The fallacy of the SWOT analysis

S ~ Strengths

W ~ Weaknesses

O ~ Opportunities

T ~ Threats

The SWOT analysis is a great diagnostic tool. It provides an immediate snapshot of your practice. But it is flawed.

It tends to be weighted too evenly: there is a temptation to make sure that the S/O equation is weighted the same. The reality is that most practices, when compared to other sectors, are replete with gaping holes – whether that is around management, leadership or closing the knowing/doing gap.

The opportunities are never fully developed, and end up being more a wish list.

Threats abound but the truth of the matter is that most partners would prefer to put off today for tomorrow in the hope that some or all of the issues self-resolve.

Focus is the name of the game. Not focusing on the minor in favour of the major – there is far too much micro-management that goes on at the best of times – but taking issues that are doable, and are holding the practice back. It may be as simple as making sure that the typing is being done or calls are returned quicker than you have promised (the equivalent of Zappos sending out its parcels to arrive earlier than expected) or greater transparency in the process of billing.

One book that inspired me last year was The Little Big Things by Tom Peters. What you realise from reading through the 516 pages is that the smallest things often, over time, have the biggest impact. You might have a grand vision for the practice but if you have zero trust between departments then it will feel like pushing water up hill.

In some quarters to change a habit it is suggested that you need to stick at something religiously for 21 days. Perhaps that should be the touchstone for business planning. In other words you might set yourself the target of achieving one thing every day for 21 days. If you achieve your ambition and that was spread right across the firm just imagine how things would begin to unfold.

Here are a few suggested areas that might be worth focusing on:

  1. Dress code.
  2. Telephone technique.
  3. Sending thank you notes after every client or referrer meeting.
  4. Saying good morning to everyone you meet in the firm and smiling.
  5. Saying thank you to your secretary and support staff every day.
  6. Making sure you make time to listen to people instead of nodding, looking at your watch and giving the impression that your work is more important than someone’s interests outside of work.
  7. Showing some enthusiasm for what you do. It is bound to rub off on others.
  8. Not being afraid to ask for help when you don’t know the answer. You aren’t invincible.
  9. Dispel the notion that presenteeism is the way to get on. Lead by example and leave the office with everyone else.
  10. Be honest with yourself and others.
  11. If you don’t like what you are doing or don’t get on with a client say so. Billing shouldn’t take priority to everything else.
  12. Show more interest in the firm. You don’t have to suck up to people but just make an effort to engage.
  13. Start using the telephone to cut through the prolix correspondence. If you are so nervous that you think you are going to be tripped up by your oppo then don’t make that an excuse not to call. There are ways around being misquoted. If you get to the point of sending a letter or email marked “5th” in the same day then something has gone seriously awry.
  14. Understand your clients’ needs. Think like them. Would you instruct yourself or your firm?
  15. Read something unrelated to your job. I would still say that Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People takes some beating.
  16. Push the social media agenda. Even if you don’t think it is for you, others will be inspired to believe that you or the firm can change.
  17. Start doing mini-appraisals – every week would be good. The annual appraisal is a joke.
  18. Schedule time for lunch with clients.
  19. Ask your clients what they like about the service and what they don’t.
  20. If you had to offer a free trial of the service – just like a test drive of a car – how would you make it work?
  21. Make your website the best it possibly can be.

If you continue to work through these and many other areas the changes will be manifest. What you will find is that the ship will start to steer itself a bit more, rather than having to be directed by aims and objectives that feel so remote from the firm’s current status that they are never likely to be achieved.

Next time you are tempted to promulgate a SWOT analysis ask yourself if it will truly make a difference? Perhaps the changes that you are looking for can be tackled with greater engagement and doing the basics better than anyone else around.

~ JS ~