By Mike Loughrin, CEO for Transformance Advisors
Have you ever been at a planning retreat, or brainstorming session, and feel the team get bogged down with too many ideas driving everyone crazy?
This chaos, of too many ideas, happens in many situations and can often be alleviated by using one of the various problem solving tools which help people quickly organize ideas and reach consensus.
For this article, we will focus on the annual planning retreat, where the imperative is to understand the current reality, before jumping into deciding what needs to change. One of the best methods for gaining consensus on the current reality is to examine the organization in terms of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. An approach commonly called SWOT analysis.
Applying SWOT Analysis
SWOT analysis can be applied to an entire organization, a specific product family, a single department, one individual, and just about anything else you can think of.
During the annual planning retreat, the executive leadership team should leverage SWOT analysis to gain consensus on the current reality for the entire organization. This understanding of the current reality can then be compared with the 5 year vision and help with defining those 3 to 5 strategic initiatives required to close the gap.
- Strengths and weaknesses should be internal factors, as they relate to your organization in comparison to your competition.
- Opportunities and threats should relate to external factors, in terms of what is happening outside of your organization – the things swirling around you.
Identifying the factors in all four categories should be done with a focus on the facts. Defining your current reality is not about speculation, wishful thinking, or avoidance of uncomfortable situations.
Let’s look closer at each of the categories in a SWOT analysis.
Develop your list of strengths in relation to your competition. What are your competitive advantages?
For example, if most of your competitors have great websites with product availability and order tracking features, then your “great” website is probably not a strength. You need to be careful and not over-rate yourself. Most of your competitors have great people and loyal customers.
It’s best to have quantifiable and verifiable facts vs. feel good proclamations.
This is not the time for empty statements.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
Admitting your weaknesses can be difficult. This is the time to “put the moose on the table.” For example, if your meetings always end with unanimous decisions which no one really agrees with, then get this cultural defect on your list of weaknesses.
What causes you to lose prospects and customers to better offers from your competition? Be honest about areas where your competitors are better and where you know improvements are required.
You should also examine your vision, mission, and values. If these aspects of your organization are weak, then put it on the list.
This is not the time to be timid.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas A. Edison
Assessing best practices, emerging trends, competitor successes, and external changes can help you identify opportunities. For example, new technology, government programs, and changing demographics can open up new markets or provide you a technique to improve your competitive advantage.
Can you leverage your strengths, or eliminate your weaknesses, in terms of external opportunities which are now available to you? Think big, but also be strategic.
Of course, social media is an opportunity. But is it an opportunity for creating raving customers or should you leverage it for attracting new employees?
This is the time for exploring possibilities.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
– Albert Einstein
List those external factors keeping you awake at night. For example, the boom in natural gas production has done more damage to coal producers than the impact of environmental concerns.
What could change your market or cause your products and services to become obsolete? Extend your thinking to suppliers, partners, and employees.
While there are all sorts of threats on the horizon, approach them with the sense of what “is” happening and what “could” happen.
Threats have often been overlooked by many organizations. In our current reality of climate change and global pandemics, many need to take a much closer look at the very big threats which are here and now.
This is the time to face reality.
“Climate change is the environmental challenge of this generation, and it is imperative that we act before it’s too late.”
– John Delaney
The Power of 3 to 5
You don’t need, and can’t do much with, a massive collection of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
The best SWOT analysis will include open discussion to clarify, modify, combine, and eliminate items from your initial list.
You should prune and prioritize your factors to no more than 3 to 5 for each category.
One of the best techniques for pruning and prioritizing is using the RightPage consensus building tool.
The Next Step
When complete, your SWOT analysis should have 3 to 5 factors for each category. Then you are ready to craft plans which:
- capitalize on your strengths
- minimize your weaknesses
- take advantage of opportunities
- apply risk management to threats
It’s time to turn your analysis into an action plan.
About Mike Loughrin
Mike is passionate about helping people create sustainable organizations. He brings exceptional experience in both industry and consulting services and has helped organizations such as Levi Strauss, Warner Home Video, Lexmark, and Sweetheart Cup improve their performance.
Using a balanced approach to defining strategy, improving processes, and leveraging the appropriate technology, he keeps the focus on ROI and delivers results by leveraging skills in leadership, knowledge transfer, project management, and the application of best practices. As a frequent speaker at conferences and other educational events, he provides informative and energizing presentations by leveraging his passion for excellence.
Keeping a commitment to a balanced life, Mike loves downhill skiing, bicycle rides, and hiking in the mountains. See one or more of his trails of the month, such as Tomorrow River or Little Switzerland.
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Strategy Development and Execution
The Dangers of Low Hanging Fruit
Bashing Best Practices
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