I recently conducted strategic planning for several organizations. We completed a lively SWOT analysis to get the creative juices flowing. For those of you that have never done one of these exercises, they are great a simple, yet powerful tool to help you develop your strategy. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to your organization—things that you have some control over and can change. Opportunities and threats are external—things that are going on outside your organization, in the larger market—stuff you can’t change. I use this simple grid for almost every single decision I make in my life, both professionally and personally.
Once you've completed your brainstorming for each of the quadrants, the goal is to use your strengths to capitalize on opportunities, as well as to mitigate threats. In other words, you play to your strengths which for any of you who have completed a Strength Finders assessment, will understand. So, there we were discussing what we do better than anyone else and I could sense that we could not get into discussions about the future. Since this group trusted me (I had served as a public servant like them) and we had similar values and backgrounds, I realized we were in a rut and unable to move forward.
The next obvious question is, why? Why can't we plan strategically and envision our preferred future? And the answer unfolded right before my very eyes. The organization, while focusing on its Strengths, must also unpack its Weaknesses. And sometimes these weaknesses are such a weight around the organization’s neck that they will block any forward momentum. Trying to sail forward while you’ve still got the anchor dropped or shipmates rowing in the opposite direction will only result in frustration.
There are three things needed to combat this situation. First, a leader who is humble and self-aware enough to hear the truth and accept ownership for their part in contributing to the weakness as well as their ability to be proactive in getting the sails hoisted and ship back on course. Second, you must have followers who respectfully share with the leader where the knots and barnacles are that prevent smooth sailing. Third, you must have a mutual commitment between the leaders and followers to create an action plan that has accountability steps and timelines so the organizations can unpack the disadvantage with compassion for those involved, while at the same time resolving the issue that is holding them back.
So yes, you can eat the elephant in the room one bite at a time, but only if the above three steps are met. I stood before a group and watched this miracle unfold. It was spectacular, and after years of dealing with impasses, poor communication, and a lack of trust, this event renewed my faith in the transformative power of the leader-follower exchange. Critical thinking coupled with active engagement will solve any weaknesses and organization has and enable it to formulate a strategic plan that catapults them toward their tremendous future.
Interested in having Tracey work with your team? Contact her today about how you can unpack what’s holding you back and raise the organizational bar!