Most of us scan the external environment every day, either consciously or sub-consciously. We usually scan around our jobs, our professions, our industries. What we find usually stays in our heads however, unless your organisation has a formal scanning system in place, or you join a site like Shaping Tomorrow where you can record what you are finding. A formal scanning system aims to take the scanning insights out of individual minds and to share them across the organisation. By increasing the breadth of information that informs strategic thinking, analysis and strategic conversations will be informed by a wider view of change rather than narrowly focused on what one or two individuals think will be important in the future.

Everyone in an organisation can contribute to a scanning system if given the opportunity, but a core group of scanners needs to be formed as early as possible in the set up of your scanning system. This group will act as champions for the scanning process and will provide the first analysis point to begin to determine relevance for the organisation.  A representative group is best so that all areas of the organisation are formally involved in the scanning process. A senior manager needs to be involved to ensure the work of the group can be put into the context of broader organisational strategy and ensure it is used appropriately. This sounds easy, but to be successful it requires managers to commit to or at least accept the need for scanning so they allow their staff to be involved. Because variable support among managers is common, it's important that setting up the scanning group only occurs after the formal scanning system has been endorsed by the CEO and Board or equivalent.

People in the scanning group need open minds, and be willing to have their ideas challenged. They need to be able to think outside the box and not be tied to the present way of doing things. They need to be willing to share their knowledge and be able to see the big picture rather than being limited by their job. Comfortable with change, they understand what changes are, or could be, relevant for their organisation.

The scanning group must be trained in how to do scanning, and then supported while they become familiar with the process.  Regular review meetings should be held to allow the group to share their experience and frustrations and to fine tune the scanning process for their organisation. Once they have started scanning on a regular basis, and scanning hits are accumulating, the group can begin to look for patterns and themes in what they are finding. This identifies key issues that need to be further considered.

Sharing what the group is finding across the organisation is important so that staff are keep informed about what the team is doing and can contribute if they have relevant information. A regular 'look what we've found' type email or newsletter is a good idea - it can have three items, a brief summary of each and a link to follow up if people are interested. The aim of this type of communication is to raise awareness of change happening 'out there' in the external world, and to highlight that there are trends likely to change the way they work in the future.

Ultimately, all staff can be involved in providing scanning hits, and the ideal situation is for scanning to be included in the position description of all staff, which is more likely in smaller organisations. A rating system of scanning hits is another way to get staff involved in identifying what they think will be important to consider as strategy is developed. Finding ways to involve anyone who wants to be involved in scanning is not the easy way to 'do' scanning, but it promotes the collection of diverse perspectives about trends and drivers of change critical to the organisation's future.

That diversity of perspective is key to challenging assumptions about what is possible in the future, and moving beyond business-as-usual approaches to strategy development.

The next post will be on starting to scan.

Download scanning resources