Growth Insights for CEOs

Supercharging Your SWOT: Three Steps to Turning Yours into Actionable Business Impact

Posted by Paul Sparrow

swot-business-impact.jpgI’d like to start this blog by offering my hearty congratulations.

Having recently completed your SWOT Analysis — that fundamental exploration of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to your business — and declared it a masterpiece, you now have entered a warm and fuzzy zone known as “After the SWOT.”

If done correctly, your SWOT should paint a Sistine Chapel-style picture of your business, the market landscape, competitive forces and opportunities for growth. Of course you’re proud of the work you’ve put into the process. You should be.

But — what now?

How do you take what has been captured in that SWOT analysis and put it to good use?

How do you create action steps based on the SWOT that will move the needle in your marketplace?

If your SWOT results are still sitting in a Dropbox folder on a computer somewhere, you may be suffering from “paralysis after analysis,” a serious injustice to the work that your leadership team has invested in developing that SWOT. I’ve seen an uncountable number of small- and mid-sized businesses in this state of arrested development. Feeling that the hard work is done, they jump in and get back to work. And the SWOT gets left behind.

Big mistake.

Remember, the whole point of undertaking a SWOT Analysis in the first place was to materially improve the prospects for growing your business. And since 96 percent of businesses fail within a decade, you can’t take things lightly.

It’s time to supercharge that SWOT by actually leveraging your strengths and minimizing weaknesses in a way that captures those opportunities, while warding off threats.

Fortunately, there’s a logical way to take those first bold steps to unlock the power of the SWOT. It’s a three-stage process during which we CONSOLIDATE the information we’ve gathered into a digestible format; ACTIVATE the consolidated data; and EXECUTE for success.

Let’s start by consolidating the myriad information you gathered during the initial SWOT process. Hopefully you designated a facilitator to help lead you through the SWOT-gathering stage (if not, this would be a great time to designate one). It’s also likely that the SWOT was derived through the inputs of multiple participants, each of whom proffered their own distinct lists of data.

Clearly, simply amalgamating this information into a master list isn’t particularly useful. Ideally, during this consolidation stage, your facilitator can help you identify patterns in the data — finding common ground between the descriptors that lend themselves to a much higher-level, streamlined and tightened master list for each of the four SWOTs.

When I undertake this consolidation stage, I typically take input from all of the teams submitting SWOT data. I literally color-code each team’s SWOT narrative so I’m able to perceive the individuality of the data.

Next, with this rainbow-style font list under each SWOT category, I start to look for those patterns — recurring themes that can be collected into buckets of like-minded traits. I give each “bucket” its own unique title to try and capture the essence of the recurring themes.

For example, a company I helped consolidate its SWOT listed among the strengths words like dedicated, compassionate, forward-thinking and flexible. It was clear to me that this was a reflection of the company’s values, and so “culture” became the title for this collective.

If done correctly, this phase should boil down each list to between about 5-8 categories for S, W, O, and T, and each category will have a number of supporting bullets underneath. “Less is more” is the best mantra here. Take similar concepts and merge them into one.

As you’re consolidating all this data, it’s important to get affirmation at each stage. I typically enlist one or two executive/senior management stakeholders who were part of the original SWOT exercise to make sure the consolidation is being filtered properly.

It’s only after we’ve confirmed that we’re 100% on the right track — and that nothing was lost in translation — that we now change the font color to black, forever codifying the data through unity!

Once completed, your now-consolidated, “SuperSWOT,” should be the foundation for a planning machine — distilled down into base elements that can be swirled into the action plan recipe which you’ll begin to formulate in Phase 2.

Be sure to stay true to the process described above. Cutting corners won’t get you to the best strategic action plan imaginable — and that’s your ultimate goal in this process.

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Topics: SWOT, Small Business, Business Growth Strategy

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