For those who hate planning.

One of the more popular features of a corporate strategic planning process is a stage entitled the SWOT Analysis.

There is hardly a member of the management group, generally speaking, who has not participated in a SWOT session.

But, in case you have so far managed to avoid this exercise, I should clarify that SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

A SWOT Analysis can be an extremely useful device to determine an organization’s current, overall situation. For many firms it is the quintessential first step in the planning process.

When I was first “invited” to participate in corporate planning sessions I must admit that I approached them with all of the enthusiasm I usually reserve for broccoli. As a career salesman, I had elevated the philosophy of “living one day at a time” to a fine art. In fact, there were many days that my “plan du jour” could be instantly altered by such diversions as a bar or a race track.

I was later to recognize that my aversion to planning was rooted in a reluctance to expose myself to any performance auditing. If I didn’t have a plan, I would avoid be accountable.

Simply stated – planning meant establishing a commitment and , in the extreme, it was another performance benchmark. I was having enough trouble just meeting my budgets.

Because I was forced to, I came to understand the benefits of the SWOT Analysis for any firm. It quickly provides an audit of the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses and balances them against the external threats and opportunities that the current competitive marketplace presents.

This provides an understanding of the organization’s resources such as financial, production, technological, management, marketing, creative etc. It is a realistic appraisal of current capacity .

And in each of these categories, and others, the review provides an excellent environment to frankly recognize the corporate weaknesses without creating inter-departmental animosity.

In all areas it is revealing to match performance against the declared corporate mission and vision.

It is surprising how far we can stray from core competencies and objectives.

When you move to the examination of the competitive, economic, financial, technical and political realities that must be considered in developing strategies for future growth and profit, the exercise becomes quite exciting. It has been my experience that this analysis separates the “bitchers and moaners” from the folks with vision and understanding. Usually the people you admire are able to move quickly on to the recognition of opportunities for success not only from the marketplace at large , but also out of many of the threats that exist.

As I sat in on my first few sessions I gradually recognized the dynamics of the group and the process. At last , here was a forum that not only invited frank and open discussion of the firm’s situation but encouraged it. And once acknowledged the weaknesses and threats could be rectified and overcome through proper planning and implementation. It was during these sessions that I gained a new respect for many of the members of the group whose input I had previously regarded with poorly disguised suspicion. And I came to recognize what a poor planner I was in many areas of my life.

Now, Lord knows there will always be people who are richer , smarter , better educated and better looking and some are even related to the owner, but the truth is, if we become better planners in all facets of our life, we can level the playing ground.

I am amazed to find myself now doing “management consulting” ( I know if I’m amazed you’re in shock). What is perhaps more surprising is my dedication to “Planning”. I have been further intrigued by the number of business folks that I am dealing with who have never been part of a “formal” planning process.

Mind you, many of them are “planning” but usually without a collegial format such as a SWOT provides.

Frankly, I still believe that too many are prone to confuse strategic planning with nuclear physics Generally speaking it is a practical process which merely requires some limited organization and should not be overburdened with “consultant-speak.”

One of the critical elements that is frequently short changed is the preparation of research and reference material and the review of same by the participants. The other common mistake in planning sessions is to attempt it in an office where interruptions are likely and to simply not set aside sufficient time to let things “cook”.

On a personal level, I would advise everyone to undertake strategic planning for themselves.

I have discovered it to be an extremely useful devices to keep me organized and focused. As a sales person , and as a manager it would be extremely productive for you to examine your performance at least quarterly by doing an SWOT Analysis and fine tune your strategy.

You will be amazed at how more productive you will become.