Sunday, March 26, 2017

Do You Still Use SWOT?

Some of the old business principles are still the best. Over the last 30 years many business theories have changed – but sadly, in many cases, not for the better and mostly for personal and/or commercial gain. Where academics and consultancies have re-packaged great business principles that should have been left alone and worse still repacked them as mediocre replicas just either to get their name associated with something supposedly new or for consultancies to try to make a quick buck with weakened solutions for business, or both.
One outstanding business tool for assessing an organizations; departments or even individuals current business environment, and at the same time helping develop a solid short/medium term strategy is the good ol’ SWOT analysis. This business tool, when used properly, has stood the test of time and when used correctly, as originally developed, adds real value to any organization.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and if done properly gives a solid insight into your organization and offers immediate detailed focus for solving current issues and for developing genuine workable strategies – where the operative words are ‘if done properly’.
Sadly most people who use SWOT no longer use it correctly and hence don’t get the benefit from this great business tool.
There are certain ‘criteria’ that must either exist or be applied for SWOT to work properly; and if any one of them are missing, then you will either get a sub-optimal or manipulated outcome, both of which are totally worthless.
Two of the criteria that must exist for SWOT to be meaningful are;
A Transparent Culture: Whether the SWOT is being completed by an organization, a department or an individual it will be worthless if the analysis is not completely honest. Often individuals and organizations find it hard to be honest about their weaknesses and threats; and can embellish their true strengths and weaknesses just because it makes them feel good – but of course this is meaningless for the genuine future of the business and gives a false picture and worse still a false sense of security.
Honest analysis of weaknesses, however hard these may be to hear at the top need to be welcomed; and teams and employees should be recognised and thanked for honest input – as these strong leaders know, anything else but raw honesty will have a detrimental impact on their future growth.
It is in your interests to ensure the SWOT is brutally honest and if it is the results will be ‘gold dust’ for the future of the organization. Employees are not fools and will give their full support to an honest SWOT analysis. Even more an ‘honest’ SWOT will build morale, trust and a cohesive working environment, regardless of how ‘bad’ the current business environment may be. Employees are ‘attracted’ to organizations and leaders that genuinely want to know what they can do to solve their employees problems; and who show an interest in what employees think the future could hold. This small step alone has a huge impact on building a positive culture and encouraging innovative thought. What employees genuinely dislike are organizations and/or leaders that embellish their strengths and refuse to admit their weaknesses – and this will ultimately lead to a dysfunctional relationship throughout the organization.
Completing SWOT Company Wide: A SWOT must not just be conducted at the top of an organization – but should be done bottom-up, involving the whole company, for it to have any genuine meaning. In fact some organizations that use SWOT well, even include other stakeholders in their SWOT in order to get a full picture from all perspectives. This takes strong and confident leadership and when applied develops even stronger stakeholder links; as they all feel part of the organization and genuinely appreciate being asked ‘what they think’.
Too many organisations still think SWOT is only a high-level exercise and often take themselves off to some luxury hotel for ‘Strat Sessions’ thinking they are the best people to decide the future of the organization. But without input from the grass roots these short-sighted organizations will never really understand their own organization and it’s real environment; strategies will be weak and won’t be owned by the employees and leadership will be command and control driven, as the employees haven’t had a voice, so they need to be told what to do, often without the ‘why’. And if they survive, these organizations will survive more by luck than good business or effective leadership, if they survive at all. What these organizations never realise is that they never reach their true potential.
Some really large corporates take this high-level approach and though their stakeholders may think they are operating well – they will never really be operating at their optimal level. I smile when I realize just how blind these leaders are to their mediocre success; even organizations that are revered in the press, often have dysfunctional management/employee relationships because they don’t involve their employees in the future of the organization.
So there’s no time like the present to start performing a SWOT correctly and if and when you do, you will and your organization will never look back. Done correctly and it will immediately have a positive impact on your organizational culture and all your future strategies and sustainable growth.
Some further quick tips and tricks would include;
A. Build the SWOT bottom-up;
B. Capture the results by department and form a matrix in the shape of your organizational pyramid;
C. Look for common themes with respect to the SWOT across the horizontal and vertical structure;
D. Where there are unique differences – find out why and where possible do a quick fix; maybe seconding employees from other areas to help;
E. Your short term is viewed by your current strengths and weaknesses; along with short term threats; but your medium and long term can look at removing/minimizing weaknesses and using your strengths to the maximum or developing new strengths to ‘capture’ an opportunity;
F. Keep the whole organization informed every step of the way; and remember
G. This is a dynamic tool – not a static one – once you’ve completed a fully comprehensive SWOT you should be able to review this on an annual basis or by exception as your environment changes.