How might you leverage “prospection” to improve your business?

In researching ideas for our monthly e-newsletter, my Business Development Manager came across the book Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection – Now and an Uncertain Future, by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman. While you might not recognize the name of the first author, the second author may be familiar – Dr. Seligman is a long-time professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of its Positive Psychology Center, and is widely known for his best-selling books, Flourish and Authentic Happiness.

Tomorrowmind focuses on five key skills the authors believe are needed to do well in today's workplace, which they term PRISM, and described by Dr. Kellerman in a blog post:

  • Prospection – The uniquely human ability to imagine and plan for disparate futures, so that we are in a greater state of empowerment and readiness for whatever is to come.
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from change unharmed – or, better yet, growing stronger through adversity.
  • Innovation and Creativity – The ability to generate novel, surprising, and useful solutions to problems. We can cultivate this ability at all levels.
  • Social Support, by way of Rapid Rapport – The ability to build trust quickly across interpersonal differences and geographic distance, with both customers and colleagues.
  • Mattering and Meaning – The motivation to fuel the work of navigating each successive chapter of change.

Let's focus on the first of these five skills, Prospection.


I found the “Prospection” chapter hard to follow (because the book did not use the principles of effective content layout described in my e-newsletter, How to “Read” a Business Book), so I boiled it down to “Todd-speak” as follows:

  • The authors define Prospection as the “mental process of projecting and evaluating future possibilities, and then using these projections to guide thought and action.” Prospection can be broken down into two phases.
  • Phase One is where you (my term) Envision the Future. It's like daydreaming and is fun, fast, optimistic, and exploratory. Questions that come to mind in this phase are:
    • What do I want the future to be?
    • What hopeful outcome might lie ahead?
    This phase, by nature, deals with ambiguities, so it causes stress for some people.
  • Phase Two is where you (my term, too) Plan the Route. Planning is a priority, so this phase is slower, more realistic, more deliberative, and – at times – pessimistic. The main question that comes to mind in this phase is:
    • How will I get there?
    This phase is overwhelming for some people because it requires detail-oriented thinking.

For some tips on performing better in both phases, please check out our 4-minute video, Building Your Prospection Muscle.

While I didn't initially like the term “Prospection,” it grew on me once I realized it comprised the second and third phases of every consulting process:

  • Phase 1 – Know the Present – Understand the “Current State.”
  • Phase 2 – Envision the Future – Describe the “Future State.”
  • Phase 3 – Plan the Route – Identify the gaps between “Current State” and “Future State” and then recommend actions to close them.

Shortly before learning of Tomorrowmind, I had looked back at an assessment project we did several years ago to see where things currently stood. Here's what I found.

Assessment and Implementation

In 2021, we began working with a client who knew they had a mess on their hands, and needed someone from outside the company to both validate their assumption and develop recommendations to overhaul their accounting function. At the end of the assessment project, we delivered a report with an important diagram – boxes showed key processes and technologies for both the current and future states, and symbols identified which would be eliminated or added by initiatives already in process or by a new accounting system.

As part of our assessment work, we estimated how much time each of the 10 persons then in the department worked on key tasks. Once we had a clear picture of the current state, we then estimated how much employee time would be required to achieve the same – or better – results in the future. Between the operations system replacement already in progress, a new accounting system, and a technology-enabled cash receipts process, we estimated that 3 FTE's (Full-Time Equivalents) worth of work – or about 6,200 hours annually – could be eliminated.

We were then retained for the selection and implementation of the accounting system. Following this, we were asked to extend our work to deliver additional process improvements and technology usage.

How do things stand today, three years later? There are now 8 persons instead of 10 in the department, and they are producing results more quickly and with dramatically fewer mistakes than in 2021. The group's workload decreased because:

  • Two different systems to manage their operations – neither of which was well-suited to our client – were replaced by one operations system with expanded functionality that matched most of our client's needs, eliminating a lot of manual work.
  • The new accounting system provided numerous tools to both streamline and error-proof routine transactions. Furthermore, it also automatically records the inter-company effects of every cross-company transaction, eliminating the time-consuming and error-prone manual method used previously.
  • Additional improvements included process-related items, such as a SharePoint-enabled Excel sheet with a first-ever detailed (over 90 steps!) month-end closing process, and technology-enabled improvements, such as a simple web-based application to automatically match virtually all small-dollar cash receipts reported by the payment processor with the originating transactions in the new operations system.
  • Because of the three preceding improvements, errors were substantially reduced, meaning that rework time dropped, quality improved, and throughput increased. As I’ve written before, it’s impossible to reduce errors without also improving quality and throughput.

Three years ago, we estimated a workload reduction equivalent to 3 FTE's and so far we've achieved a 2 FTE reduction. We expect to see further reductions in two areas:

  • The web-based application we developed to match cash receipts between two systems was recently deployed, and is now saving 10 hours per week. That's another .25 FTE savings.
  • The new operations system has a major limitation – it currently does not automatically process refunds to customers. Thus, an accounting staff member has to determine the refund authorizations in the operations system, then use the credit card processor's system to manually enter the refund information. There is an open ticket to fix this issue and, once fixed, this staff member's workload will drop by at least 20 hours per week – and that’s a .5 FTE savings.

With an eventual total savings of at least 2.75 FTE’s, I’d say our estimated 3 FTE workload reduction was highly accurate.

How will these additional .75 FTE time savings be used? Handling new requests from the executives for information and analyses not even contemplated in 2021, thereby helping to streamline and improve other areas of the business.

Plan Your Work, and Work Your Plan

Our very accurate time savings estimates were possible because of prospection – we got down in the gory detail of the current state, clearly saw a much-improved future state, listed the tasks needed to get there, used our activity-based current state workload calculations to estimate the future state workload, and distilled all this in our final report.

As I’ve written in the past, a single full-time clerical position has compensation and benefits totaling at least $40,000 per year. (Financially, this is equivalent to paying $40,000 interest per year on an $800,000 loan with a 5% interest rate.) While process and technology improvements seem boring compared to new product offerings or buying a company, “boring” means less risk compared to a failed product launch or merger – and any CFO of a small-to-midsized business would be glad to find savings of $40,000 per year.

How can you achieve results like this client? Begin with prospection – and talk with THA. We can help you objectively envision and map out planned process and technology improvements to achieve results for your business, and then work with you to implement this plan.


Todd L. Herman