Tag Archives: SWOT

How to Do SWOT Analysis on Yourself

One of the most basic lessons you learn in first year business school is the SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And it’s a great framework to apply to your business to understand what you do well, what you can improve on and where the greatest threats to your company lie.

But how about a SWOT analysis on ourselves? Where are our blind spots? What do you struggle with?

Here’s a simple framework to give it a go:

Strengths: What are your strengths as an entrepreneur? What do you do particularly well? Or, in the words of Chris Sacca, what’s your “unfair advantage?”

Perhaps you’re great with product design. Or perhaps your distinguishing characteristic is your ability to sell. Or maybe you can work a room like nobody’s business. Knowing your strengths tells you what added value you can uniquely bring to your business.

See also: The Need for Agile, Collaborative Leaders  

Weaknesses: You might be a terrible planner. Or you might procrastinate like nobody’s business. Or you might dread making sales. You might also feel uncomfortable admitting it or talking about your weaknesses. But unacknowledged weaknesses are business killers. They slowly eat away at the core of your business, with little hope of ever changing the situation. So pay particular attention to weaknesses as you do your personal SWOT — and be as honest as possible with yourself as you do.

Opportunities:  Opportunities can be chances to build on your strengths and rectify your weaknesses – either through self-improvement or by adding additional members to the team with complementary skills. But of course, opportunities can only be leveraged if weaknesses are recognized and acknowledged — yet another reason that honesty is so essential in the process of conducting your personal SWOT.

Threats:  Finally, threats can come from multiple places. Your skills may no longer fit the needs of the business you’re in. You might face competition from others who do have these skills — and if you’re unable to acknowledge (and work on) your weaknesses while at the same time leveraging and accentuating your strengths — you could find yourself in a precarious professional position. Along these lines is the threat that you as the leader might lack the self-awareness or courage to look yourself in the mirror and conduct an honest, self-reflective SWOT analysis in the first place.

Doing an honest, self-reflective personal SWOT analysis is useful for anyone at any stage of a career. But it’s especially useful for entrepreneurs, who need such a wide-ranging set of skills to achieve their goals and find success in their business. Have you conducted a personal SWOT analysis? If not, what’s holding you back?

See also: Where Are All Our Thought Leaders?  

Visit here to receive my free guide to 10 cultural codes from around the world, and here for my very best tips on stepping outside your comfort zone at work.

Andy Molinsky is the author of Reach and Global Dexterity

The Hype Cycle of Insurance Disruption

The research firm Gartner has a great model for showing the relative maturity of different technologies. It’s called the Hype Cycle, and it looks like this:

hype

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle

There are five phases. First, a technology emerges, triggering a myriad of ideas for potential applications. Startups are founded, commentators predict it will change everything, incumbents include it in the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis section of their annual strategic plan. These expectations reach a peak and then start to decline as technical limitations, barriers to consumer adoption and regulatory concerns emerge. Chastened, new technologies then slowly regain credibility as people focus on how they can be applied to create real value in the here and now. Finally, they achieve mainstream adoption and acceptance.

So what would the hype cycle of insurance disruption look like, in 2016? I think something like this:

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The hottest topics of discussion in insurance right now are those left-most on the chart. We can expect the next 12 months to see seed-stage angel and VC investments in start-ups addressing the insurance implications of IoT/connected home (Domotz), blockchain (Everledger), drones (Drox) and maybe even artificial intelligence (Brolly).

Meanwhile, insurance industry incumbents will continue appointing chief digital officers, opening digital garages and launching venture funds and start-up incubators with the aim of getting a stake in the next generation of InsurTech companies. It will be a few years before we see whether these investments are creating value.

On the other side of the peak of inflated expectations, there is a deepening malaise around peer-to-peer (P2P) insurance. New York’s Lemonade may have just raised a $13 million seed round, but it has a long hard road ahead. The company’s somewhat hubristic claim to be the world’s first P2P insurer suggests executives aren’t aware of Friendsurance or Guevara and the challenges these admirable businesses have faced in creating a value proposition that consumers can understand and buy into.

P2P insurance remains intellectually exciting to insurance industry insiders but deeply unappealing to ordinary people. Do you want to feel social pressure from your friends not to make a home insurance claim if you spill paint on the carpet? No, neither do I. It will take a radically different articulation of the P2P consumer proposition for it to gain more traction — probably one that doesn’t focus at all on the product mechanics.

If the appeal of P2P insurance is in decline, big data is in the trough. There is even a bot that substitutes the phrase “chronic farting” in any tweet that mentions it. Consolidating a global insurer’s data assets on a single platform and then powering the whole organization with advanced analytics seems about as realistic as boiling the ocean.

But away from these grandiose projects, there are specific insurance use cases where big data has tangible value today. Underwriting using Twitter data is already as powerful as traditional question sets. At Bought by Many, we’ve analyzed the anonymized search data of 3 million U.K. Internet users to identify where the biggest gaps are between consumer demand for insurance and the products being supplied by the industry. Meanwhile, social media data, particularly from Facebook, is hugely powerful for insurance distribution – not just for targeted advertising but for understanding and serving people’s unique insurance needs.

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There is also a number of technologies that are mainstream in other sectors but still haven’t been fully adopted in insurance – programmatic advertising, even web analytics. The most egregious example is mobile. 75% of U.K. adults now use mobile Internet, and yet encountering a mobile-optimized or responsively designed insurance quote and buy process is still a pleasant surprise. Perhaps this reflects insurance companies’ bad experiences of developing apps that no one downloaded during the earlier phases of smartphone adoption; but surely getting mobile sorted should be a higher priority for insurers than launching an incubator. Mobile-first insurance startups like Worry + Peace and Cuvva can provide inspiration.

When it comes to technology, insurance isn’t a leader, it’s a follower. So it’s in the smart application of maturing technologies that the biggest opportunity for insurance disruption lies.

A SWOT Analysis of SWOT Analysis

A classic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis) is usually considered as a good start for strategic planning efforts and further analysis. A disruptive and cascading SWOT can re-position the whole strategic plan to seriously pursue disruptive innovation. A great strategic plan should not just be about beating the competition at their game, but about redefining the game as no one has done before you.

The hyper-connected and cascading behavior of global risks

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has published a global risk report since 2006. The WEF pleads the case that the more connected our world becomes via a globalized economy, social media, the Internet, etc, the more vulnerable the whole world is to any weak links in the system. The reports include constant references to the connected risks that can cause global system breakdowns. The descriptions of the potential threats include combinations of slow-building and creeping risks that are hyper-connected, capable of linking to create unforeseen and high-energy cascade effects that can create tipping points into a perfect storms with high local and even global fallout.

The hyper-connected and cascading behavior of internal risks

My independent research into the causes of historical disasters, which started in 2004, has identified certain cascading principles and mechanisms of how the combined effects of underestimated internal risks can wreak havoc and self-destruction even without the help of external forces. If your SWOT ignores the cascading and hyper-connected nature of internal and external risks, your efforts could be futile. Too often, risks are assumed to approach from over the horizon from the outside. This mindset ignores the fact that most organizational failures stem from internal risks and a dysfunctional work culture. The triggers of such havoc can emanate from the top of the organization and quietly ripple through the organizational cascades to create undesirable events.

A SWOT analysis on the SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is a mini-risk assessment and mitigation brainstorm tool.  However, its strengths will become weaknesses if the assessments are superficial. If the SWOT is reconfigured to meet the realities of a hyper-connected and cascading world, this tool can be very insightful.

What follows is a short SWOT analysis on the SWOT analysis tool to assess its capabilities to pursue true disruptive innovation. This exercise can be viewed as a self-diagnostic of a SWOT:

Strengths:

  • Simple and easy to understand
  • Helps you identify and understand challenges and opportunities
  • Can be used to develop a robust action plan
  • Concentrates on the most important factors

Weaknesses:

  • Its simplicity will not always prompt its users to go deep enough to make its analysis meaningful
  • It does not prompt its users to investigate hyper-connected risks that can cascade and ripple through an organization in a destructive manner
  • It does not prompt its users to investigate slow-burn/slow failures (aka creeping risks) that can build up over time and create tipping points that produce a perfect storm of unintended consequences
  • It does not prompt its users to solicit true and candid cultural perceptions and threats for all employee levels
  • It will not lead to disruptive innovation in its basic form

Opportunities:

  • Invigorate the classic SWOT into a cascading SWOT to match the way in which the world and modern organizations actually operate
  • Identify hidden threats and uncomfortable and unspoken talk rules
  • Include assessment of internal leadership gaps
  • Include factual assessments of cultural health of the organization
  • Include assessments of internal process inefficiencies and risks in key business processes
  • Assess the quality of your business metrics
  • Assess the organization’s responses to critical situations
  • Assess how your organization learns from its mistakes and makes the necessary changes
  • Assess the internal and external customer satisfaction levels
  • Include a “points of pain” assessment as perceived for various levels of employees

Threats:

  • The assumption that SWOT-KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is the right approach may not fit well in the complex and cascading world in which we live
  • It can misdiagnose luck as skill; the organization will be ill-prepared for adverse events
  • It assumes that, if you ask fellow employees for inputs, they will tell you the whole truth, without fear of punishment

Summary of the SWOT analysis on the SWOT analysis

A good SWOT should be provocative and assess the sensibility on your own strategies, track your efforts to solicit and address internal taboo talk rules, monitor employee frustration levels and assess your internal culture’s momentum toward success or failure. Most importantly, do not forget to gather multiple perceptions on the above opinions from leadership, mid-management and non-management employees. If the perceptions are vastly different, determine why the same people under the same roof are describing the same company in very different manners.

Transforming the SWOT into the foundation for disruptive innovation

It must be stressed that an energized SWOT is only the foundation of a good strategic plan. It is not the final analysis or strategic planning tool. The annual corporate strategic planning cycle is usually time-consuming and interactive and must get off to a good start with the right tone if anything of value is to be expected.

SWOT expansion to include internal cascading risks

The biggest opportunities to achieving strategic objectives lie in the ability of leadership to identify, assess and manage the internal cascading connections and cause-and-effect relationships that exist. The main areas of internal, hyper-connected top-to-bottom cascading elements and loops include:

  • Leadership strategies, attitudes and behaviors
  • Cultural behavior
  • Process efficiency
  • Performance outcomes
  • Responses to shortfalls in performance metrics
  • Feedback loops to leadership that either incorporate lessons learned or ignore such lessons, offering the next cycle of adverse events the opportunity to sink the ship

Each of the above mentioned elements of internal cascades should be SWOT-ed separately with candid and honest inputs from all levels of employees (See graphic below). Embracing such logic allows leaders to create a cascading strategic plan that can energize the organization instead of just addressing the symptoms of issues with sugar-coated Power Point slides or adding a fresh coat of paint to the Titanic while it is sinking.

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Figure 1. Each element of internal cascades should be SWOT-ed separately with candid and honest inputs from all levels of employees

SWOT expansion to include external cascading risk assessments

External risks need to be listed, rated for connectedness and assessed for their impact and likelihood of affecting the business. This offers a good start for subsequent strategic risk management efforts. The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risk Report offers a good reference to use as a starting point for possible risks to consider. Separate SWOT analysis should be carried out for the six main areas of global risks:

  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Geopolitical
  • Societal
  • Technological
  • Real-time feedback loops to leadership on the status and changes in global risks

Conclusion

Organizations and the world are hyper-connected communities that are exposed to threatening invisible cascade, ripple and domino effects. Today’s risks can easily leap past national borders, firewalls and other security safeguards and trigger very unexpected circumstances that can threaten the reputation and existence of the business. Modern applications of the SWOT analysis should consider this complex and cascading nature in which the world now operates. A thorough SWOT analysis can be a good start for any level of strategic planning, including the ultimate wish of any organization, which is to create disruptive innovation and value that will ignite the passions of its employees and customers.

Creating a Customer-Insight Strategy

Too few companies have a customer strategy, let alone a customer-insight (CI) strategy. At least, that’s my experience.

In fact, many business strategies that I’ve seen, which seek to pepper their presentation with customer language, are really channel strategies or product strategies that reflect the silos in that business.

This is unfortunate, as most CEOs would acknowledge the critical importance of having their business understand, acquire, satisfy and retain customers (ideally, converting them into advocates). But perhaps the lack of customer insight in strategies reflects that may boardrooms have not had an empowered and articulate customer leader (or, better still, CI leader) to identify the need and drive the change.

As a small contribution to fill this gap, let me share a few reflections on what I have found helpful to consider when creating a customer-insight strategy.

At its simplest, strategy is just a series of decisions about “what you are going to do.” This mindset can help avoid too much theorizing with pretty diagrams and ensure your strategy leads to an implementation plan that can be executved. As a simple framework, it can help to consider three overlapping sets that you need to consider for a CI strategy:

Strategic Alignment: Although a CI strategy can inform and guide business and marketing strategies (from an understanding of consumers, your target market, their perceptions, unmet needs and channel usage), normally those exist prior to creating a CI strategy. So, a first priority is to ensure alignment.

How can customer insight help achieve the goals of the business strategy? What does the business need to understand better to deliver the marketing strategy? How can the work that aligns best with top strategic priorities be prioritized for the CI function. Is there other work that the CI function is doing that can be stopped or reduced given its low alignment with strategic priorities? All these elements should be thought through to decide what is included within CI strategy.

Your business and marketing strategy have likely been shaped, at least in early stages by PEST (political, economic, socio-cultural and technological), SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and and threats) and other tools to analyze internal and external factors. Similarly, in summarizing what the CI strategy should be (aligned to business and marketing strategies) it is useful to see what use of CI is working for others businesses (here, lessons can often by learned outside your sector) and summarize what CI work has been most effective previously for you (on the basis of commercial return and improved customer feedback).

Both of these approaches should help identify priority work areas where CI can make a difference and help deliver the business and marketing strategies.

Operational Effectiveness: This is all about organization and processes. How does the CI function operate?

Once again, it is useful to both look internally, capturing what has really happened already, and externally (this time for best practice models). Given the relative immaturity of CI in academic terms and lack of common language or focus from “marketing experts,”‘ it can be hard to find the textbook answer for the customer insight best practice model. However, I have found a few of the benchmarking models used by technology research companies and marketing professional bodies useful and have produced my own (on the basis of 13 years experience in creating and leading such functions).

However you come by a best practice model with which you are comfortable, your next step should be the familiar approach for gap analysis. Summarize your current practice, compare and contrast with the best-practice model and then prioritize the gaps you find. Prioritization here needs to be informed by what you will be using your CI function to achieve (as summarized in the strategic alignment section). This review and gap analysis should consider not just the processes for getting different items of work delivered but also the organizational structure of the team. Despite some leaders claiming the structure does not matter if you have a unifying vision and the right attitude, all my experience teaches me that it does. Human beings are inherently tribal, and the quality of CI output is strongly affected by inter-disciplinary cooperation.

People Leadership: That mention of departmental structure brings us neatly onto focusing on the people in your CI team(s). Too often, strategy documents, even if they manage to translate the conceptual into the practical, fail to then consider the people side of change. To deliver the priorities identified in your strategic alignment review requires not just appropriate structures and effective processes but also the right people and culture. A good place to start can be a review of the current people in roles, comparing them with the ideal roles and skills required to deliver the work needed. Such a review should seek to consider people’s generic competencies and wider skills than they may be asked to use in current roles, as well as critically assess their attitude and fit with the team.

But beyond just the right individuals, success will depend on those people coming together to form effective teams, and that is more about culture than what is written down. I like to think of culture as “what happens ’round here when people aren’t being watched.” Various approaches have been tried to impose or encourage the culture wanted in a team, but I’ve found little works as well as empowering the people themselves to create the culture in which they want to work. An effective people leader is needed, who can communicate a clear vision and make decisions, but the leader will often be most successful when working with suitably skilled individuals to together define the team culture they want and how that can be encouraged. Truly listening to the wisdom of those doing the work, recognizing and rewarding the behavior sought and giving time to developing people and fixing environmental irritants will all encourage this.

None of this is easy. But being in a position to articulate to your team and your boss and the board a coherent customer-insight strategy (which explains how it enables business objectives, operates effectively and gets the best out of the people in the function) can be powerful.

10 Shortcomings of SWOT Analysis

If you think that the analysis you use to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) in your business is adequate, beware. It is intended to provide a 360-degree view of your risks and opportunities but often fails to fill that requirement because of superficial applications and failure to look at risks from connected systems.

If your risk and opportunity analysis techniques are lacking, you could be very unprepared for the next recession, disruptive technology or game-changing way of thinking that could soon affect you. Too often, the last domino that struck in the last crisis is the main focus of all future risk-mitigation efforts. The whole string of triggers and threatening signals that led up to that last publicized tipping point and bursting bubble are ignored.

Here are the 10 most common shortcomings for SWOT analysis:

  1. Underestimating the role that vertical and lateral cascading human factors can play and having fragile back-up plans
  2. Absence of war gaming, stress testing and disruptive failure mode analysis testing of your leadership mindset, strategy, work culture, processes, products and services
  3. Lack of focus on disruptive innovations; you respond to them but do not create them with proven innovation-on-demand techniques
  4. Assumptions that cyber security and patents are safe, so they aren’t stress tested with advanced cyber-circumvention and patent-busting techniques
  5. “Taboo talk rules”; uncomfortable discussion topics are avoided or not identified with focused and anonymously solicited inputs from employees
  6. Ignoring “Trojan horse” risks that are secretly lurking in the hearts and minds of your employees or piggy-backing on purchased technology, software, products or services
  7. Lack of use of “gamification” techniques to address the most sensitive threats in a disciplined, humane, engaging and effective manner
  8. Failure to include effective strategies to attract and retain key human talent
  9. Failure to identify low-profile threats that create unstoppable cascading risks — from leadership to culture to processes to bad performance to weak responses to critical situations
  10. Lack of use of external perspectives to challenge group-think assumptions of perceived safety and robustness

Simple SWOT analysis and risk-management techniques will not offer the protection required to survive the next economic crisis or disruptive technology. KISS concepts (keep it simple, stupid) have lost their ability to identify and protect against complex cascading risks. The world is a fragile, hyper-connected and cascading system full of surprises that will punish casual optimists and reward those who hope for the best but seriously plan for worst-case scenarios.

The World Economic Forum’s 2014 World Risk Report describes the global risks that can quietly cascade across borders and affect organizations in unsuspecting and surprising ways from a variety of threatening and linked factors. The complex dynamics that exist between developed, developing and emerging world markets is further complicated by the fact that many organizations know very little about the cascading system dynamics within their own four walls.

Classic methods that attempt to describe the risk and opportunity landscape for individuals and organizations have not kept pace with the rising complexity and interactions between highly networked workplaces, global economies and internal and external threats. We have now entered a new era where we need new ways to describe and understand the complex world we have created, which has outgrown the simple tools we like to describe it with.