Environmental Issues—Internal, External, and Global

The first task and overarching responsibility of a manager is comparable to the first task and

overarching responsibility of a student; that is, both students and managers must see,

understand, and make sense of what is currently going on, what might be happening in the

future, and the implications of both the present and the future. Effective managers and effective

students are similar in this fundamental way: Both are able and willing to take the time and put

forth the energy to see clearly, understand deeply, and make profound sense of themselves and

their environment.

Effective students take the initiative to complete all course prerequisites, obtain an advance

copy of the syllabus, and procure all course materials before the start of class. Likewise,

effective managers prepare for success by grounding themselves in an understanding of the

organizational environment. Rather than simply relying on an understanding of self, they strive

to understand all the elements existing outside the boundaries of their organization—i.e., all the

environmental factors (competition, economy, regulations, technology, and sociopolitical and

sociocultural factors) that have the potential to affect and influence their managerial success

and the success of their organization.

Effective students pay attention to objectives and expectations, strive for deep meaning by

interacting actively with the course materials and concepts, and avoid the mistake of reading or

listening just for the facts. Likewise, effective managers make sense of their organizational

culture and environment in various ways and at various levels. On the surface level they are

aware of visible items such as structure and layout, physical symbols, and patterns of behavior.

Consider, for illustration, some of the surface-level artifacts cited in your text: “manner of dress,

patterns of behavior, physical symbols, organizational ceremonies, and office layout” (Daft &

Marcic, p. 76).

At a deeper level, effective managers are aware of unexpressed as well as expressed values

and beliefs—that is, values and beliefs that cannot necessarily be discerned from how people

express, explain, and justify what they do. The most effective managers use critical thinking to

distinguish the underlying assumptions and subconscious beliefs that influence managerial and

organizational success. For example, one of the virulent assumptions undergirding

management practices in many organizations is the notion that employees are essentially lazy

and desirous of doing as little as possible. As we will see in a later lesson, that assumption has

little basis in fact, but left unchecked, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if

the assumption is not challenged, it will form the basis for organizational policies and

managerial practices.

Effective students take personal responsibility for their success, recognize and prepare for life’s

possible emergencies, and define success in terms of learning, growth, and development (as

opposed to defining it simply in terms of course completion, grades, and GPA). Likewise,

effective managers welcome the turbulent and uncertain environment in which they operate.

They know that they cannot predict the future, and they understand that simple worst-case/best-

case plans are insufficient for success. Accordingly, they prepare for all possible scenarios and

they know, without hesitation, what they will do whenever or wherever they awaken to an

emergency. They measure their success in terms of meaningful long-term effect, not simply in

terms of this quarter’s profit/loss equation.

A frequently related example of environmental awareness comes from a particular group of

indigenous Chileans living in a region of the Andes where the potato is said to have originated.

The potato is an Andean dietary staple, and these people have cultivated or maintained ten or

more varieties of potato for centuries. When U.S agronomists happened upon that part of the

world, they immediately noted the seeming inefficiencies of growing and maintaining so many

different varieties of potato. They noted, moreover, that the Andean people often appeared to be

“lazy” (note the underlying assumption) in regard to harvesting their crops—that is, they often

overlooked some plants and allowed them to grow wild. The U.S. “experts” moved quickly to

teach the Andean people the importance of efficiency and productivity. They singled out one or

two of the seemingly most prodigious varieties and instructed the people to grow those high-

yield varieties. Likewise, they sought to teach the people to harvest their crops thoroughly. You

can probably imagine the Andeans listening politely, smiling, and nodding; but when the crazy

North Americans were gone, they went back to doing what they had always done. Why?

Because they understood their environment. They knew they had to be prepared for a wide

variety of issues: possible snow in late spring or early fall, various insects, mildew, and other

potential calamities. Different varieties of potatoes survived different calamities. Adopting the

monocropping efficiencies of the agronomists would have left them starving if that particular

variety was blighted by disease or consumed by plagues of insects. Their practices may appear

to be inefficient, but critical thinking reveals that the Chileans have diversified and that their

notions of diversity allow them to survive whatever misfortunes rain on the Andes.

Effective students recognize that today’s classroom, whether traditional or virtual, is culturally

diverse, and they act to truly value diversity. Likewise, effective managers are sensitive to

cultural subtleties and understand that the ways in which people plan, organize, lead, and

control vary in different cultures.

Pay attention to the similarities between effective students and managers as you work through

this lesson. A significant key to effectiveness, whether in a student or manager, is the ability and

willingness to truly see, understand, and make sense of what is going on currently and what

might be occurring in the future.

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