Monday, May 7, 2012

Sleepwalking Through SWOTs

SWOT analysis – analyzing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of an organization – is usually not done well.  I often feel as if organizations are just sleepwalking through the process.

I think this is because so many people look at this as a mechanical and analytical process while it should be spirited and creative.  Examples:

“I think our #1 Weakness is our Board.  We need new blood and we need to recruit people who are better connected within the community.”

“What!  Our Board is caring and many have been with us since our founding.”

“Exactly.  But that’s about it.”

Or maybe . . . . . .

“I see the Opportunity for us to launch a planned giving program targeting all those widows we know who love the work we do here at the Humane Society.”

“How rude!  Chasing after those nice women just for their money!”

“Their money is going to go somewhere when they die.  What better place than to help take care of the animals they love so much.”

Don’t sleepwalk through your SWOT Analysis.  Make sure you are not making these common mistakes:

*No Rigorous Preparation.  Often there is no prep and a strategy group just shows up one morning asked to identify SWOTs.  Do some pre-work!  Examples:  Involving stakeholders in the SWOT process by asking them for input is a great way to include them and they can produce valuable insights.  There are great tools, like the VPP/McKinsey OCAT, (see my Cool Tool blog) which can allow for a thorough evaluation of strengths and weaknesses.  Collect environmental data that may reveal trends, opportunities, and threats.

*No Healthy Debate.  So many groups will not engage in constructive conflict about anything.  This is a very important place to have healthy debate!  And coming up with the “right” answer of the top five SWOTs is not the most important outcome of the debate.  Through debate, people learn various perspectives of the organization and this will become very important throughout the strategy development and implementation phases.

*Too Rushed.  Allow your organization to take a few hours with the process.  Don’t rush the voting to get done fast.  Break your strategy development team into smaller groups to combat Groupthink and allow for divergent views.  Bring the entire group back together, encourage discussion and develop common understandings.  “Really?  You think that is our biggest weakness?  Why?”

Clarity and common understanding of your SWOTs will allow you to create robust strategies to pursue your mission, vision, and goals as you Leverage your Strengths, Fortify your Weaknesses, Seize your Opportunities, and Block your Threats to make even more of a Mission Impact.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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