Time to Rethink SWOT
It is not at all uncommon to begin a strategy and planning session with a thorough, open, honest assessment of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis). Having facilitated any number of these sessions, it has become apparent that the time to re-think this approach may be at hand.
Consider this exercise which begins with a list of strengths. These mostly center on capabilities, equipment, processes, experience, and sometimes “we have great people.” Nothing wrong or even inaccurate here. However, this begs several questions. Among them, what will you do with this list once it’s completed? And, more to the point, if your primary competitors were having this very same conversation, how likely is it that their list would look similar, if not nearly identical to yours?
The idea of identifying and articulating your organizational strengths takes on far greater meaning when you instead focus on generating a list of your unique strengths. That is, what it is that makes you different than your competitors, that sets you apart as the provider of choice among your targeted customers?
In his seminal article “What is Strategy,” Michael Porter makes the case that the essence of strategy is about being different. This differentiation marks a dividing line between you and everyone else. It addresses the question: “What sets you apart from the competition in a way that gives you more running room in the marketplace, leading the way to greater margins and increased customer loyalty?”
Unique, by definition means one of a kind (first coined in French, taken from the Latin “Unicus”), like no other. What about your organization makes you different? Where do you stand out in a way that is unique?
Making this subtle but important change, moving from listing your “strengths” to identifying your “unique strengths” may yield a shorter list, but one that is far more powerful and useful. These unique strengths are raw material for developing your corporate strategies; how you will leverage your competitive advantage into a compelling and enduringly successful plan.
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Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.