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How to start at the end: Backcasting your people strategy as a high-growth business

Lack of human-centred systems and processes, disengaged or burned-out employees, and non-existent company culture: these are all common problems of high-growth businesses, and some reasons for high turnover, unproductive quarters, and missed targets. Even worse, business failure.

Your people are fundamental to your business's growth, and without a clear people strategy, you're bound to reactively install quick fixes to keep up the momentum, which then requires another quick fix and another…

How do you effectively strategise for your people? Start at the end goal with backcasting.

What is the difference between forecasting and backcasting?


Strategic forecasting is the use of historical data, past information, and other known factors to make predictions about demand, growth and revenue. Forecasts are often dependent on current trends.

Using forecasting as a method for people strategy may result in a recruitment roadmap for the next 12 months based on your company’s expected growth and demand.

Here’s how that could go wrong: you’ve got unprecedented demand for account managers because of client growth, which bumps up their priority for recruitment or adds additional hires to the list. This leaves supportive office, administrative, and process-driven roles lower on the list as later hires. Without a process in the background, fast growth can quickly get messy, and without a solid foundation, things can crumble quickly.


Strategic backcasting is a method of planning the actions necessary to reach future goals. It starts by identifying an ambitious end goal and looking backwards to assess which steps will be required to achieve it.

Backcasting can inspire imaginative and ambitious goals. It’s long-term focused and can help plan not only your people, culture, and hiring strategies, but can help your business make informed decisions based on your end goals.

Think of your big ambitious goal as a destination. You put the destination into your maps app - your app determines what obstacles could be in the way, where there’s traffic and congestion, and determines the number of routes based on efficiency and timing, and spits out an optimal route. That’s backcasting.

Backcasting in action:

When is the appropriate time to backcast? As soon as a future goal has been identified, no matter how big, ambitious, hairy or vague it is. Starting at the end allows you to assess future problems and challenges along the way, this means you’re proactively finding problems before they find you. This is especially important when it comes to your people strategy.

Let’s say you plan to be an international business with multiple cross-functional teams worldwide, how does that affect your hierarchy? What is your organisational structure to ensure your business is performing optimally? How do you hire to those ambitions now as a small startup out of New Zealand? It doesn’t mean you’re hiring a 100-person team out of the gate, but you will identify what that team could potentially look like, and maybe your next hire is leading that team 5 years down the line.

Will backcasting solve all the problems?

No. Startups, scale-ups, and high-growth businesses are always changing, innovating, and pivoting. While backcasting gives you an end goal to aim for, it cannot predict the future. It can provide a north star and something to help guide decision-making.

Written by Sam Piane
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