Why Another SWOT Analysis Is NOT The Answer To Your Organizational Issues

Let’s take a moment and consider the following: How did you feel the last time you went through a SWOT analysis? If you worked with a team, what did you experience as you analyzed the weaknesses of the team, the problems, and the threats? Did you feel excitement? Was your creativity expanded? Did you experience inspiration to open up to the possibilities and dream about a future beyond your wildest expectations? I will take an educated guess here-You did not!

You are not alone! I used to feel a knot in the pit of my stomach every time I lead teams through the excruciating experience of digging our fingers into the wounds of the organization. What ensued was predictably defensiveness, fear of the future, finger-pointing, even when everyone tried their very best to keep a “positive” attitude — which was just masking the discomfort. 

And that’s because we’re human! When we focus the conversation on the worst of the past and the future, our brains automatically activate mechanisms to keep us safe, activating our fight, flight or freeze mechanisms straight from our reptilian and limbic brains.1  It’s neuroscience! So instead of activating the prefrontal cortex where our creativity and wisdom are activated, we set ourselves up to plan our future from the part of the brain that activates downward spirals of thinking, feeling and doing. 

I do have great news, though! It does not, should not, must not be this way! Strategic planning can be profound and uplifting at the same time. And no, no need to ignore problems! 

Do you want to learn two secret ingredients to transformational change? I bet you do!

1- It’s all about the ratio

“Positivity” author Barbara Frederikson has done extensive scientific research about the ratios that build flourishing systems, whether these are couples, families, communities and yes, work teams! 

In order to encourage the ideas that are born from our higher thinking and collaboration, wisdom and creativity, we need to create a space of emotional wellbeing. The magic sauce is to have a ratio that ranges from 3 to 1 for flourishing individuals to 5 to 1 for high performing teams. And increasing our positive emotions in our conversations, meetings and interactions does just that.2

2-Flip the problems!

So how can we increase our “positivity” ratio, connect the team to generative emotions that lead to more and better ideas, while at the same time we address reality? It’s all about the framing. “Words create worlds” is a phrase coined by Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel and is now one of the cornerstones in the field of Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Organizational Development. When we focus on words that shine light, when we focus on areas of opportunities and growth, when we allow ourselves to dream of a future that is uplifting and desirable, we can energize teams significantly better than when we focus on that which drains us. 

So if we’re gathered with our teams and someone thinks of an “issue” or “problem” try this: Name it-Flip it-Frame it approach developed by Jackie Stavros and Cherri Torres3. I began my professional organizational career with the airline industry, and in the airline world the “Flip it” approach looks like this: We needed to reduce delays and cancellations, so we defined goals that would energize the entire organization. We came up with planning to become the most reliable and punctual airline in the region. Through consistent strategic planning, this airline, Copa Airlines, flipped problems and created an inspiring, positively framed yearly plan – “La Ruta al Éxito” (The Route to Success), and year after year earned industry excellence awards. 

So next time you plan to meet with your team for a SWOT analysis, try these 5 steps instead: 

1- Begin with heart and end with heart! Create an emotional space that feels light and inspiring. Celebrate wins or practice heart-centered meditation, play some lively music or simply show some inspiring photographs or videos. The possibilities are endless!

2- Focus on the strengths, bring the very best of your past. For instance, ask yourselves what values or resources were there that helped you achieve greatness? 

3- Dream about what’s possible, focus on all that you want to see happen in the future, and co-imagine your highest aspirations. 

4- Envision how you might get there, what initiatives you will set in place to reach those goals. 

5- Create the plan, metrics and processes to implement those transformational initiatives. 

Are you ready to shelve your SWOT? Dare to lead differently and the results will flow! 

1 Leading Well From Within, Dr. Daniel Friendland
2 Positivity, Barbara L. Frederickson
3 Conversations Worth Having, Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres