A Search Conference is a structured participatory process where groups of concerned and active individuals scan through turbulent environments for:
The process emphasizes collaborative, experiential learning and community planning - 'jigsaw' puzzle solving. This is achieved through the interaction of the participants who, drawn from a relevant domain, identify, evaluate, and adapt to trends in their environment. The process allows for the creation of shared visions and initiates the deployment of those visions by creating self-managing teams responsible for working the specifics of how to make the plan happen.
In a search twenty to fifty people puzzle through confusion, uncertainty and mixed signals from the environment to identify a set of key business drivers/strategic initiatives. Self selected implementation teams form around each strategic initiative (three to seven in total) and plan how they will overcome obstacles and involve other organization members to achieve the plan.
Cooperation requires processes for managing conflict - When people sort out what is agreed to/not agreed to - and then integrate their work across groups they become one community that will now be able to cooperate to bring those plans into action.
They are empowered - Those responsible for different aspects of the business plan for and have the necessary authority to implement those plans.
They are actively adaptive - People experience that success comes from sensing trends and initiating change by exploring all possibilities since the achievement of specific endpoints is uncertain.
Discontinuities are to be expected and searched for - The environment (industry and global) can shift and change at any moment.
Constant vigilance is necessary - Assumptions of how to be successful in our business must be continuously surfaced, updated and built into our internal systems to conform with the external reality.
When an organization is not aligned with or ignores it's environment unhappy customers, decreased productivity, quality and commitment to work along with apathy and cynicism can result.
Microsoft - Microsoft used the method to facilitate new product development conducting four back to back Search Conference's which culminated in a meeting for integrating ideas, strategies and action plans. This resulted in a comprehensive strategy for each of the product lines within the division.
Exxon Chemical - Exxon sponsored a Search Conference on the future of customer-supplier relationships in the tire industry in 2010 - inviting their major customer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, to participate in creating a strategic partnership.
Hewlett Packard -One plant used the Search to organize work so the people would be able to see themselves as owners. In another HP facility people were at the door of failure, the plant might be shut down. The SC was used to bring people together, to make hard choices for survival which entailed dropping four product lines and the jobs associated with them in order to secure a meaningful future for the business.
Ford Electronics -A Canadian facility conducted a search in 1982 to determine how to survive in their marketplace. The result was a mindset shift. Rather than making parts for Ford they determined to become a learning lab for new technology and management practices that could be exported to other Ford facilities. That led to redesign of the facility, implementation of TQM, winning a prestigious quality award and expansion of the plant from 900 to 1800 people.
Levi Strauss - Levi Strauss in Canada was recently featured on CNBC for their innovative management practices. Eight years ago they outlined the future they now have in place in a Search Conference. The critical shift in mindset was to form a parnership with the union and go forward together to create the future.
Automatic Data Processing -One division confronted major changes in it's business environment. It used a search to reposition itself and rewrite the business strategy. Action plans formed around a new marketing focus, a redefinition of pricing and support, a commitment to new product development, together with training and implementation of productivity tools.
Xerox -A Customer Business Unit identified these key business drivers in a Search Conference: We will have fully empowered employees who are accountable and have incentives to meet their customers' requirements with the only boundary being ethical behavior. We will have an organizational design based on cross-functional work groups to increase profits by 15%, and revenue growth by 20% per year. Bottoms-up planning will be used with all employees and managers as a means for continuous learning and improvement. The CBU will be market driven and recognized as the vendor of choice. Mastery of technology tools that fully support our business needs will exist throughout the organization. Action teams are working to overcome obstacles and make these initiatives happen.