The quantified SWOT: Try it, you'll like it

We've all been through SWOT exercises and, if you're like me, you've often wondered if the process - sometimes painstaking and laborious - really yields actionable insight.

We've all been through SWOT exercises and, if you're like me, you've often wondered if the process – sometimes painstaking and laborious – really yields actionable insight.

Lately, I've had the opportunity to create and lead what I would call “quantified SWOTs” and, perhaps not surprisingly, the quantification makes the end product more precise and actionable. You may want to consider it. Let me explain.

Perhaps you're mulling the future of your own organization and want to do a self-assessment. Typical solution: SWOT. But try this variation.

Work with your team and develop a master list of attributes that you believe your function has responsibility for within your company. The list, of course, includes things such as leadership communications support, CSR, media outreach, employee engagement, etc. Break this down and be as specific as you like.

Now, after a dynamic, robust team discussion, ask your team to score each of these attributes in two columns: first, on a 1-5 scale, prioritize each attribute's strategic importance to the company. The second column, also a 1-5 scoring, is a self-assessment of your group's performance.

Take these findings and plot them on a 2x2 grid. You'll quickly find some compelling insights. The upper right quadrant will clearly show your highest priorities and those things you're doing well. Over to the left will be important priorities in which you are under-performing. Focus on those fast. The lower right quadrant will be low priority work you're doing well, which means maybe you can afford to back off some of the resources you have devoted to these activities. Last and perhaps least, is the lower left quadrant revealing low priority work you're not doing very well. Here's a big idea: eliminate much of this work and devote more resources against the things that really matter.

You get it. You can quickly create a map of your group's priorities, performance, and what actions are most required in the weeks and months ahead.

Now, if you're brave and you really want to do this right, go through this same exercise not with the communications team, but with your company's leadership. Provide them the list of attributes associated with the communications organization, though let them add to the list. Then have them determine what's of greatest importance to the company and how you're doing.

When you plot these results out, you not only will get important insight into your management's view of your function, you will have the basis for an extraordinary presentation to your team. 

Experience suggests you will see plenty of discrepancy between the stated priorities of both groups. That will make for worthwhile discussion and decision-making.

There are other variations to this process, but the most insightful, helpful diagnostics can come from what is described above. 

It's a courageous exercise because you, and your team, must be willing to really listen and adapt. But if you do, I can assure you this exercise is cathartic, refreshing, and stimulating – both to you and your people. 

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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