO
In a recent edition of the Whole Foods monthly newsletter, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market was asked the following question: “Where do you see the natural foods industry and Whole Foods in the next 10 years?”, John answered…”Every five years, Whole Foods Market goes through a process called “Future Search” where we bring together representatives of our various stakeholder groups – including customers, team members, investors, vendors and our Board of Directors – to help us collectively envision the future. In October of 2003, we held our fourth Future Search Event and collectively developed some very powerful goals and aspirations. Three specifically stand out: global expansion, Animal Compassionate Standards, and the creation of Whole Foods Market University – an opportunity to upgrade the training and information available to our Team Members and customers”.