Faulty SWOTS – A powerful exercise needs rigor

Faulty SWOTS – A powerful exercise needs rigor

The SWOT built on sand. Accepting faulty SWOT assumptions

The SWOT exercise is a staple of strategic planning sessions. The acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses (which are internal to the company) and Opportunities, Threats (or things external to the company or about its industry or competitive landscape).

The exercise starts with participants brainstorming words or phrases under each category. Unfortunately, the suggestions are seldom held to any objective standard. Too often the SWOT suggestions are boarded on an easel without challenge. A common mistake is accepting the ambiguous and unverifiable.

Strengths, for example, are not supposed to be things we hope to be true. They must be representative of reality. We often see ideas offered in positive spirit and with the best of intention.“Our people are our strength” or “our reputation in the market” MIGHT be true but too often it’s accepted at face value. If your competitors were having the same meeting, would they say it about you? The problem stems from no one wanting to challenge another’s well-meaning contribution. Instead ideas go up on the easel as if they’re a fact.

Suggestion: Try filtering with a reality check. Are our people really better than 95% of our competitors? How do we know? Try viewing SWOT offerings from participants with a somewhat skeptical eye. Look for a clear evidence that an idea actually meets some objective criteria, or is clearly a likely reality based on broad consensus.Common misunderstanding. Though we specify that Opportunities are external at the beginning of sessions sometimes participants in a planning session will follow up a discussion about a Weakness with an Opportunity to address the Weakness. Example,

Weakness: “We have no clearly defined employee onboarding process.”

Opportunity: “Develop an employee onboarding process.”   Well No. Opportunities and Threats are about addressing changes in markets, technology, or society, etc.

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