Time to Retire Your SWOT Team?

It’s a fixture in strategic planning sessions and retreats. It consumes much of the planning time. And it may be time to retire it.

SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis makes perfect sense on paper. But that rarely translates into real forward motion for an organization. Here’s why.

First — and this is huge — there are rarely customers or prospects at the table. No vendors, suppliers or partners either. Those people who have a powerful picture of where you’re strong and where you’re not. And they have no voice. 

The result? Opinions and insights from the same inside people who see the same things in the same way, day after day, year after year, with the same insular, internal focus and the same perspective. 

We expect them — completely unrealistically — to suddenly, spontaneously recognize critical strengths and weaknesses. To spy opportunities that have been eluding them. And seldom does the conversation ever turn to how to create opportunities — only how to find them.

And threats are even more elusive. We rarely have a true grasp of where threats are coming from. They’re mostly external and — early on — mostly invisible. New technology. Shifting consumer tastes and behaviors. New, non-traditional competitors.

What can you do instead?

Ask customers — past, current and prospective — to take an online survey. What do they think you do well? Where do they think you need work? And how much does each item really matter to them? 
Do the same with suppliers and other partners — and all employees. If you’re a nonprofit, ask those you serve, those who fund you and your directors.

(Why online? Two reasons. Anonymity breeds honesty. And no group dynamics to skew or inhibit responses.)

Remember that weaknesses can be flipped to strengths, and vice versa. Are you smaller than your competitors? Then you’re hyper-local and hyper-personal. Offer a smaller range of services or serve a narrow range of customers? You’re the specialists.

Play war games. Imagine building a new company to compete against yours. How would you do it? Who’s doing that right now? How are they doing it? Those are some of your threats. 

What if the economy stalls? It will. What if you take current trends in consumer habits and behaviors to their logical conclusion? Threat or opportunity? What are you doing now to be ready?

Rethink threats, too. What do you have to do to become the threat? What kinds of people would it take? What resources? Can you do it? How fast? What if you succeed? Those are the opportunities.

You need to know where you’re strong and where you aren’t. You need to find new opportunities and prepare for new threats. Just consider that there might be better ways to do it.

(Idealogy often assists companies in shaping this process. Let us know if we can help yours.)