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Parks Management is People Management

By: Olivia Staffon 23 Aug 2018

I began my MBA with the goal of utilizing business practices for land management issues. Scouring for applicable insights, I attempted filtering my coursework through the lens of a natural resource specialist. However, even with that perspective, the connection between business and conservation was not yet becoming clear. This guided my decision to intern with the National Park Service (NPS). My objective was to test the portability of MBA principles to practical and timely resources challenges.

The great news is that, half way through my internship, I feel I am doing just that. My project has given me an avenue through which I can dig into park operations. I am evaluating opportunities for sharing operational resources, such as equipment, labor, or expertise, between multiple parks.

My project work, as well as general observations while onsite, have reinforced that a business mindset can be an asset to the park system. Of note, the Park Service has operational considerations like any business; how to streamline operations, empower a workforce, evaluate and fund new projects, etc. While the “product” of NPS is unlike most businesses, (more conserved land and visitor recreation opportunities versus, say, a user-friendly software service) the mechanism to achieve it is quite similar. Particularly, the effectiveness of managers in setting a vision, establishing norms for communication and teamwork, and aligning employees’ incentives, is critical to a park’s functioning, in the same way it would at a lean startup or a large corporation.

The transferability of business practices, especially the need for agile thinkers in key management roles, is encouraging. I feel confident that I can utilize my MBA learnings in the land management space, even if its default settings are not of a typical business. Moreover, my experience working in new contexts (i.e. resource management and government) has only deepened my business acumen, utilizing my core skillset while flexing it in new directions. With the goal of building and using a multi-disciplinary skillset, I am excited by the prospect of straddling business and government for the sake of preserving our Earth’s natural resources.

Olivia Staffon (MBA 2019) as a 2018 Social Enterprise Summer Fellow.

This post was originally published on the HBS Career & Professional Development blog.