By Goke Ilesanmi
One thing that makes intellectual activities interesting is creativity. That is, ability to think outside of the intellectual box and transplant ideas from their original areas for meaningful application elsewhere. To be able to determine potential for success in the face of competition in business, existing and prospective entrepreneurs basically try to assess their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) against competitors. This is simply known as SWOT Analysis.
It is a system for examining the way a company is run or how someone works, in order to see what the good and bad features are. SWOT Analysis is widely used in strategic planning. It is most effective when you have defined the problem or concern that needs to be addressed and ideally have also developed your goal statement or intended end state for the project. In this way it helps to give clarity between where you are and where you want to be. It is interesting to know that this strategy can also be deployed in general and business communication for greatest effectiveness.
SWOT Analysis is quite simple in principle, and you should keep the process simple – avoid complexity and over-analysis. “But you need to beware of the danger of being tempted to merely compile a list rather than thinking about what is really important about the parts of that list in achieving the goal of the project,” says Kim Harrison, a public relations authority.
SWOT Analysis is best undertaken by a cross-functional team of six to eight people who can provide a range of perspectives, especially people from areas relevant to the issue or problem for which you are preparing a communication plan. Therefore, in addition to communicators, you should include people who are broadly in tune with communication, such as people from your marketing section, your market researcher, a representative from operations and human resource departments, etc.
You may also be drawn into presenting the resulting SWOT lists uncritically and without clear prioritisation so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats. Harrison adds that you can use specialised software to show the SWOT lists graphically, which can help you clarify the factors being considered. A SWOT summary can be useful for strategy development in a communication project or programme as well as in an annual communication plan. It is especially useful for deciding the key points in your message.
A strength is a resource or capacity that can be used effectively to achieve the project objective. To identify strengths, ask: “What are our advantages in this situation?”, “What do we do well?” or “What do other people see as our strength here?” Obviously you would want to build on your organisation’s perceived strengths in your communication activities.
A weakness is a limitation, fault or defect in the particular product, service or issue that may be the reason for your communication plan. To identify weaknesses, ask: “What could we improve in this?”, “What do we do badly?”, or “What should we avoid?” Other areas of the organisation may be able to resolve the problem caused by the weak point if, for instance, it is a financial, operational or marketing matter, in order to minimise its impact without you actually having to communicate it. If it needs a communication strategy, then you can tailor all or part of your communication plan, particularly the message, to minimise the weakness, or at least have a communication response in place if it is raised against you by opponents.
An opportunity is a favourable situation in your project or organisation’s environment, often a trend or a change of some kind or an overlooked need that increases the relevance or effectiveness of the project in question. You can seek to exploit the perceived opportunity through your message to key stakeholders.
A threat is a danger or menace in your project or organisation’s environment. Often threats are ignored until they become major problems. Threats can be identified by looking at the obstacles faced, initiatives by competitors, changing technology and changing demand or technical requirements for your products or services.
As with a weakness, other areas may be able to act to counteract the problem without having a communication response. If it does need a communication response, you should assess the likelihood and extent of the risk or threat so that if it emerges, you are able to quickly implement a communication response.
It is good to work out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, but what do you actually do with these insights? SWOT Analysis is not much value unless you actually use the key factors identified to contribute to your communication plan. To keep this manageable, the factors should be prioritised. You could note the top three factors from each of the four quadrants to form a total of list of 12 factors, and then reduce the total list to the top five to six factors that would have a bearing on your communication strategy. Be careful to evaluate the factors that are the strongest and focus on them.
Since resources are always limited, you cannot afford to follow up every SWOT item, so you need to attend to the most important by prioritising the items. The SWOT factors could be prioritised by urgency, importance, strategic advantage, cost, lead-time for completion, duration of actions, etc.
One strategy of achieving effective utilisation of SWOT analysis is to cross-link the four quadrants of factors to identify how strengths can be used to take advantage of opportunities and to tackle threats. Similarly, the weaknesses can be examined to ensure they do not compound the threats or stop your organisation from exploiting the opportunities relating to your project.
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GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
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