Mastering the Trends Outline

I was twelve hours into a planning retreat when the facilitator popped the SWOT grid onto the screen.  Three people groaned out loud; one actually banged their head on the table.  Not one to take a hint, the facilitator dragged us through another two hours, brainstorming a rambling list which gave use zero focus.

So I went back through other SWOT rambles and saw two things:  one, we could deal with internal issues (strengths and weakness) separately and, two, there were six common types of external trends (opportunities and threats).   Knowing those six will give you focus:

  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Technology
  4. Regulations
  5. Macroeconomic
  6. Competitors

The Center’s Milwaukee Workgroup—who come from very different sectors—started a general list of management trends (scroll to bottom), but you should do these three things:

  • Brainstorm your own list
  • Group the related trends
  • Then pick the top two or three you’re going to react to


  • Nathan Bares
  • Bob DeVita
  • Bill Mitchell
  • Valerie Renk
  • Tim Stewart
  • Kristi Thering
  • Derrick Van Mell

Three big lessons:

  • Accelerating change means you need both shorter planning horizons and a longer view
  • Pay attention to trends that conflict, e.g., Improving collaboration tech and isolation burnout
  • Leaders must have the savvy and courage to respond now to good and bad trends

One more big idea:  Get a volunteer in your organization to be your “futurist” for the year.  A great role for a new employee.  They’ll help generate the new, new ideas and dodge risks.


CUSTOMER (demographics, behaviors)

  • Need for more flexible pricing (e.g., Tesla)
  • Changing shopping habits (i.e., digital marketing)
  • Customer service and service delivery online—in part
  • More online learning

EMPLOYEES (demographics, behaviors)

  • Engagement will be the biggest challenge (see footer)
  • Need to support emotional well-being
  • Stress and burnout (also limits time to learn and develop)
  • Great Resignation; people asking existential questions
  • Increasing pay and benefits
  • More employees being pirated.  Daily pressure
  • Much stronger need for employee engagement
  • Retirements reducing volunteer pool
  • Different ways to access and develop talent
  • Get talent from overseas
  • Uncertainty about how many can work remotely
  • Uncertainty about the physical work environment
  • Needs for development vs. time for development:  skills will be outdated several times in a career
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Increasing unionization

REGULATIONS (local, state, federal, global)

  • Rate of regulatory changes is increasing
  • Need to stay current about changing regulation
  • Increased need for government market support

TECHNOLOGY (communication, production, managerial)

  • More automation in many sectors
  • Improving collaboration tools
  • More e-commerce
  • AI everywhere and in everything
  • Internet evolution
  • Online learning

MACROECONOMICS (inflation, cost of capital, foreign trade)

  • Supply chain delays and limitations continuing
  • Need to buy locally or within one’s nation
  • Increasing costs of materials and services
  • Very expensive construction costs
  • Inflation increasing
  • Recession likely
  • Opportunity for US growth in critical goods (e.g., chips)
  • $1T on infrastructure spending
  • Increased role for government in social services (grants)

COMPETITORS (industry concentration, innovations, new entrants)

  • Weak businesses closing or sold
  • Concentration among competitors
  • Now competing globally and with many sizes
  • More affiliations for core services and components