Quote from Airplane! The Movie: Airplane!

Dr. Rumack: Can you fly this plane and land it?

Ted Striker: Surely, you can’t be serious.

Dr. Rumack: I am serious . . and don’t call me Shirley.

So, you are talking to an advisor about how things may have stagnated in your business or how it might be the right time to sell.  They mention it might be an appropriate time to do a SWOT analysis.  Your mind is racing and you immediately envision some paramilitary type group traversing through your business lead by Samuel L. Jackson. Another day; another misunderstood acronym.  But, what is a SWOT analysis?

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and I believe it is one of the more worthwhile exercises a growing or mature business can undertake.  However, to do one properly is not a brief or simple task.  One of my favorite clients used to classify it as a “says easy; does hard” type of activity.  The process is rather simple but it does take some discipline and planning to do it effectively.  Here are some guidelines that can help:

  • A team approach works best.  This is definitely a situation where two heads are better than one – and three or more are even better than two.  Don’t be discouraged by differences of opinion amongst the group.  Reconciling differing individual perspectives is part of the process.
  • Be inclusive.  In a group exercise, less experienced members may defer to more established members and they may not want to upset the “boss.”  As a leader, you can encourage that honest interaction by pointing out some of the weaknesses or threats that you see.  You know the saying “sometimes out of the mouth of babes.”
  • Keep it focused. The first time through this exercise, ideas may be raised which are just that – ideas.  Maintain the focus on a true SWOT assessment of your business.
  • Stay disciplined.  Maintain a written list so all can see and keep everything in a SWOT format.  Also keep in mind, elements can overlap – certain strengths can also be weaknesses and threats can create opportunities. Put good ideas which might not fit this exercise on a separate “parking lot” or “more to come” list.
  • Leave time to summarize.  Highlight the real consensus items and try to clarify any “outliers.”  Make sure you use the words participants used; it gives them identity and shows the items raised are from the group and not just you.
  • Consider an “action plan.”  This is the perfect exercise to develop some next steps to capitalize on what you have learned.

A SWOT analysis can be a great tool.  You may also want to consider using a “moderator” to conduct a session.  Many have found this has added to the process.  However, don’t be afraid to venture on your own.  With just these few guidelines and some patience I am sure you can carry off a great SWOT analysis of your business.


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