But that’s not all. He’ll be following up the event with his own 5 week private coaching circle on CaribHRForum Community. It will be available by application only as the group will span less than 10 people. Plus, this is a complimentary offering.
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) technique deserve
it‘s accepted place in your next strategic planning retreat? Maybe not. There
are more precise ways to understand the current state of the business that take
less time and use more facts.
If you are leading your organization‘s next planning exercise, lift things up a
notch by omitting the SWOT activity from the agenda. There are three reasons
why this list-making activity needs to be transformed.
1. It’s just an
When people cough
up strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats they are merely offering
opinions. While there are facts sitting in the background somewhere, the truth
is that the exercise is based on opposable points of view, even allowing items
to show up in multiple lists. For example, a reality such as “We have five
employees” could fit into any of the four categories, construing it as either a
“pro” or a “con”.
Given the fact
that anyone can have an opinion about anything, merely accumulating these
arbitrary points of view is a low-quality exercise. Discussing and debating
them at length only reduces your meeting to a talk-shop.
2. It anchors the
team in old thinking
The purpose of a
well-designed retreat is to establish a clean break from the past. By contrast,
the SWOT activity does the very opposite. Why? It merely asks people to
rehash old, familiar lines of thinking. This reinforces the emotional link to
whatever former strategy happened to be in place, which in turn, makes it
harder to create a fresh one.
imagine what happens when the team lists the fact that having five employees is
a weakness. Now, it’s difficult to see it as a strength, which it may be in the
context of a fast-changing industry. Stating the old concept as the
solid truth only stands in the way of realizing a new paradigm.
3. It takes too
As the designer of
the retreat, you are probably painfully aware that time is a scarce commodity.
A SWOT survey gets people talking, but it requires several hours of precious
space to collect the group’s point of view, collate and present it. This
time could be better spent doing deeper dives into hard data.
Given these three
shortcomings (which many executives already quietly realize) why does the
exercise continue to be so popular? As a retreat organizer, you may have the
answer: because it‘s easy.
Not only is a
choice to do the activity never challenged, those who participate are unlikely
to challenge each other during the exercise. Unfortunately, this avoidance
tactic violates research showing that a group must struggle to produce good,
new ideas. Here are some recommendations I make to solve the dilemma of coming
to agreement without taking a shortcut.
1. Do the SWOT
Survey Online, Before the Retreat
My clients do
these surveys before retreats, as part of our data gathering and include all
employees. The most salient results are summarized in the meeting within
15 minutes, which saves time and effort.
2. Facilitate a
original intent of the SWOT was to gain an understanding of the present state
of the business. This picture is still needed, but it must be fact-based.
As I have
explained in a prior column, your snapshot can be pulled together using
different perspectives: financial, customer/competitor, operations and
employees. Add in an analysis of the external environment with the PESTER
views, (Political, Environmental, Sociological, Technological, Economic and
Regulatory), taking special note that technology is emerging as the most
critical outside factor.
At first glance,
this may seem like a dull recitation of boring data. However, the point is to
understand (as a team) the story the facts are telling. Inevitably, this will
include a robust discussion of various strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and
threats but there‘s no need to group them. Instead, let the information do the
talking, rather than hasty opinions, and weave the four SWOT themes into the
tale the data tells is nuanced, filled with ups and downs, polarities,
discrepancies and paradoxes. Only a team of insiders with a deep appreciation
of the organization and their individual specialty can fully pull it together.
Certainly, an outside consultant can’t.
Of course, there
are companies which attempt to skip the snapshot altogether and jump right into
planning the future. Unfortunately, doing so yields pipe dreams with no
foundation in reality. It reduces the trust needed to make a risky move.
In summary, it
takes a concerted effort to have everyone on the team see the company’s current
position from a joined-up point of view. However, it’s more than a
team-building activity: It’s also an evaluation of the status quo which is the
first step to carving out a transformative strategy. Don’t block a big change
which needs to happen with a costly SWOT mistake.
Why does your company appear to
repeat simple mistakes so often? If you are a manager, it’s exhausting to chase
one error after another, doing little more than fighting fires. There may be a
better approach – use the principles of “defect management” borrowed from Total
In the late 1980’s the world came to
recognize Japanese dominance in automotive manufacturing. The country had come
a long way: back in the 1960’s the quality of its cars were
sub-standard with numerous customer complaints. While the techniques they
adopted to transform their situation weren’t new, they were the first to apply
quality improvement and process management in a rigorous, systematic way. The
resulting turnaround appeared miraculous to the rest of the world, resulting in
manufacturers adopting their techniques on a large scale.
One of the innovations they
introduced was a peculiar way to uncover operational problems that only occurr
in small numbers.
If your company has over 100
employees, it has the same challenge: it’s made up of intricate,
cross-organizational processes which are hard to diagnose. In other
words, tricky issues persist because the link between cause and effect
isn’t easy to determine. Take, for example, two of my favorite problems: email
and meetings. Your CEO might decide to order people to spend less time on these
activities, but his command wouldn‘t work. The defects in both of
these areas have multiple causes, which means that these forms of
corporate waste are difficult to eradicate.
Here’s a way for your organization
to use this technique to stop making the same mistakes over and over again.
1. “Defects” – A Re-Definition
In their solution, the Japanese
pioneered a new way of looking at defects. They argued that companies are poor
at distinguishing them due to bureaucracy, company
culture and internal politics. For
example, managers who are trying to look good at all times are likely to disown
It’s not entirely their fault.
Most people who think of defects
imagine visible and tangible errors, such as a car rolling off an assembly line
with its steering wheel missing. However, you are probably a knowledge worker
and the defects in your role are much harder to identify. The chances are high
that they are not being noticed or measured.
For example, a meeting may be
effective overall, but still full of defects. Let’s glance at the last
gathering you called. Compare it against this checklist of possible defects.
– a late start or end
– a tardy attendee
– an agenda which was never
assembled or followed
– each time someone used their
smartphone to check email
– action items which weren‘t
– a lack of written feedback
By this definition, some managers
have never attended a defect-free meeting. In fact, these problems may be the
norm in your company, which is blind to these mistakes. Unfortunately, they add
up and damage employee productivity.
2. Defects in Your Work
Now, let‘s switch to the everyday
work you perform. If you are a manager, what are the defects you could be
unwittingly producing with your direct reports? The way to identify them is to
find the shortfalls; the places where standards aren’t being met.
For example, if a performance review
conversation with your employee doesn‘t go well, consider that to be a defect.
You probably aren‘t measuring the number of times this occurs, but if you were
to do so, you could actually launch increasingly deep improvement efforts.
That would mean resisting the
temptation to bury the defect inside a string of successes. This happens when
you argue: “Yeah, but how about the other times when I don’t make mistakes.
Shouldn’t I get credit for my 99% success-rate?”
In this context, the correct answer
is “No”. There‘s no need to be defensive. Defects are not important because
they make people feel bad. Instead, they are a critical part of your efforts to
uncover the details which aren‘t working. They help you craft precise
interventions which produce superior performance.
If you think that this isn‘t
achievable in small increments, think again. The Japanese industrial miracle
was built on steady tiny gains, accompanied by knowledge accumulated over
time. It gave their companies a solid competitive advantage over others who
were boasting to themselves about their “99% performance.”
It’s ironic: the way to continue
improving is to start by calling out defects. This puts the focus where it belongs
and prevents people from hiding behind the numbers. Fail to do so and it won’t
be long before a comfortable mediocrity sets in which affects productivity at
every level. Committing to removing defects takes great courage, but it’s one
of the keys to competitive advantage.
The Caribbean employee is often left in the dark, unable to develop the basic skills needed to be effective. In this article, I try to address the issue by pointing out foundation skills that only require effort and focus to develop.
How can a manager be promoted, only for others to discover
that he lacks certain basic, foundation skills? Someone, somewhere dropped an
easy ball that could have been corrected if the company had the right
perspective on how to develop new employees.
There‘s an interesting meme floating around pointing out 10
skills that every employee needs to possess. It adds a zinger: they don‘t
require a drop of talent, implying that no excuses are possible. While the list
wasn‘t developed for Jamaican companies, here is a local version of this
popular meme based on my experience.
#1 – Being On Time
In our environment, this is a huge challenge. Like many
other firms in tropical climates, we allow lateness to run rampant, even in
executive suites. Also, people who are punctual don‘t confront those who
aren’t. Finally, our companies don’t develop a way to teach employees what “on
time” means in their context.
For example, I had a friend who regularly told others she
was “just around the corner” even when she hadn’t yet started the car. In her
mind, she was “on time.” By contrast, I worked with a company in which
“on-time” meant that you arrived early and prepared yourself to start on
the exact, scheduled minute. Yet another organization translated the phrase to
mean “any time before the most important person arrives.”
The point is that your firm must teach its own definition of
“on time” plus all the detailed enabling behaviors, starting with the CEO and
her direct reports.
#2 – Work Ethic/Effort
New employees are often slow to appreciate that for every
corporate skill, there is a ladder of accomplishment. Unfortunately, those who
are unaware, usually occupy the lowest rung. This is no matter of disrespect.
The fact is, if they are taught the existence of higher skills and how to
achieve them, they can become inspired.
Their objective, before they are confirmed as full-time
staff, should be to show they have climbed the rungs of some key skills. For
example, a summer student should be able the demonstrate an unbroken string
of on-time arrivals at work. These may seem to be too easy, but don’t
under-estimate the effort required to learn new behaviors and apply them
#3 – Body Language
Have you ever seen a young person slouch in his office
chair, apparently ready to doze off? Newly hired workers just
aren’t taught that their body language influences others. The impact on
customers, colleagues and managers is part of what they will be held
#4 – Energy
Whereas it may not have been cool to be an eager-beaver in
their prior lives, young employees need to learn that the tables are now
turned. How they get work done is vitally important, and they aren‘t “allowed”
to have a bad day that drags down others. Every hour is intended to be an
opportunity for enthusiasm and engagement, and they must learn to manage their
sleep and nutrition to accomplish this goal. Habitually overcoming the
“I-don‘t-feel-like-it” blues is a vital new capacity to develop.
#5 – Attitude/Resilience
This is perhaps a nebulous skill but companies need to go
beyond the level of clichés and define it clearly. Science has shown that
there are concrete steps in techniques like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy which
can be followed to transform a poor attitude. This will benefit them on the job
and in every part of their lives.
#6 – Passion
With few exceptions, most employees are passionate about at
least one thing in their lives. Companies do a poor job of nurturing these
strong feelings, allowing new hires to slip into the ranks of the disaffected
and disengaged within months. However, developing a love of one’s work is a
skill that can be taught, even though it’s usually left to chance.
#7 – Being Coachable
Jamaican workplaces are rife with stories of new employees
who are convinced that they “already know” everything. When this lack of
self-esteem interferes with the development of a “Beginner’s Mind” it’s time
for an intervention. A good one would interrupt their habits and show them how
to accept coaching, a capacity which does not come naturally to high achievers.
#8 – Being Prepared (To Do Extra)
New hires must learn to over-prepare if they hope to
succeed; they simply have fewer in-company experiences to draw from. Then,
once projects start, they need to be ready to go the additional mile
repeatedly. This behavior is a signal that they are taking their careers
Many of these eight practices can be tied to company
standards enforced by your firm’s environment. Your organization must make them
explicit: a strong start to a successful career. This ensures that when
promotions occur, the recipients are fully trained.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based
Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column?
To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to [email protected]
If you manage an extremely high number of tasks, it’s a mistake to accept productivity advice from just about anyone. Instead, you should use special solutions tailored for people like you.
CEO‘s I have worked with share a few distinct characteristics. They tend to be: – High energy – Sometimes, they get a lot done by simply working harder than others. – Driven – They don‘t need to be inspired by outsiders: They motivate themselves even under trying circumstances.- Creative – They routinely come up with novel solutions from disparate sources.
While this list may appear to be little more than a bunch of “good things”, these characteristics create a unique personality: an “Ultra-Busy“. She is someone who regularly places more tasks on her plate than she has the capacity to complete. In other words, she sets lofty aspirations which she sometimes can‘t meet. She is also prone to live an unbalanced life. High blood pressure, overweight and lack of time with loved ones are common problems for her and others in this cohort. Finally, she fails to account for her uniqueness. Believing that others are just like her, she mistakenly trusts them to deliver at the same level.
Perhaps you recognize these traits in yourself. While they may sound like profound weaknesses, they actually come from a positive place. You see, Ultra-Busys aren’t simply workaholics.
Instead, they love tackling big problems, both for the inherent challenge and for the underlying mission. They aren’t happy unless they use their brains, hearts, minds and souls for a worthy purpose. As such, they give everything they can, often losing track of time as they tackle and resolve one issue after another. These totally immersive moments are high points.
As such, their time is precious, making them fastidious in their choice of productivity habits and aids. Always on the lookout for the latest improvements they need to heed a word of caution: much of the advice floating around isn‘t actually meant for them. Here’s why.
During adolescence, each one of us starts to teach ourselves how to use our memory to manage our personal task-load. Then, as we grow older, we search for better methods to handle more tasks. A few people – The Ultra-Busys – take this to an extreme. Their love of big results requires them to manage a monumental task-load. Unlike others who see added tasks as a burden, they willingly create lots of them in order to make quicker progress towards their life-goals.
However, most productivity advice doesn‘t account for this difference. Instead, it‘s geared for the average person who simply wants to survive each day using a few handy coping mechanisms.
But if you happen to be an Ultra-Busy, what methods should you use? My research reveals the following. 1. Use a Time-Scarcity Schedule Most people adopt a calendar exclusively to track appointments, but this technique doesn‘t work for Ultra-Busys. Instead, you must use your calendar to plan all your hours, including sleep, weekends and holidays. In this way, it helps you confront the reality of a 24-hour day, especially when you reach the end of an activity and need to choose which one to do next. Other folks don‘t experience your level of scarcity and have lots of spare time. You don’t, and a time-budget is your key to keeping yourself on track in every dimension of your life.
2. Use Flexible Tools to Combat Disruptions
As an Ultra-Busy, you deal with unexpected, daily disruptions. This means that you must use advanced task management software in place of either memory or paper tools.
It’s your answer to the problem of not having an administrative assistant who can re-juggle your schedule when the unplanned occurs. Instead, you are required to do everything on your own and the best choice of task manager is one that‘s cloud-based, using the latest Artificial Intelligence.
3. Embrace Your Agency If you‘re a real Ultra-Busy, you probably exhaust others around you with your pace and intensity. Some will pity you, thinking that you are a sorry case…a victim of your own success. However, deep down you know that nothing could be further from the truth. You accept and appreciate your own agency – each task you undertake is one you created freely, from far inside your commitments. So don‘t be alarmed when others fail to understand. Instead, find the few who are like you and learn from them. You can take the free training I offer to Ultra-Busys at ScheduleU.org – The School for Scheduling Everything.
Your job is to stay true to your calling and its consequence: the incredible time demands you put on yourself. Avoid average advice and uncover the thinking that fits your extraordinary commitments.
Why do some executives resist making
long-term plans for their business? The hidden secret is a deep fear of failure
but there’s a way to be confident about the top team’s quality of visionary
Vague aspirations to “Become
World-Class” will always drive some portion of your employees crazy. Even if it
happens on a grand scale, the answer isn’t to abandon inspirational goals
Fortunately, the Jamaican
Government’s Vision 2030 avoids these perils by having both clear measurable
targets and a specific end-date. Without these two components, it would be just
be a bunch of wishful thoughts…fairy tales with no basis in reality.
However, most managers
under-estimate the effort to produce such detailed targets. They struggle, but
don’t understand why. One reason relates to a lack of harmony between two
opposing camps: Dreamers and Realists. Your team is best served when a drive
for inspiration (i.e. Dreaming) is balanced by a need to be practical (i.e.
being Realistic). Here are three steps to include in your next planning
Being Inspirational through the
If you have noticed that most of
your employees have lost the zest for Dreamer-led Rah-Rah / “Being Number One”
chest-beating, you may ask: “Why did it become passe?” In short, it doesn’t do
well in today‘s world where authenticity is the main currency.
They see such lofty goals as
inauthentic because they lack specific, measurable characteristics. As a
result, these targets lack credibility, reducing them to having no more
significance than an idle knock in table tennis, or a meaningless game of
solitaire played just to kill time.
Today, your employees expect real
engagement which must be linked to clear performance feedback which is
objectively measured. Such black and white targets tell them whether they have
won or lost, not only individually, but on a corporate scale.
In the case of Vision 2030 there
was, I imagine, a long hard distance to go from becoming “the place of choice
to live, work, raise families and do business” to defining multiple, explicit
targets for specific sectors. It’s exactly the tough task many executive teams
are unwilling to do. Instead, they try to take lazy shortcuts. For example, it’s
popular to get each department to come up with its own goals, then ask a clerk
to pull them together in a final document.
At first blush, this approach may
seem logical, or efficient. However, the end-product ends up being little more
than a grab-bag of bits and pieces. This Frankenstein plan is exactly what
Realists fear the most because the lack of practical coherence dooms it to
Allowing Brutal Reality to Trim
Some Realists have such strong
feelings that they block or boycott planning retreats altogether. Instead, they
argue that today is the best guide to tomorrow and advocate no more than
annual budgeting. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that competitive
advantage was decided in the past, and won’t change.
This dangerous idea is usually not
spoken out aloud…until it’s too late. Like Cable and Wireless of old, they deny
the arrival of an impending Digicel, thereby facilitating their
Unfortunately, most executive teams
never resolve the difficult tension between Dreamers and Realists, preferring
to allow one side to “win”.
The way out of this zero-sum game is
to balance the time devoted to each camp during your next strategic planning
retreat. When you create your agenda, build this in: ask everyone to Dream,
then stop. Pause, and then provoke participants to trim the vision by making it
Real. In other words, allow each approach to run its full course before switching
from one to the other. The fact is, both are important, but they are impossible
to reconcile simultaneously in a workshop setting.
Time and Discipline to Balance Both
Most executives don’t appreciate
this delicate balance. Instead, if you belong to one group, you are
likely to point fingers at the other, complaining that
time spent in their preferred zone is wasted. As a result,
I often find myself in the middle, arguing for a balance. This means pointing
out the pitfalls of “short” retreats. I explain why we no longer offer them:
they inevitably favor one camp over the other, producing a weak strategy which
is neither rigorous nor durable.
In other words, trying to focus
exclusively on Dreamers or Realists defeats the purpose. The point of such sessions
is to make the most difficult decisions regarding the future of the company.
Bringing both camps together is just one of the critical end-products.
Teams who realize this
fact produce miracles: building inspiring long-term plans based on
realistic short-term commitments. While it’s a hard result to generate in a
mixed group, this balanced approach is the best way to craft sustainable
He has an interesting podcast in which he interviews business leaders in Trinidad and Tobago who can serve as role models for up and coming business men and women. It’s an interesting concept and I enjoyed speaking with him about “what makes me tick.”