Many planning tools are used on an annual basis—yet, they are often overlooked in the middle of a pandemic like COVID-19. There is an opportunity, now more than ever, in your team's need for direction, a way to focus their action and a bumper rail to keep them moving forward. This will allow you to harness the energy of your team rather than sinking in the quicksand of panic.
Many executives have heard of SWOT but aren’t familiar with how to leverage it for their business plan, much less how to utilize it in a time of crisis. Every business I work with has seen affects from the pandemic—either positive or negative. Let’s look at how to utilize the SWOT approach for either effect by making it a cSWOT (Crisis SWOT). A cSWOT is key to establishing a healthy decision-making capability and communication rhythm in your company during trying times.
In the absence of information, your team will make it up. With all your favorite stations, news, Twitter, Facebook, etc. focused on COVID-19, it seems conflicting information is spreading faster than a contagious virus. To SWOT away at a pandemic, you must own the communication in your company.
A cSWOT diverges from the usual SWOT output, is foundational for you to own the communication in your company (even overwrite conflicting stories and news) and can be completed in four steps.
Step 1: Understand SWOT analysis terms
SWOT is a tool that identifies the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of an organization. A SWOT visual is a 2x2 matrix, yet can be much more when used as a tool to leverage the thinking and energy of more than one person for collaboration, which is one reason we built it directly into the dashboard of Rhythm software.
Put aside the standard, long-term use of this tool, and focus on this time of rapidly changing pandemic. For a cSWOT, the outcome desired is to categorize the immediate positive and negative influence of internal and external forces, thus creating a SWOT matrix of four categories based on internal forces and external forces:
INTERNAL FORCES (we have control)
- Strengths Category (positive: capitalize on, leverage or protect)
- Something that we can do very well today that could help us gain fast traction with skills, resources and knowledge already in place.
- Weakness Category (negative: mitigate or eliminate)
- Areas that are holding us back that should be removed or improved upon with the right energy and effort.
EXTERNAL FORCES (we do not have control)
- Opportunities Category (positive: potential areas to invest in or pursue)
- These could include technology, relaxing regulations, elimination of trade barriers, changing consumer preferences, etc.
- Threats Category (negative: to shore up against, mitigate)
- Emergence of new regulations, increased trade barriers, supply chain disruption, etc.
As a crisis management tool, the cSWOT is equally applicable to companies who have activated BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) and those who have no plan and are scrambling or stuck A BCP is useful for a one-time (or unchanging) declared event, yet it often overlooks the changing environment of a pandemic. A SWOT analysis during a pandemic is constantly changing with the changing market conditions and should be re-evaluated during your regular rhythm of work. A cSWOT incorporates the changing environment of this unpredictable business enemy. If you have no plan in place, the cSWOT allows you to immediately focus energy and to communicate the right message to your team.
Step 2: Apply the cSWOT approach to (4) distinct business scorecard (BSC) categories
The development of SWOT at Stanford Research Institute included a questionnaire completed by over 5,000 executives—and there is a direct link between the conclusions and your company: The CEO should be the chief planner, and the executive or senior team should be the senior planning team.
Meet weekly, and discuss Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat, one category at a time: Employees; Customers; Revenue; Processes (see graphic below). Prioritize each categorical list, and then compare all four to create your immediate 3-5 weekly priorities to focus on.
Step 3: Do your pandemic SWOT analysis a minimum 1x per week
Why do this every week? I admit that it seems counterintuitive. Yet standard approaches cannot lead us through these unpredictable times. Things are changing fast, and there is no precedent. By focusing on the top 3-5 weekly priorities from your cSWOT analysis, your team will have focus for the week while you and your leadership team own the communication—and all are less likely to be blindsided. This will build encouragement during this pandemic and help buoy morale.
Each week, after you complete Step 2, reconvene again. Use the latest info and intel, work through a cSWOT, and create a new list of 3-5 priorities for the next week. Don’t forget that with each weekly plan put in place, you must own the communication with stakeholders (team, lenders, board, public, government agencies, suppliers, etc. as appropriate).
Step 4: Communicate next steps to appropriate stakeholders
Set a weekly (minimum) communication cycle to inform all stakeholders. In uncertain times, it’s easier to be consistent in communication by scheduling ahead. Think about your stakeholders' “news cycle,” and plan accordingly. You may use a morning, internal press announcement to level-set what the company and leadership are doing against last night's (or this morning’s) news.
To SWOT at a pandemic, maximize team member effort, and communicate your cSWOT. You’ll give your team direction, focus their actions and put up bumper rails to keep them moving forward—all while gaining actionable data to lead you through any pandemic. Understand the SWOT terms, apply the cSWOT approach weekly (or more often) and immediately communicate next steps to appropriate stakeholders.
Be sure to write with your application, your results and your questions, or check out our virtual planning services if you need expert help – Barry.
Additional Rhythm Systems Meeting Resources:
Consider using Rhythm Software to run your weekly meeting, where the status and agenda are automatically created every week to keep you on track!
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images