Conducting a SWOT analysis is the motherhood and apple pie of strategic planning. Everyone knows that’s one of the first things on the Strategic Planning Retreat agenda. Take a moment to consider just how many of these exercises you have participated in throughout your career. Very likely the number is more than the fingers on both of your hands.
Given that conducting a SWOT is considered to be a required element of the strategic planning process, why would we say that it is a waste of time? The statement at its core violates every management book and most white papers on best practices for strategic planning. How can it be a waste of time?
Most strategic plans fail at the point of execution.
The traditional SWOT is a valuable tool to organize thoughts and to frame an internal and external analysis of the organization. The tool fails at the point of execution because the traditional SWOT analysis simply identifies snippets of information. At what point do you identify what to do with the information?
Virtually every organization we see announces proudly that they have completed their SWOT analysis, wearing the badge of completion of this step in the process proudly. The first question we ask is “What did you do with the information identified during the SWOT?” The response is frequently that the information was included in the formal strategic planning document, or a dawning realization that nothing was done with the information.
The SWOT becomes actionable when translated into
Strategic Advantages, Challenges, and Opportunities.
Strategic Advantages, Challenges, and Opportunities defined:
The advantages are the sources of an organization’s current and future competitive success that can be used to further organizational performance and/or to overcome Strategic Challenges.
The challenges are those things that are or could prevent the organization from achieving strategic goals. Strategic Challenges will provide focus for improvement efforts and should be addressed or overcome through the prioritization of tactical strategies over the course of the strategic planning period.
The opportunities are those things showing the best promise of substantive results prioritized for further study prior to approval for completion. Choosing which strategic opportunities to pursue involves careful balance of risk and potential rewards.
The translation of the SWOT analysis into actionable information is game changing from the perspective of execution. This approach is further enhanced when organizational leaders integrate regular reviews of strategic planning progress with an eye toward removing achievement barriers and reprioritizing initiatives based on the identification of new information. In addition, attaching a healthy measurement system to the plan to ensure the outcomes meet the intended targets supports an execution focus.
Dr. Raina Knox is the Co-Founder and CEO of Stratex Solutions. The Stratex tool set was co-developed by Dr. Knox and Courtney Cole to allow organizations to effortlessly execute their strategy. The tools reduce the time needed to plan, providing more time for organizations to execute their strategy.
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