Thursday, January 24, 2008

Can you spell SWOT?

I am down in the Lonestar state doing a SWOT for a partner in HTG. Have you ever done this for your business? A SWOT Analysis is a powerful tool for understanding your Strengths and Weaknesses, and for looking at the Opportunities and Threats you face.

Used in a business context, it helps you carve a sustainable niche in your market. Used in a personal context, it helps you develop your career in a way that takes best advantage of your talents, abilities and opportunities. So it can have many purposes. Typically it is looked at through business eyes, but it can be a very revealing thing if you put yourself under that microscope.

What makes SWOT particularly powerful is that, with a little thought, it can help you uncover opportunities you may miss on your own. Fresh eyes almost always see things you miss. A different perspective always turns over the rocks and is able to show some opportunties that have lying at your feet for a while. And by understanding the weaknesses of your business, which none of us like to think about, you can manage and eliminate threats that would otherwise catch you unawares.

More than this, by looking at yourself and your competitors using the SWOT framework, you can start to craft a strategy that helps you distinguish yourself from your competitors, so that you can compete successfully in your market. We all have competition, and it is important for us to be aware and ahead in our planning.

As part of the engagement we also met with the management team, the employees not on the management team, and many of these individually one on one. There are four of us from other partners on the SWOT team. We spent an exhausting 12 hour day digging deep, turning over rocks, probing for hidden items that owners miss during the chaos of the day to day.

This is the sixth SWOT I have been blessed to lead and as always, it was a valuable exercise for the company we were working with. But the four of us on the SWOT team learned much as well as we "walk in their shoes for a mile" and have to learn and teach along the way. It is a great exercise to get your mind engaged and thinking.

How about the "victim" - the company we were SWOTting? Well it is an exhausting process as there is much prep they have to do. Of course the emotions run high as everyone expects this team to be finding things they don't want us to know about. But at the end of the day, as we share our findings and recommendations for the future, it almost always ends with an unbelievable burst of energy and people get the vision and understand how bright the future can be. Teams get energized and ready to attack the things that will take them to the next level. It all comes down now to EXECUTION, because our findings and report mean nothing if it is not put in place. But with solid execution and strong leadership, these kinds of deep introspection and hard work really do make a difference in a company. They can become watershed moments that springboard people to a new level adn re-energize their company to achieve much more.

It takes guts and trust to open up your company to a team that wants to look at everything, and I mean everything. This is not for the faint of heart. But the real risk is that your team expects action when the SWOT team leaves. There is no room for just learning what could happen. There is now an expectation that change WILL happen and they want to be part of driving it NOW. So don't take part in things like this unless you are serious about change. Your team will become quickly disenfranchised if the work is done in review and recommendation but no activity occurs. That said, I encourage everyone to consider where you are and if you are at a plateau that is blocking you. Or you just want to become a much better organization. A SWOT may very well be exactly what you need.

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