When a SWOT becomes a SWAMP (part 2 of 2)


In part 2 of ‘When you’re SWOT becomes a SWAMP’, we’ll discuss how to overcome the SWAMP phenomena & rescue your SWOT exercise.

As indicated at the end of the first article, it sometimes goes wrong. And when it does, it can go really, really wrong indeed and your glorious SWOT eventually turns into a SWAMP, characterized by:

  1. Self-promotion
  2. Wangling
  3. Abandonment
  4. Mediocrity
  5. Preservation

1. Self-promotion
The participants to your SWOT exercise may have a hidden agenda: some just want to promote their own pet projects. Others know the boss is watching how they perform during the exercise, so they do their utmost to shine. Alas, this applies to the exercise only, and never after during the follow-up can you count on them for the execution of the choices that were made.

Let them represent another division at the SWOT.
Use a variant of the 6 Thinking Hats of De Bono.
Have everyone commit to the execution of specific tasks within SMARTly formulated objectives.

2. Wangling
Participants may use scheming, or underhand methods to obtain some goal or result or even manipulate something for dishonest ends.
What if they want to demote a colleague and the SWOT exercise helps them to ‘prove’ that the other one’s department is the weak spot of your organisation? What if they have a financial interest in the company splitting up and parts of it can be put up for sales?

Document vested interests at the start of the exercise by letting each participant state them & recording this on big sheets, hanging them out visibly during the rest of the SWOT exercise.
Explicitly check results with these vested interests  afterwards to validate the results.

3. Abandonment
Some see a SWOT exercise as an excellent opportunity to find excuses for dropping what is not fully understood or would require genuine effort. The Abandonment-reaction amounts to giving up before you’ve even started.
Suppose new entrants are changing the standard business model in your market.  Under those circumstances, considering the need for a change of course for your own company seems to be the least you can & should do. Probably, it’s the reason why you are doing the SWOT right now. But your managers are holding up their hands, telling you that the change would surpass the company’s capabilities and capacity. Just weathering the storm and hoping you’ll survive is your only option, they say.

Actually, they may be right. But how can you find out if that’s the case or not?
Bring in outsiders who know the business, the context & the trends, but who don’t have a vested interest nor a particular reason to resist the change since they don’t belong to the company.
Have them join the discussions & observe carefully how your people respond.

4. Mediocrity
Consensus and good cooperation between team members essentially are good traits in a team. In a SWOT, when the focus is on consensus seeking only, this may prove to be detrimental to the outcome.

As in brainstorming don’t be too critical when generating ideas – save that for afterwards.
Mutual trust is needed to be frank with one another. It also possesses the power to overcome mediocrity in a group.

5. Preservation
Where Abandonment equals giving in beforehand, Preservation is more related to a natural fear for change. Resistance to change manifests itself through attempts to justify the status quo.
Your team is telling you it cannot be mended, that things have always been done their way, that change has been tried before and that it failed.

Let THEM come up with examples of other companies where it WAS possible.
GENERAL IDEA: SWOT is much more than filling lists or quadrants:

  • Beforehand (!) foresee in-between exercises to set the tone, to disarm resistance or detect blind plots; 
  • Set priorities right at the start so you can use them as a criterion for discussing the value of an opinion or statement about the SWOT elements;
  • Action plans, sponsors, champions, project teams, desired output, timeframe have to be available at the end of  the SWOT exercise – at least as a draft.

 So remember: you’re there to cross the swamp, not to fight all the alligators.


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