Blog post  Submitted by: Ray Kliewer, SPHR, HR Manager at Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies

Have you ever looked out to the horizon, see a trend and think, “What will I do if that really happens?” If the answer is yes, then you have engaged in some level of scenario planning.  Scenario planning was the topic of the Strategic Leaders Forum for February.  Mary Cook, an Organizational Development Consultant, who is well-versed in the process, provided an overview and some practical tips to help HR leaders.

So, what is scenario planning?  Scenario planning is the process of preparing for what might happen.  It differs from strategic planning, in that, strategic planning concentrates on planning the things we can see happening based on past history.  Scenario planning concentrates on things that can be a surprise.  Often times you can plan for the surprise, if you can anticipate what the surprise might be.

As an example, Cook pointed out that 20 years earlier, scenario planning identified that terrorist attacks would happen in the United States, potentially the world trade center would be a target, and perhaps an airplane would be used.  While scenario planning did not stop 9/11, it did contribute to the plans that enabled first responders to quickly react.

In the session, Cook outlined a process, rooted in military planning, for scenario planning.

  • State the issue or decision you’re wanting to make, what are you looking at?
  • Define the driving forces that may cause scenarios to occur.
  • Distinguish what you know versus the uncertainties.
  • Build a scenario matrix based on the two most critical uncertainties for the x and y axis.
  • Populate a matrix with a story.  This is where the creativity comes into the process.  You build descriptions that encompass how the uncertainties may play out, describe the impacts and ramifications of the driving forces.
  • Analyze the implications of each story.  For each part of the matrix, discuss the drivers that move you there and develop the strategic imperatives if the scenario should play out.
  • Identify the flags or indicators that may cause the scenario to play out.  Develop a plan to respond to those indicators – or, a plan for proactively influencing those indicators to occur or not to occur.

As HR leaders, we have an opportunity to use scenario planning in our roles. By identifying the commonalities and adapting talent development, filling gaps via talent acquisition as well as communicating the message of what skills are going to be important, we can ensure our organizations are adequately poised for success.

During Mary’s presentation, she shared SHRM’s 2005 Future Workplace Trends scenario planning results.  Reviewing these matrix results six years after they were written prompted attendees to share their thoughts and participate in engaging discussions during the question and answer session.  If you were unable to attend this program and have any questions or need assistance on scenario planning, please contact Mary Cook at

For the next program, the Strategic Leaders Forum invites you to attend the Economic Club of Indiana luncheon.  IndySHRM attendees are eligible to attend at the Economic Club of Indiana member rate and will have an opportunity to listen to Gary Becker, a pioneering economist and Noble Prize winner, speak about The Slow Recovery and Long Run Challenges to the American Economy. The event will be held on Wednesday, April 20 from 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center.  If you have never attended an Economic Club of Indiana meeting, this is a great opportunity to gather with influential business leaders and decision-makers while listening to a special presentation

Watch for future IndySHRM information to register for this event!

If you are interested in writing a program synopsis for the Consultants Forum, please contact Laura Kragness, SPHR at