SWOT decision making

Right Opportunity: SWOT Informed Decision-Making

Don’t let change influence the direction of your growth. Just don’t. Don’t do it. (If you chortled just a little, you got it … change is a constant.)

How we show up to change is what will make or break reaching goals. The journey you’ve envisioned for the next three to five years will be tested, adapted, and updated.

To have confidence when your direction is tested, must be adapted, or updated? The best (and really, only) way is to use a group of tools plus skills.

Create an unbiased feedback loop.

This can be hard to do. Especially since we rely on bias to help us find and keep doing more of what worked. Not to mention that when carefully cultivating certain actions to drive culture, a rigidity can develop in the way one does work. 

What your company’s feedback loop contains is important. Though your greatest asset, if left unchecked this feedback loop can become your greatest blind spot.

Below are the core tools I recommend including. When used regularly they help leaders stay dialed into what matters for their industry and their own competitive advantage. Adam Mutschler talked about this with me. He shared that the right process isn’t just how stuff gets done, it’s how we – and our company – can get better because of the rigorous structure in place.

Here are the core tools to make your iterative process:

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT (strength, opportunity, weakness, and threat) assessment is often overlooked and / or misused. I commonly see companies I work with:

  • Wearing rose colored glasses: that is happening in our industry, but it doesn’t apply to use;
  • Placing too much attention on strengths and too little attention given to weaknesses;
  • Spending too little time researching and understanding external factors; and 
  • Using a past assessment to be THE label for how the company does its work.

Really, a SWOT is a living document, developing and changing internally with each person, product, and process change. SWOT is influenced by what is happening with your closest competitors and the whole industry. It is imperative to have the necessary information to make strategic short-term and long-term decisions.

Without an assessment that is updated each month and quarter, the ability to recognize opportunity in the unknown decreases. As a leader, you have a duty to the company. The company exists because of your choices, and you want those choices to be made with as much knowledge as possible.

Present Retreat

Another underutilized tool is a weekly Present Retreat which is structured for you – a leader with budgetary responsibility. Time is scarce, and protecting four consecutive hours each week is a feat. This time management skill will serve you well. The focus needed to block the time, commit to the block of time, and use it productivity requires focus.

There is space in focus. The more we show up to our protected time, the more we can dig into what’s important. Sometimes that’s planning, or assessment, or prioritization … or all of those and more. The business stage the company is in combined with your objectives for the organization will determine what you focus on during the Present Retreat.

A good place to start is with what has happened. Reports that you look at may include financial reports, sales funnel health, and marketing data to understand how the company performed. This is always backward-looking. 

Overlay the past performance of the company with where the company is right now. What is happening that is expected to change the data? Is that enough to keep the company pointed in the right direction? How do you know? 

Reflection daily, weekly, and monthly shows you what’s happening. Present Retreats show you if the effort has the desired result – the stated goal outcome – and allow you to make adjustments to keep moving forward.

Tools to Provide Data

Where you get your data matters. What data you choose to collect matters. Even more important is that everyone understands why you chose a particular data set. You have specific tools within your organization to collect information. Use it.

Communicating about when and how to use data allows for more. More creativity. More iteration. More resilience to change. Use your processes to build space to think and create. Let the data indicate the impact and refine action to point yourself and guide your team to the outcomes.

The pulse of the company holds necessary information to make decisions.

Your chosen processes and tools are a way to be aware of what there is to work with. The resources of time, people, and money to achieve organizational goals. Culture in your organization dictates what will actually be accomplished regardless of what is said. Erika Fineberg shared with me that “As long as you’re coming from the right place, and you understand the concept, that true profound concept of trust. That you’re there to help make life amazing for every person in the company, as well as yourself.”

Stay out of your own way.

We get in our own way by looking only at what we want. It trips us up because we don’t have the whole picture, only what we want to see. To get out of your own way, it is necessary to utilize specific tools and practice them daily. When hurried, sometimes we make the choice to go ahead without all the information needed. Not only does that reduce the chances of achieving a goal, it also will erode the relationship you have with your people.

Are your SWOTs too subjective?

If you aren’t looking at it weekly, the probability skyrockets that you are relying on subjective unprovable data. Using SWOT in every day activity helps to adjust and keep moving toward the end goal, and is a tool to help you define the true north of your organization. Without that viewpoint, the revealed information could just be reinforcing our beliefs about what we think is true … not what is necessarily true. 

Are you avoiding real work?

There is a trend that promotes only doing work you are passionate about and have fun doing. All work has parts that are not fun nor fuel our passion at the moment. Yet that work is still necessary to get to the goal we are passionate about. An important point to recognize: maybe a lack of fun is because we don’t have the skill(s) we need. Many give up – there isn’t enough focus to keep the momentum through the personal growth of acquiring a new skill. Fueling internal motivation to do necessary (but perhaps mundane) tasks allows you to face such work with a curiosity that will make it fun. In the end, this hard work is what makes our passions fulfilling.

There is Vast Opportunity

Real problems exist. Problems we take for granted or just choose to live with. Take Flexport for example. They are “The unsexiest trillion-dollar startup” because they chose to tackle a problem that no one else had (and there were many reasons NOT to do so). Solving a problem – really the root of the problem – is where opportunity lies.

It’s the outlook you bring and the way you look at the challenge that makes opportunity exciting. In business you are facing real-world problems, yet are you finding real-world solutions? Maybe your forte is the vision, or the task management, or the nuts and bolts. As a leader, it is important to have foundations in all three areas. That’s what Michael Gerber’s timeless message in the “E-Myth Revisited” covers. When we only have one forte and rely on it for every situation … that can become a handicap. Focusing on what the goal is allows you to hold the vision.

JW Rayhone shared with me the importance of specificity and priority. He said, “We believe that these are opportunities in front of us that we want to focus on capturing, and we make those a priority.”

That’s the key to every opportunity. Be choosey. Then, prioritize what you must do to make it happen. (That’s a comprehensive topic discussion for another day, but be sure to check out our great prioritization resources for you here.)

On the BOLD Business Podcast, we discuss SWOT Informed Decision-Making. Watch this intro to the topic:


Small change big impact

Common in each of the conversations I had with JW, Erika, and Adam was the ripple effect of making small, deliberate changes. Especially when it comes to the way work is done. Your organization’s culture impacts every single thought and action. A space where one can utilize conflict for creativity and iteration is a space that has a built-in feedback loop. Your culture is the pulse of your company.

We’re in a time that recognizes work interpersonal relationships as important as efficient processes. Bringing to light aspects of getting work done, being prepared for meetings, and recognizing when harder questions must be asked. 

The work culture informs how you will make decisions (and if the outcomes will stick).

The big idea in “Beyond Measure,” by Margaret Heffernan, is that there is a dichotomy that exists with everything necessary to do what we must to achieve. In every system, whatever happens impacts everything. Everything. And just because big change can be made doesn’t mean it is the change that will have the best impact (now or later).

The real opportunity is in how you show up, and how you are present with yourself and with your colleagues. 

To engross yourself in the work at hand, knowing that you have a living document that changes with the change inside and outside of your organization.

Look at what you are doing: how you show up. Are you willing to look at the hard questions? Are you willing to adapt to maximize relationships? Are you ready to let the team do the same?

Listen to the BOLD Business Podcast


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