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Fostering a Creative Vision Under Budget Constraints

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By LaMesha Craft
November 13, 2023

Some of us have begun to identify goals and objectives for the fiscal year. We probably developed beautifully crafted paragraphs with powerful, yet vague phrases like “agile workforce,” “workforce of the future,” “foster trust and collaboration” and “promote innovation.”

It is second nature to imagine the desired future when communicating those phrases to the workforce. So, it is imperative that we can adequately describe that environment—in a manner that is tangible. In other words, identifying specific and measurable signposts of change that indicate our movement towards those goals are equally (if not more) important than the coveted adjectives that litter performance goals and objectives.

Many of us face budget constraints and may wonder how we can invigorate our workforce to identify creative solutions. We may wonder, how do we develop a workforce of the future with limited funding or how do we gain and maintain momentum in our quest to achieve results?

Imagination Is Infinite…and Free

Imagine that you have received the results of a climate survey, you’ve completed several listening sessions to better understand where opportunities for improvement, innovation and collaboration exist, and you want to improve the workforce environment. What is your next step? How might you gauge your process and its overall impact?

When the budget is “meh” but the demands are robust, it may seem overwhelming. But this is the perfect time to use a free technique to empower the creatives within the organization to help you design the desired future. It just takes a little preparation and the utilization of an imaginative structured analytic technique (SAT) to proactively develop the road map to achieving your goals.

What Are SATs?

Structured analytic techniques (SATs) are methods to examine thought processes in a systematic and transparent manner so they can be shared, further developed and critiqued by others. These techniques have been used in academia, the private sector and in government organizations to stimulate creativity and manage uncertainty.

Ultimately, SATs are processes to evaluate and improve our thinking by challenging us to broaden the range of possible outcomes. As noted in the Tradecraft Primer, SATs range from simple concepts (e.g., structured brainstorming) to complex techniques (e.g., multiple scenarios generation).

The Technique With a Twist

If the road to the (desired) future is paved with great opportunities for change, then it’s time to identify key actions or events that must occur for the preferred future to exist.

Arguably, if you ask your colleagues “how can we improve the workplace environment?” you will get many suggestions. Knowing how to sequence events and develop specific and measurable outcomes can be challenging. However, utilizing the Indicators or Signposts of Change technique can allow the creatives of the organization to begin with the end in mind.

Generally, the Indicators or Signposts of Change technique facilitates the development and review of observable events, the examination of emerging trends and the identification of anticipated change.

Typically, the user creates a list of indicators or signposts that one would expect to see if a postulated situation is developing. To establish signposts of a preferred future, solicit your creative minds to work through the following exercise:

  1. Begin with the end in mind: Imagine the desired workforce of the future. Do not create any barriers (such as funding, personnel or resources), as these only hamper your creativity.
  2. List characteristics of this workforce environment. Begin with key words and phrases. Keep going until you can describe this workforce in detail.
  3. Now, thinking about the desired outcome, begin to identify the actions or events that must happen to move you from the present to the desired workforce of the future.
  4. Annotate the actions or events in the order they must occur on the graphic; Create more signposts as needed.

Azimuth Checks

The Indicators or Signposts of Change technique and the subsequent development of the road to the future will enable your team to regularly review and update it as changes within the workforce environment occur. Conducting occasional azimuth checks adds value for several reasons:

  • The journey: Despite the inevitable changes along the way, your team has a visual graphic to gauge progress and identify subtle shifts that may have significant impacts.
  • Buy-in: Members of this process have a stake in fulfilling the goal and a process for identifying tangible indicators of change.
  • Eye on the prize: The team has a visual representation of the process, as well as a suggested method for achieving the goal.

Incorporating this imaginative technique can empower your team to become advocates and agents of change in achieving the desired end state.

Author: LaMesha “MeMe” Craft, holds a doctorate in public policy and administration. Her research interests include adult learning, leadership and management, the impacts of disruptive technology, alternative futures and postnormal times. She may be reached at [email protected] or @DrLCraft20

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