Do you like SWOT yet dislike the long lists it can create?

Would you like a SWOT that gives meaningful data?

Want a SWOT that prioritizes and turns into action?

Here red10 ‘s Sarah Barber describes how we helped a team use a SWOT in a way that overcomes its pitfalls.

What are the pitfalls of SWOT?

Have you seen the paper SWOT analysis: It’s time for a product recall?

One pitfall identified by Hill and Westbrook is that one or two team members can dominate SWOT analysis, meaning that not all voices are heard.

Gathering feedback in advance, from all members of the leadership team, avoids this.

In our red10 approach to SWOT, we began by conducting a half-hour phone conversation with each person, asking four open questions.

  1. What are the strengths of the leadership team and the department?
  2. Looking into the future and considering the environment in which we operate, what are the opportunities?
  3. What are the weaknesses of the leadership team and the department?
  4. Looking into the future and considering the environment in which we operate, what are the threats?

During the conversation we helped people to phrase feedback constructively e.g. by encouraging people to say what they want to happen, rather than what they don’t want.

The transcript of the interview was shared with the team member to allow them to make any corrections or additions. It was not shared with anyone else.

SWOT Feedback-on-a-Page™

Once we had agreed transcripts from everyone, we started to compile a single page report (allowing ourselves to only use the two sides to force conciseness and make the report more readable and usable).

We looked across the feedback and identified themes that three or more people had mentioned. We gave the theme a name and added a number in brackets to show the number of people who had mentioned this theme. We described the theme using people’s own words, yet mixing up sentences from different people so that it was not obvious who said what. Feedback that only one or two people gave was not lost but recorded briefly in a category called “other”.

The result is a concise summary of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on two sides of paper. There is prioritisation in the report as we list the themes in order of the number of people mentioning that theme.

We noticed that leaders struggled a little to decide whether to position some leadership team themes as opportunities or weaknesses. We asked them not to worry about it, then scratched our heads later and decided to classify them in this way. If the team could take positive action to raise performance, it became an opportunity. If the theme covered something that the team should stop doing, or change how they did it, it was classified as a weakness.

This report allowed the team to avoid other pitfalls highlighted by Hill and Westbrook

“long lists (over 40 factors on average), general (often meaningless) descriptions, a failure to prioritize …..”.

Our report contained 26 themes, described specifically and meaningfully in people’s own words and listed in priority order within each section.

Click here for our Sample SWOT Report Feedback

What happened next?

We shared the report first with the team leader. This was to enable her to help us to remove any comments which might clearly identify an individual, and any comments likely to cause hurt to someone on the team. This is an important step as team feedback is unlikely to land if it causes hurt or offence.

We then shared the report with the whole team – as a pre-read for a meeting. In this way everyone gains a shared understanding of themes identified before meeting to decide what to do about them.

Responding to the analysis

At the meeting, we started by celebrating the strengths– finding the themes that really resonate with people and taking time to be rightly proud of their strengths.

We then turn to the weaknesses, opportunities and threats and ask the team to prioritise 3 or 4 things that they would like to address. We set up sub-groups to scope out an action plan and share with the rest of the team. These became the basis of the team’s strategy in response to their own SWOT analysis.

The immediacy of moving from analysis to action planning meant that the team avoided the final pitfall highlighted by Hill and Westbrook: failure to use the SWOT outputs within the later stages of the strategy process.

What did our client say about this SWOT analysis?

Our team was so different yesterday vs today. Why?
Yesterday, we were all looking in different directions
Through the SWOT, now we all have the same big picture and are looking in the same direction

The SWOT was a great way of keeping it simple with things that make the most difference

Turning the SWOT into action means that there’s team ownership now.
It can be done.
And we know: if we don’t do it, it won’t happen.

Please get in touch if you would like to use this approach to conducting a SWOT analysis for your team.