I like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.” Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.
Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.
If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough. One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”…which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process. What is it about your people? Their experience? Their deep knowledge? Their ability to be generalists? Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.
Work hard to look at the future. We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years. And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.
Put “the hard stuff” on the list. Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about. The problem customer. The problem owner. The problem staffer. Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources. So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing. (For example: “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)
Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in. Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT. But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.
So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it: “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?” If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should. If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my next post.
Your sales process sets up the success or failure of your production team.
I’ve often been in meetings with operational people who are overwhelmed and not hitting their targets. They struggle to get more efficient or productive, and desperately seek more resources that rarely come.
But when I see a target that is missed more than 5% of the time, I ask, “How did you set the target?”
It’s then that we find out that there is no good rationale for the target. It’s also often the case that the sales team is part of the problem.
Although it certainly makes it easier in the short run for salespeople to tell customers they can have whatever they want, it usually ends up costing the company money. Why? Because it puts excessive burden on the production team to meet targets that aren’t a good fit for the business.
Most customers can be managed. When they understand the costs and risks of different options, they will make a reasonable selection. But it requires a sales team that is able and willing to talk with customers in an educational, supportive, and firm way.
If your operations team is struggling, dig into your sales process, and understand how you’re setting customer expectations. It’s likely to have a huge impact on your operations team – and will likely improve your profitability too.
How good is your business’ radar system?
Do you have a radar system for your business?
For my clients who are using my 12-month strategic planning process – and for those of you who want to create a system for sustainable success – summer is the time we wrap up our survey of market trends and forces. So, as I look back on the process I’ve been through over the last 3 months with my clients, it’s interesting to think about the RADAR system we’ve built for their companies.
How can you build a radar system for your business?
You can build a system on the cheap by using what your company already has:
- New project or product ideas customers have asked for over the last year
- Recent customer requests
- Internal brainstorming about new ideas
- Clippings of trade journal articles that you can collect throughout the year
You can build a more robust system by adding some resources:
- Using a consultant or service (or intern!) once a year to get more information about your markets – through web searches, customer interviews, and/or research reports
- Building a searchable database of market intelligence facts
- Naming one of your managers Trend Czar or Head Trendie, and
Once you have your company’s radar system built, then you have to read what it’s showing you. There are 5 steps to turning your “readings” into action:
1. Determine what resources you can devote to pursuing trends and new areas of business (as opposed to improving or expanding your current lines of business)
2. Assemble a long list (at least 12) of important trends from all the data you’ve collected
3. Filter your long list down to a short list (at most 5) by evaluating the general impact and potential of the trends
4. Determine which short-list trends will get resources by evaluating the details of the opportunity, the likelihood of your company’s success, the investment needed, and the risks.
5. Create an action plan for the trends that will get resources
Like any radar system, yours will give you advance notice of issues coming your way, so that you have time to prepare and react.