Environmental Scanning: Determining Threats to Effect Positive Change


Think of environmental scanning as your organizational or individual radar that reaches out to help identify what is in your path looking forward, but also helps to identify what is on the periphery. The radar sweep can be focused to a small cone looking directly ahead or it can be a 360-degree sweep, it can look up and down depending on the types of radar used. The important thing to remember is to have a process that allows you to see beyond the immediate.

Another consideration is the frequency or timing of your scan, scans need to be consistent. It is through this consistency that enables you to identify those items out of the norm, or the new blips on your radar. In a time of crisis and once you have identified a target or threat, you can increase the frequency of the scan to help you track the movements of the threat to determine not only which direction it is going but what decisions you need to make in order to mitigate the threat. Andy Hines and Peter Bishop, in their book, “Thinking about the Future,” describe it this way: “Scanning is a process of looking internally and externally to identify what is on the horizon that may impact the organization relative to issues you framed in the prior step.” (Switzer, M. n.d.), Understanding what is on the horizon and how it can affect your organization allows you to take the mitigation steps necessary to ensure continued success.
One of the tools that we are familiar with is the strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. A variation of the SWOT analysis is the strength, weaknesses, unfavorable trends, and favorable trends (SWUF) analysis. While they are very similar in nature, they differ in looking at the future. This can be used to take an internal or external look at your organization.

Internal environmental scanning could include the personnel posture of your organization. Do you have the appropriate fit/fill to accomplish your mission? Are there any key positions that are vacant or will be vacant in the near future, important qualifications expiring, or skill-sets starting to atrophy from little or no use? Identifying the internal SWUF early enough allows leadership to make the appropriate decisions to mitigate what could become a problem, after all, who likes surprises at work?

External environmental scanning can include the changes in force structure on the horizon or even updates on weapons systems, changes in the detailing process or future budget considerations. The blips that show up on your radar can be unfavorable or favorable trends due to your current deployment cycle and may not need your immediate attention.

These are just some examples of the challenges or threats you face on a regular basis. The important thing to consider is: do you have a process in place that allows you and your organization to look both internally and externally to identify the important events or actions that require your attention? Not every blip on the radar needs immediate attention or any attention at all. Having a process in place allows leadership to focus on what is important and not get caught up in the white-noise of everything. The added benefit of environmental scanning is to help leadership determine priorities that best benefit the organization in meeting the mission requirement.

Determining what is important, identifying internal and external threats and opportunities lead us to expending our energies on what Stephen Covey calls the “big rocks” theory: clarifying the priorities for the organization and all of the personnel that work there. This clarity brings focus on the efforts that gain the best return and frees up the white space to do the things you would like to do. Things that will help to increase morale and build esprit de corps, like group learning opportunities, team-building exercises, or just some much needed downtime. Identify the big rocks and take care of them, then the “little rocks” will fall into place.

Reference: Switzer, M. n.d., What’s your future…six steps for gaining strategic foresight, official government resource, http://www.cpshr.us/documents/resources/GainingStrategicForesight-Switzer.pdf

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