Research shows that there are various influences that shape our behaviors and actions. Such influences make the environment in which our daily thoughts and behaviors occur (let’s call this the “small” picture). In addition, on a greater scale, such influences shape the organizations we lead or are a part of (we can refer to this as the “big(ger) picture”). How can we create a perspective on the bigger picture AND the smaller picture so that we can lead ourselves and others?
Environmental scanning (i.e., creating a series of overview documents that outlined both internal and external trends shaping the future of a geographical region from an educational or other perspective (such as organizational psychology) or is one type of research procedure commonly used in the field of Organizational Psychology and Human Resources Management. Environmental scans are commonly used for, e.g., workforce planning, “student/customer centric” strategic planning, and accreditation related initiatives (see, e.g., the Research and Planning distribution of State General Fund Revenue, appropriated for Community College Districts). Environmental scanning is the method to create a perspective on the bigger and the smaller picture at the same time.
Environmental scanning systematically gathers information about the economy, government, laws and demographic factors such as population size and distribution. We learned specifically how the national, State, and local influences that we explored during the Environmental Scan:
(1) Social and (2) demographic trends;
(3) The economy, (4) public policies and grant opportunities;
(5) Technological change.
The above influences shape today’s workforce. After the data is collected, the final step is to analyze the data and derive so called Planning Assumptions. These Planning Assumptions serve for program planning and program initiatives such as Incubators, Change Management, Program Evaluation and other forms of evidence based initiatives. Environmental scans can be made available for collaborative purposes, if so desired.
How To Turn Environmental Scans Into Organizational Initiatives
Planning Assumptions are the basis of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive) goals and strategies to accomplish such goals. Goals and strategies are most impacting if they are linked to the organization’s Resource Allocation.
Strategies and goals should be customized to accomplish the organization’s vision, mission, and values. In other words, the strength of Environmental Scanning based initiatives is that strategies can bring about what the organization is all about, while taking into account the “bigger picture” and “small picture” influences (instead of being underprepared to navigate the complex challenges that today’s organizations face daily).
In 2006-2007 I conducted an Environmental Scan as a lead researcher for a Community College and I am very grateful to have received the College’s Administrator Award for Excellence for the Environmental Scanning and subsequent initiatives. In 2017 I proposed a collaborative faculty/student research project with Vanguard University’s Master’s of Organizational Psychology (MSOP) students to conduct an Environmental Scan to train Vanguard University’s Masters of Organizational Psychology students in this line of research.
This project was developed to serve the needs of a diverse population of current and future MSOP students: (1) To create a realistic snapshot of the aforementioned trends; (2) To create tools and initiatives that serve today’s workforce affected by rapid change; and (3) To equip MSOP students for exemplary service as researchers and practitioners.
Interested in what we found? Access the 2018 Environmental Scan Report here.
The Environmental Scan Research Project Report is divided in two parts. First, the reader will see a summary overview of each of the aforementioned research areas. Second, the reader will learn about the special terminology commonly used in Environmental Scan research as it relates to subsequent research based initiatives and strategic planning that is based on so called planning assumptions. The reader will see examples of such planning assumptions derived for the MSOP program.
The examples may illustrate the possible applications of the research to organizational development. They do not indicate any current areas of growth and development that need to be addressed. They simply provide an example that researchers and practitioners alike may use to derive evidence based organizational tools and initiatives: the reader is guided through the example of how results of the environmental scan can lead to planning assumptions, which can be linked to an organization or program’s vision, mission, and goals. Goals, in turn, are made achievable through strategies. Strategies are linked to resource allocation.
The researchers would like to acknowledge generous funding provided by Vanguard University’s Gary L. Taylor Fund for the Environmental Scan Research Project and partial funding by The Leadership Practice Inc.
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