Rediscovering The SWOT Analysis

One on the tools that every budding business management student thinks they are familiar with is the SWOT analysis. Below we take a fresh look at its potential and how it’s misused.


Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats

Familiarity with SWOT has bred misuse. We often see it being used to simply capture obvious statements that are no use in driving a new strategy conversation or a new direction for the organisation. And if we were given £1 for every time we saw “Our people” in the Strengths box we would have enough to buy our every own iPad. Equally, we’ve never seen “Our people” in the Weaknesses box. These kind of trite statements waste everybody’s time.

First principle of a good SWOT is about data organisation. Strengths and Weaknesses should focus on Internal factors, Opportunities and Threats focused on External factors.

Second principle is about motivation. SWOT should never be done to make a team feel good about itself. An effective process should be provocative, stimulating, even controversial. The best ones contain real insight that makes for exciting/painful reading.

The next thing that makes a SWOT really come alive is how the data is used to drive decisions. We use a couple of additional boxes to help facilitate that process as shown below:


Used in this way the SWOT becomes much more dynamic. The External Environment is forced to interact with the Organisational Capabilities which produce a synthesis of Critical Issues and Promising Potential. It’s these two dimensions, when brought together, that begin to form some interesting strategic/competitive ideas.

What Does Success Look Like?

We’re frequently asked if there are any recurring characteristics that act as a ‘lightning conductor’ to revealing a company’s likely success. Well, we’ve thought about it and come up with the following list. Note they apply to companies that have been successful over the long not short term, and are in no particular order:


An Effective Purpose Framework
They have a clear vision, articulated and demonstrable values and a set of strategic objectives that inform all tactical operating plans. Relatively high engagement levels around the purpose.

A Leadership Driven Sense Of Urgency
This is a high-energy, can do environment, with an impatience about the present and a hunger to make the future happen. Fools are not suffered gladly and achievement is widely recognised.

A Strong, Forthright, Value Adding Senior Management Team
The team is driven by the corporate values, not by dominant personalities. They are effective behavioural role models and vision champions.

A Compelling Value Proposition
Whatever is being sold has the potential for real growth over at least the mid-term. The offer stands out from the crowd.

A Strong Balance Sheet
A respecter of cash and the building of meaningful asset value; they pay the same attention to the BS as they do the P&L


A Profit Not Sales Focus
The old saw ‘profit is sanity turnover is vanity’ could have been written for these organisations.
Smart, Dedicated PeopleThe quality of the people is patent. Strong succession planning, people development and capability building are all core activities. Real strength in depth.

A Dynamic And Growing Customer Base
They are working with the right customers, ones that push them and are prepared to partner with them, finding new ways of working together and finding new solutions to intractable problems.

A Focus On Excellence
They are constantly seeking to improve through both incremental and transformational innovation. Also, very receptive to change.

How does your organisation measure up?

Be Careful, Your Sales Attitude Can Seriously Damage Your Prospects

We all know about glass half empty, glass half full kind of people. By definition salespeople have to demonstrate half full approach, optimism being the fuel that drives sales reliance.


What we are finding mid 2010 is that for many salespeople remaining positive is becoming a real challenge. The economy is not recovering in any meaningful way and, for many new businesses, is still hard to come by with customers just as likely to procrastinate as to purchase.

This creates a difficulty for salespeople. All the reasons/excuses they gave for business being poor are long used up. Being behind target is the norm, the high watermark of 2007 figures being a distant memory. Many have not earned meaningful bonus for some time and don’t see much prospect in the near future either.

We are seeing increasing evidence of salespeople becoming resigned to this low performance, under achieving state. This is very dangerous because it creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. Underperformance leads to pessimism, which encourages down-grading personal expectations, which creates negativity, which affects behaviour, which reduces effectiveness, which sends the whole loop replaying again.

This was brought home in an organisation where a new recruit (and new to selling) had no memory of the good times, had never met customers rolling over to give themselves up. She had only known post 2007 trading conditions. She began in her sales role early in 2008, that year she came in the top 5 salespeople and this year she is currently number 1.


What’s going on? A rookie salesperson out performing her more experienced colleagues? Sure, her numbers are not beating 2007 levels, but at current growth rates, they will be by mid 2011. She has no mental baggage holding up her sales performance.

If you have a sales team struggling to believe they can ever replicate their previous performance, you need to act; this is not a problem that will be solved by a returning buoyant market-place.

Seeing Into The Future – Five Business Strategy Questions People Will Pay Large Sums For Insight Into The Most Likely Outcome

We’ve always lived in interesting times, but mid 2010, there are some fascinating questions exercising people with the brains the size of planets in working out the best strategic response. What do you think will happen?


  • Will putting up a pay wall around the Times newspapers work? Can generic news content, laced with a few star columnists, persuade people to pay up? Will a cross-subscription model using Sky and other parts of News Corp. be used to entice people to sign-up? Many industry watchers credibility depends on the outcome happening in the way they have predicated. Most think it will fail, but has Murdoch again had a visionary moment linked to his strong business sense?
  • Has the airline industry fractured into different operating models? Short haul= low cost, long haul=full service, or can a long haul, low cost operator work? Will we see a different split of airline offerings; leisure either only low cost economy or private jet luxury, and business full service with all the extras? Many airlines are playing with these offerings already and, with further consolidation happening, more experimentation will happen. How will things change with the Middle East airlines operating the largest hubs in the world (they already are the largest purchasers of new jets), and what will the increasing environmental considerations do to air travel and its already shaky economic model?
  • Are book, music and video stores finished? Are we seeing the last 10 years of the physical product, be it a book, CD or DVD? Can your local store transition into something new, which not only offers a purchasing point but can also offer a compelling customer experience connected to that purchase, which cannot be replicated on-line?
  • How will BP emerge from its Gulf catastrophe? Certainly weaker, but temporarily or more permanently? Can it survive? What will be the long-term impact on deep-water exploration? Does it change the peak oil calculation? How will UK pension funds be affected?
  • The demographic time bomb. We all know the economic challenges of this shift in the UK population, with an unaffordable pay-as-you-go national pension scheme; but what about the business opportunities? These retiring baby boomers have disposable income, are asset rich and very discerning consumers. What will they do with this economic (and political?) leverage.

These issues might not directly affect you, but if you had to pose the five biggest strategic issues for your own organisation, what would they be? How coherently could you frame the questions and how insightfully could you answer them?


How To Identify People With Low Ownership Issues

Ownership is mind-set determined – see how many of the following you recognise:


  1. Yes I agree with you , you’re right I need to change – soon
  2. These numbers are not good enough, they will improve – soon
  3. I’m going to sign up for an MBA, its time for me to improve my business education – when I get the time
  4. I nearly told her/him what I really thought of them. I was that close to losing it.
  5. Next month/quarter/year I will deliver a better performance
  6. Factors beyond my control were to blame for missing the numbers (select from a long list – the wrong weather a favourite amongst some company chairmen)
  7. It’s a personality clash, there’s nothing I can do
  8. It’s good in theory but won’t work in practice (then it’s a bad theory)
  9. My boss is a nightmare
  10. I don’t have the resources, or its evergreen predecessor
  11. I don’t have the time
  12. We can’t fire them, it’s too difficult (not if done correctly)
  13. Better ongoing mediocre performance, than a vacancy (this breeds mediocrity)
  14. People need time to come to terms with changing their behaviour (no they don’t, people need time to change their attitudes not their behaviour)
  15. The other department/person/division is to blame.
  16. We are incompatible star signs (true – said a manager earning £60K plus a year)
  17. Where can you get good people these days?
  18. People these days are more disloyal
  19. I have an addictive personality
  20. I have a low metabolic rate

The issue with this list is not to test them for truth, they might be, that’s not the point. People with a high ownership mind-set seek to transcend issues not use them as excuses as to why something has not been achieved/done/actioned.

What’s good fun (or depressing if they work close to you) is, once you spot someone with a low ownership mind-set, how often these excuses crop up.

How Do You Measure Up As A Team Manager?

Over the last 6 months Predaptive have been working on a competency project that has identified certain characteristics of the successful team manager. We have summarised those behavioural indicators into the following list:


  1. They seek to add value to what the team are trying to achieve, rather than simply ‘manage’ them.
  2. They balance the task-team-individual requirements as best they can.
  3. They seek to work on connecting their personal goals with the organisational requirements.
  4. They maintain the appropriate emotional distance between them and their team. Close, but not too close. Distant but not that distant.
  5. They remember where their credibility should come from (contribution and expertise – not from position or hierarchical status).
  6. They work to make their people smarter.
  7. They constantly focus on increasing their motivation.
  8. They try to make their day as productive, and their work environment as stimulating, as possible.
  9. They make time for people, offering praise and encouragement.
  10. They avoid the team becoming emotionally dependent on them and vice versa.
  11. They seek to remain objective in all decision making.
  12. They deal with the tough stuff quickly, decisively, fairly and consistently.
  13. They hold themselves to the highest personal standards.
  14. They work hard at championing the organisation’s vision and values. They see themselves as needing to demonstrate real role-model behaviour.
  15. They are always confidential and discreet with information about their team. They don’t gossip about personal matters.
  16. They focus on coaching and supporting rather than checking and policing.
  17. They look to show they trust their people.
  18. They offer praise and recognition where it’s warranted.
  19. They don’t seek to impose their personal views or work style on others. They allow people to be themselves.
  20. They connect with people at the human level, not hiding behind titles or position.

Staying Power

Sir Terry Leahy has announced he’s leaving Tesco after 14 years in charge. During that time the business has seen turnover rise by 310% and profit rise even more. Tesco has moved from being an also-ran in the UK supermarket field to the dominant player, overtaking Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in profitability.


Tesco is unusual amongst its rivals in having long standing Chief Executives. 14 years gives a person time to see their vision turned into reality, passing through painful times of change as part of a strategy that shareholders, customers and employees know is likely to be given the opportunity to make it to fruition, making them more likely to stick with it.

It’s not just Leahy who has been given the chance to succeed. Despite being formed in 1919, Tesco has only ever had five CEO’s. One was Jack Cohen, the founder, the following two were his son-in-laws, followed by Lord MacLaurin. Lord MacLaurin was plain old Ian when he took over, his remarkable achievements at Tesco gave him the profile that led to a peerage. He claims his most important decision whilst at Tesco was appointing his successor, rather than turning Tesco into the UK’s largest retailer.

During the 14 years that Sir Terry Leahy has been with Tesco, Marks & Spencer have had five Chief Executives, the same number that Tesco has had in the last century. Marks & Spencer has not enjoyed the steady good fortunes of Tesco over that period.
Whilst it may be wise to replace a Chief Executive who isn’t delivering the goods, or an Executive at any level who isn’t performing, it’s worth reflecting on whether giving people time to execute their vision and invest in selecting and mentoring a successor can produce better long term results for all stakeholders.