Management techniques come and go, some of them unlamented, and some genuinely useful and possibly could or even should be resuscitated.
Remember the not much missed quality circles, or TQM (Total Quality Management), MBO (management by objectives) and many others.
There was one, however, which never should have gone into darkness and indeed, may well still be in use here and there. SWOT analysis when properly used gives an overall view of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a business and gives the top team a chance to offer their opinions in a safe environment (or so they hoped).
A chance mention by the speaker, Dr Naftali Brawer, and the subsequent discussion at the recent retreat of my Vistage CEO group has caused me to have a radical rethink of the way in which a SWOT analysis should be conducted.
It all started when some recent research by Dove cosmetics was mentioned. This took the form of a police artist being employed to do a blind sketch of a woman who was behind a screen and had to describe her looks for the artist, who then produced a sketch.
The woman then went into another room to meet a researcher who then went through the same procedure except that she described the original subject.
When the two sketches were compared there was a massive difference and, would you believe, the one produced from the researcher’s description was by far the more accurate. The one from the original subject brought out faults which were not really obvious or important to others.
That caused me to think again about SWOT analysis. The problem is that being very close to a business causes us to know too much about it and that leads to a skewed view of, particularly, its strengths and weaknesses.
The classic technique for SWOT involves the top team offering their opinions of each section in a brainstorming session and listing them on a flip chart. The team then votes for the top three most important in each case.
While I believe that this method is valid for opportunities and threats to the business, I am very dubious about the validity of the results for strengths and weaknesses simply because of the Dove effect.
Do we really see ourselves or our business as others see us? I very much doubt it.
What is needed is some research into the attitudes and opinions of people who know us and deal with us such as clients, customers, suppliers, professionals and so on, as to how they see what we are good at and where we need to improve.
Crucially the responses must be kept strictly anonymous so that respondents can feel free to express their opinions as openly as possible.
In actual terms I would suggest that this should certainly involve an outside facilitator and competent research with some high level questioning to bring out the real opinions in the analysis which may well be entirely different from our own opinions.
That wise poet, Robert Burns, said:
and that says it for me.
Author of "Leading to Success" on Amazon Kindle