SWOT: Are You Walking Around Naked?

A Fresh Look at Management Tools

By Nilooka Dissanayake, ACMA, MBA (Strathclyde)

Did you read SWOT? Did I really say I will talk of SWOT? Yes. But, wait! Before you press the delete button, please realise I too feel the same way about SWOT. I simply hate it… that such a useful tool can get so abused. It’s a crime. The government or an NGO should start a Prevention of Abuses of SWOT Movement…

Getting back on track, SWOT is a truly useful tool whether you are a one-man (or -woman) show or a multinational. It is a tool to prevent organisations walking around naked, like the proverbial emperor.

SWOT? What is that?

For those who have filtered SWOT out of your systems altogether, SWOT stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I know, I know. Bear with me. I had to write that just for the sake of completeness!

Strengths and weaknesses have to do with the internal organisation. Opportunities and threats arise in the external environment. You would be surprised at the highly intelligent people who get this bit wrong.

Fancy speeches > colourful report > dustbin. That is the usual path for SWOT…

So, you decided long ago to do a SWOT. Once you’re back from the splashy official weekend outing after the SWOT, what then? Fancy speech — colourful report — dustbin. No? Just the bottom drawer and remember to safeguard the photos for the annual report? No? You got me puzzled there. Well, anyone who really made use of SWOT beyond that, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

My friends, doing a SWOT and stopping there is the organisational equivalent of having a kid and saying “I’m done”; what of feeding, clothing, schooling, elocution, tuition, OLs, ALs, university, marriage etc. Again, you know what I mean.

SWOT is not a parade to show off the Emperor’s sun tan or his great muscles… There’s more to it than that. This is when the real work begins. It is not enough to say this is good, this is great, this is lousy; you have to also say what impact the SWOT has and how to deal with each of the elements identified. It is necessary to analyse carefully the implications of identified weaknesses and decide upon courses of action to rectify weaknesses before it’s too late. It is necessary to set follow-up procedure to see if the weaknesses have effectively been eliminated. Does it require alternative measurements? Is the emperor fully naked or is his robe simply torn in one place?

The S, O, and T also have to be dealt with equally diligently.

Our initial SWOT should prompt us to seek ways to reinforce our strengths. It should help us, when matched appropriately with organisational objectives (visions, missions, strategies – anything you like) to identify and make use of strategic opportunities arising in the environment. It should help us take measures to counter threats to our organisational success and wellbeing.

Is there a logical explanation?

Why on earth do we not go all the way after the initial SWOT? Simply never occurred to us or to our highly paid consultants? The answer has something to do with the feel good factor and groupthink. We are all working for such a great organisation – why change? Or is it that it takes too much trouble to change since it is a complete mess; a real COW (can of worms)? So, just let us bat on, hiding our heads in the sand like the ostrich is supposed to do when sensing danger? Decide for yourself and for your organisation. You know best.

Where were the little boys and girls?

There is also the key factor that you may have left a lot of the brave and often the naive out of the sessions. What manager would openly tell the CEO or the Board they have made stupid mistakes? Only the very brave and the naive would. You see what I mean? You should have got into the sessions all the little boys and girls who did not know it is dangerous to ask why the emperor is naked. You should have in the forum not simply the managers whose bonus is on line or the partners whose share of profits is on line. You should also have in the forum the small man, whose livelihood depends on the long-term health of the company. He will tell the truth.

An environment of trust is necessary

You could also make sure your sessions are held in a spirit of flexibility and trust; that the CEO is not listening in ready to shoot the messenger. In fact, it is a great idea to get a facilitator to handle the sessions. You could if possible make sure that the official “tell-tale” is conveniently locked out as well.

Spell out the objectives

It is necessary to point out clearly to the participants that this is not a mud slinging party (let’s save that for election time!); nor is it a happy day out. The objective is to seek to better the internal environment of the company and to identify opportunities and threats. Then it is necessary to take action based on these findings.

A note to one-man shows

Beware, you may truly encounter blind spots in the SWOT analysis. You may truly think you are great and everything is wonderful; your humanity or wishful thinking may prevent you from seeing the real situation. Get someone to help you out and add objectivity and a fresh view point. If you can’t afford a consultant? Get a group of your friends or contacts who may be facing a similar plight and get the services of a consultant at a joint forum.

Apply what you find in SWOT to improve your organisation

Put in a follow-up session in your corporate agenda. Pin down responsibility clearly and firmly. Try this out, you’ll never be organisationally naked again if you are honest with yourself.

In the next article let us talk of the most misunderstood management technique: Brainstorming. It is also my favourite. Really.

In the meanwhile, volunteers to join PASM (Prevention of Abuse of SWOT Movement) or the PABW (Prevention of Abuse of Brainstorming as a Word) can reach me through my email.

While you are at this, also let me know which management tools you wish to read about in the future.

From Ezine Athwela, the official newsletter of the Athwela Business Journal

ISSN: 1391-7153 | 24 January 2002 | volume 01 issue 02

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About Nilooka

I am a learner; and also a great trainer. I make learning fun for myself and for everyone else.
This entry was posted in Business Skills, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Management Skills, Management Training, Supervisory Training and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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