Friday, February 18, 2011

Turn SWOT into SCOT

Recently a survey of top level managers asked which of the traditional questions was the most difficult to answer. "What are your weaknesses?" was the top vote-getter. It's a question that's also been cited in other surveys by HR managers as generating the worst responses from applicants; answers like "I work too hard" are far too common.

Likewise, in traditional strategic planning, organizations stumble when they ponder the Weaknesses of their organizations. Traditional planning goes through a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The comments shared during that section don't usually get at the heart of what's holding the organization back. Otherwise, the staff, made up of intelligent people, would have addressed those issues already. The remarks during this portion of the planning day are usually anemic or hurtful being directed at someone else's functional area. Or if there's confusion about the internal focus, people throw out answers that are related to external factors--e.g. "We're too prone to sales losses during economic downturns..."

With several staffs, I've worked through SCOT, an acronym I kind of like for some personal reasons. It changes Weaknesses to Challenges. You'll want to make sure everyone's clear on the mission, vision and core purpose of the organization to define the scope of the conversation.

Strengths (internal): most groups can spout off a lot of these. It's really helpful to have staff answer this question: "What worked well this past year (or couple of years)?"

Challenges (internal): Still looking at the what's happening inside the company, ask the question, "What didn't work so well?" or "Where was our success less than admirable?" People will focus on those areas where 1) plans were executed well but didn't get the desired results; 2) plans weren't executed well because the organization lost focus. It's also important to prioritize those challenges. "Which need to be accomplished in the next 12-24 months?"

Opportunities (external): What market segments should we be trying to capture? What capabilities in the supply chain are being wasted? What's happening with technology that could help?

Threats (external): How would our competition win by TKO (technical knockout)? Supply chain weaknesses? Regulatory obstacles? There are a myriad of factors here that could be explored if you have enough time and data.

Instead of an anemic, wasteful period of time spent with a lot of intelligent people in the room, keep them engaged by talking about challenges rather than weaknesses.

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