S’what’s a SWOT?

A lot of perfectly respectable management theory has been left to marinate in too long in strange acronyms and hard to remember buzz words. Good management doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need a special language. There’s a lot of parallels with cooking. Some great meals can be made of simple ingredients prepared simply. Complex recipes and difficult to pronounce names aren’t necessarily better.  For example, I’m not a big fan of Chef Ramsey… too much screaming and yelling for my taste, and I can get that at work… but there was an episode where he worked with a Pub in England that was deeply in debt and losing its clientele. He made a lot of changes, but the redevelopment of the menu was based on one simple concept, “No brown sticky sauces!” So, all the Madera glazes and Balsamic infusions were out; instead, just roast beef, shrimp salad, mashed potatoes, etc.… simple, straightforward pub food. Well, I thought that should be today’s thought of the day. Let’s keep it simple, and avoid all the complicated “sauces” that don’t help us. Let’s start off our menu of management offerings with, a SWOT analysis.

A SWOT is a very simple tool that can help you to identify and prioritize the issues your operation faces. How does it work? Well, imagine a 2×2 set of boxes. You can lay this out in excel or as a table in Word, or just write on a pad of paper. The four letters stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Essentially, this lets you examine your operation by looking at two pairs: Strengths compared to Weaknesses and Opportunities compared to Threats. Now, let’s go to that 2×2 grid. Label the first box (top, left) as Strengths. In the box below that (bottom, left), label it Weaknesses. Go back to the top, move over one box (top, right) and label it Opportunities. The last box (bottom, right), label Threats. So far, not so hard, right?

Now you just need to put cunningly crafted and analytical observations about your organization in each box. OK, that’s it for this wee… AH! You would like a few more details? Ok, no problem. Start with the most obvious items, in a simple bullet format. For example, if you run an internal service, you have a Strength of being the only provider for your service. If you aren’t the only provider, that may be a Threat. Why is it a threat? Does it mean that there is some other group that can perform the work better, or is more conveniently located, or is open at hours that you are not? If those are the threats, what does that mean for your Weaknesses (not open at all hours, training in some areas should be stronger, not able to fully support all offices, etc.)? If you jot down the most obvious items and then do this sort of jumping back and forth between boxes, writing up the other sides of each issue, you will quickly write out all the key bullets about your organization. And don’t limit yourself in the number of SWOT items, write as many as you like. When you read about SWOTS or when you talk to consultants you can get the idea that it takes a special background to lay out a SWOT. Remember, no one knows your operation as well as you do. A Six Sigma specialist might come up with different SWOT items than you would, but you might have insights that this expert might not. Still, if you compared both SWOTs you would probably see a lot of overlap in the findings.

Now that you have the basics, how do you improve it? We just need to follow these four steps:

  1. Continue to add bullets to your SWOT. Talk to your most difficult clients as well as your most supportive clients. Ask them if they can add to your list. You can even show them what you already have, and if they agree. Talk to the managers and staff  that report to you. Load up your SWOT.
  2. Print out your list and put it somewhere prominent, right in your line of sight. For the next 30 days, as you go to meetings and read your emails, see if new items need to be added to your list.
  3. Clean up your lists. You will see that some items repeat, or are the same item in different words. Look for insights as you combine. For example, if under Weaknesses you see a lot of individual failures in producing a product, maybe the real problem is that you have a training problem. Or maybe you have a cluster of problems and not enough information to know the root cause. In that case, you might develop a report on service problems (typically called a service recovery report, or SSR). Call it what you like, just  note that you need to get better in this area! Try to stay to about 10 items or less for each SWOT box. SPECIAL TIP: If you end up with HUNDREDS of items in one of your SWOT boxes, you may want to put all of this in Excel. Think of bigger categories, and have one column with “categories” and another with “item”. Sort if by category and subsort by item. Placing similar items close together makes it easier to “eyeball” adjacent items and decide if they should be combined into one.  
  4. Prioritize! Once you have analyzed and condensed all of your issues, order them by priority.

So, after 30 days, you will probably have a very good SWOT. Keep in mind that a SWOT is never done. The world is constantly changing, so your SWOT needs to be constantly updated. At a glance you can now show a very simple view of your organization. This will help you develop budgets, create continuous improvement plans and improve the management of your organization. It will take what you have implicitly known and make it all very understandable, even to people who do not understand your type of organization. Later, I will show you some specific examples of how you can use this. But for today, that’s my Niccolls worth!

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Decision Making, Delivering Services, Improvement, Continuous or Not, Unique Ideas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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