Thursday, April 1, 2010

The HTG SWOT process in action

This week I was blessed to spend a few days on the east coast with the team at NTS in the Fort Lauderdale area. Scott Mallet leads the team and is a member of HTG13. The HTG SWOT team consisted of Steve Riat from Hays Kansas from HTG3, Kyle Elworthy from Charlotte who also is in HTG13, Christy Sacco and myself from HTG. We began our intense two days of interaction with the NTS team Tuesday morning and ended with a final presentation on Wednesday late afternoon. Typically these events take two days as it gives us time to interact with each team member and watch business happen over the course of a couple days.

The host company, NTS in this case, prepares for 45-60 days in advance by pulling together all sorts of financial, sales, marketing, service, HR, policies, procedures and the like for the team to review. The preparation exercise in itself is often extremely valuable as it requires getting the house in order in many ways. The team takes a look at things and comes with some ideas about possible areas of concern, as well as things that need clarification during the SWOT process. As is always the case, the numbers and prepared documents don’t tell the story, but they are a good place to start from. Scott and the team did a great job prepping for our visit and we had lots of documentation to review and come prepared about.

We started day one reviewing the company from 50,000 foot. What is the mission, vision, values and dream for the company? It should be part of your business plan. And your team should know it. NTS got one out of two – defined but no one seemed to know what it was we discovered later in the day. Interestingly, one of the Harvard Business Review emails this week asked two questions that demand the attention of leaders:

1. The first is familiar: What keeps you up at night? What are the worries that nag at you?
2. The second is less familiar, but perhaps more important: What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you more committed than ever, more engaged than ever, more excited than ever, as the environment around you gets tougher and more demanding than ever?

Bottom line – we need to know our mission and what will keep the fire in our belly burning. Leadership is a big deal in a small business. And often leaders begin to burn out over time as they face the daily battle and have to deal with a never ending amount of problems, people and frustrations. Without knowing “why” – the odds of us staying in the game at a level that makes an impact drop off quickly. Part of the SWOT process is making sure people know “why”. "How" doesn’t really matter if the “why” does not exist.

So we spent time talking about what the executive management team wanted NTS to look like in 3-5 years, and then 15 years. Most of us have a one year business plan that really is probably about 6 months worth of plans. We may say we have some idea of what we want the next few years to look like, but few have defined their “castle on the hill” for the long term. And even if they have, it is very rare that they have shared it with anyone, including their spouse. Sad way to plan or even dream. We need to involve the people who will be part of the journey. All of us are guilty of having way more information in our head than we share, and even more likely is the fact that we have feelings in our heart we never let see the light of day. Time for some transparency in leading!

After we get on the same page about the immediate, mid and long range goals, we have enough background to start walking through the SWOT process. Strengths and weaknesses are things internal to the company. Opportunities and threats are things that are external. At least those are good guidelines to use. We created a quadrant with the four sections and started making a list. As has been the case in all the previous 15 or so events, weaknesses always win the prize for the most. We gathered a good list in all areas and then finished our morning shadowing the team. This takes some trust – as we are going one on one or a few on one with staff without any NTS management around. But it is in these little discussions we learn a lot about what really is happening on the ground and it gives us confidence to make recommendations at the end of the event.

One of the highlights of our time happens over an extended lunch on day one. We invite the entire team minus the executive management to review our SWOT findings. This is where we get the real scoop and ground truth what we were told earlier that morning. We got some great feedback, some additions to our list, some challenges to things that were listed, and almost two hours of very interactive discussion. We find the leaders of the pack and those who are focused on helping drive the company forward. This is always an enjoyable time as we offer immunity from any retaliation from the management in exchange for raw and uncensored honesty. It is amazing what every team tells a group of interested outsiders that they would never tell their management.

The afternoon was spent doing more shadowing and some follow up digging on things we uncovered through the SWOT process. Since we are going to make some rather large suggested changes – it is critical we have our facts right. Often we can identify the issues within the first few hours, but the secret to success is to craft a plan to overcome those things utilizing the talent and resources available. It is one thing to figure out what is broke. It is another to come up with an execution plan that depends on resources we are not all that familiar with. So spending time with the team is critical for us to know what we can and can’t depend on.

We end the day with a review of our findings and make a list of our top three items. Our entire team was in agreement as it was the same list we identified earlier that day. We spend the evening over dinner and talk through some of the surprises we experienced which are always fun to laugh about.

Day two begins with getting the feedback from our overnight thoughts. My experience is that the SWOT team keeps on thinking through the night about the areas we are going to offer suggestions about, and often those sleepless hours and the ongoing pondering through the night has created some very insightful ideas. So we capture those and begin to craft our presentation. Much of our day on the second day involves building our recommendations and reviewing those with the right stakeholders so we have buy in. It doesn’t do a lot of good to leave a plan than management is not willing to execute. While I have never had that happen, it does take some time spent walking through it and getting buy in. We also often have to involve key members of the team in that process so there are not bombshells dropped when the presentation comes later that day. No one likes change – but people like it less if it comes unexpectedly with shock.

Day two lunch is with key managers who make it happen. We spent the time with key service delivery members and walked through flow charting how things happen at NTS. That helped us all get on the same page and talk about some of the challenges. We spent the remainder of the afternoon building the presentation which had our recommendations and then previewing that with the executive team. Again – no surprises is a good thing. We did manage to sneak a couple in on Scott since there were some commitments from his HTG13 list that were still unfulfilled. So we expanded his accountability team to include his own staff which was a welcome addition to our focus.

The day ended with our presentation to the team. All of our SWOT team members gave a portion of the presentation and we laid out the plan we had to help position the company for the growth that was identified at the beginning of the process. The plan tweaked some areas and touched everyone, so we had to make sure people understood and were bought into the strategy. This is the chance to build excitement and anticipation of great things ahead. The reality is that when we leave a SWOT presentation – people are ready to get after it and the risk is that management does not move quickly enough. Execution is not optional – everyone is bought in and expecting it to happen – so now it boils down to getting it done.

We had a great experience at NTS. Scott and the team were awesome hosts. We enjoyed the time with the team and the dinners around the area in the evening. It was great meeting Scott’s fiancĂ© and hearing about their upcoming plans. The SWOT process is about more than business, it is about achieving dreams and accomplishing plans for both business and life. We will continue to monitor and support the NTS team as they implement and execute. We will receive regular reports on progress and provide a swift kick when needed to keep them moving. But it really boils down to the team taking on the challenge and making it happen. I am confident they will. That is what happens when great people come together to get it done. Thanks to everyone who made our visit so special!

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