Category Archives: Strategic Planning

Giving Your SWOT More Swagger, Part 2

giving-your-SWOT-more-swaggerLast week, I talked about some of the challenges with SWOT assessments, and at its heart, the issue comes down to (a) being as specific as possible, and (b) finding useful insights about your company.

Let me give you some Before and After examples from recent SWOTs that I’ve done with clients to illustrate what a good SWOT looks like.

Before:  “Our people” (strength)

After:  “Our skills at designing administrative processes” (strength) and “Our lack of sales skills” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) use their administrative excellence as a differentiator in their marketing, and (b) identify the need for sales training.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margins by improving their marketing and sales.

Before:  “Our brand” (weakness)

After:  “Our deep understanding of our customers” (strength), “Our passion for solving engineering problems” (strength), “How we communicate the value we create for customers” (weakness), “Our marketing budget relative to our competitors” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) invest in a brand strategy, (b) increase their marketing budget, and (c) get the help they needed from the outside.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margin, increased their revenue, and lowered their customer acquisition costs, because they were clearer about their offerings and messaging with prospects.

So, when you’re doing your SWOT, the question to ask yourself is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”

The question to ask yourself about your SWOT is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it doesn’t, then here are some ideas for upgrading it.

    • Talk more.  Insights and specifics come from digging and sharing ideas, and that comes from talking.
    • Have each department do a SWOT.  Because departments often focus on internal issues, make sure that every department has 5-10 bullets that are focused on the external environment.  Also have the CEO do a SWOT separate from the others; this provides the broader and longer view.  Once you have all those SWOTs, roll them up into a single SWOT by having people vote on the top bullets from across all of them.
    • If you have a SWOT from a previous year, force your team to come up with at least 5 new bullets that have changed from the previous one.
    • Have people do SWOTs for other departments – have sales do the operations one, and have finance do the sales one.
    • Have your outside advisors give their input.
    • Get a strategy consultant to help – the more SWOTs you do, the better at it you become…so get the help of someone with more experience than you.

    Any strategy process gets its value by digging deeper than usual, because that’s where new and unexpected insights come from.  A SWOT shouldn’t just capture what you think about the business; a good SWOT should change how you think about it.

    Giving your SWOT more swagger, part 1

    giving_your_SWOT_more_swaggerI like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.”  Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.

    Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.

    If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough.  One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”… which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process.  What is it about your people?  Their experience?  Their deep knowledge?  Their ability to be generalists?  Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.

    Work hard to look at the future.  We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years.  And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.

    Put “the hard stuff” on the list.  Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about.  The problem customer.  The problem owner.  The problem staffer.  Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources.  So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing.  (For example:  “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)

    Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in.  Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT.  But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.

    So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:  “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should.  If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my post next week.

    Creating a Company Vision – And How it Helps Hiring

    Man on the MoonAs an entrepreneur, you’re naturally driven – hence the reason you created a company around your passion and expertise! When you start hiring, it’s easy to assume others will share your passion; or alternatively, to believe that job skills are what matters most.

    Both strategies tend to lead to frustrations with fit. The single most powerful way to improve fit in your hiring process is to create a company vision. The best company vision is inspiring; both achievable – and a stretch. It gives meaning to a days work, and a greater purpose to the task at hand. Lest that sound too new-agey, it also holds practical value in terms of helping potential employees self-select. Here’s an example based on a well-known company in Southeast Michigan – Zingerman’s.

    Let’s pretend you’re on a job search and looking for a job in a restaurant. You find an opening at Zingerman’s, and read the Zingerman’s 20/20 Vision. If you’re passionate about great food and all the details that go into it – from relationships with growers to fanatical customer service – you’ll feel instantly at home. If on the other hand, you think they sound a little bit TOO crazy about food, chances are you’ll skip applying for a job there and head somewhere else. Viola! A strong vision creates a self-selecting screening tool.

    To learn more about the Zingerman’s way of creating a vision, attend their workshop: Creating a Vision of Greatness.

    Another example of great company vision that sticks with me is from NASA – what the Harvard Business Review calls “The Man On the Moon Standard“. You can read about their analysis of why it’s so great; in my humble opinion the best part is hearing the example of a man who was asked what his job was at the Kennedy Space Center. This man, a custodian, wasn’t sweeping floors – he was “putting a man on the moon”. THAT is the sign of an inspiring vision.

    Ready to create your vision? I appreciate it’s no small task, so here are a few more resources to help:

    • First off, make sure to carve out some real alone time to think. After all, a vision is unlikely to come to you in the break between your 1 pm and 2 pm meetings. Use a weekend if you must, but give your brain a chance to switch gears and get in creative mode. The harder you’ve been cramming 2001 tasks into a day, the longer break you’ll likely need to create space for ideas to flow.
    • Check out the downloads on Jim Collin’s site. Among them is the Vision Framework. About 8 pages in are examples of BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals), which are effectively the same as a Company Vision.
    • For more context about why vision is so critical to the ultimate success of your company, take a look at the review of Patrick Lencioni’s new book “The Advantage” by the Awesome Culture Blog. Feel free to read the book, too – this review simply serves as a nice summary if you happen to prefer the Cliffs Notes version.

    Good luck creating your vision!

    Meet the Founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System


    Today, Wednesday, May 15th, is a great opportunity to meet the founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Gino Wickman. Gino recently co-authored a new book with Mike Paton, “Get A Grip”. They will be celebrating the book launch together with the EOS community from 6-8pm at Barnes & Noble, Troy, Michigan.

    Mike and Gino will sign copies of the book throughout the evening and will say a few words at 6:45 p.m. All are welcome — feel free to invite friends and colleagues. Proceeds from the sale of books at the launch will be donated to Winning Futures, a Michigan non-profit preparing youth to succeed through mentoring and life skills programs.

    [box type=”download”] Order Get A Grip: An Entrepreneurial Fable . . . Your Journey to Get Real, Get Simple, and Get Results and Gino’s first book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business on Amazon. [/box]

    See you there!

    New Competition for Michigan Startups and Second Stage Companies

    GLEQ Logo

    The Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest (GLEQ) is launching a new competition designed to recognize 10 high-growth Michigan companies called the “Vision to Action Challenge”. Entries are due by 5 pm THIS Friday, November 2nd.

    According to Diane Durance, GLEQ’s Executive Director, there is “no restriction on size, or revenue limits for the Challenge. It’s all about taking action and demonstrating forward motion.”

    Using the Business Model Canvas and the Entrepreneur Operating System’s (EOS) Vision/Traction Organizer, GLEQ will help participants translate their vision into concrete and effective action to win over customers and investors.

    Challenge winners will receive widespread exposure of their high-growth businesses, including recognition at the ACE’13 event on January 31, 2013. After signing up to enter the competition, participants will be coached on completing one of two one-page vision models (EOS Vision/Traction Organizer or the Business Model Canvas). Participants will receive weekly coaching webinars through December. One-on-one help is also available through GLEQ’s coach matching program.

    To participate, simply send an email to [email protected] with your name in the body by 5 p.m. Friday, November 2nd, 2012. Good luck!


    Additional Resources:

    What Operating System Does Your Business Run On?


    An operating system for my business, you ask? But I thought only my computer needed an operating system?!

    Aha! Well, now you’ve learned one of the secrets of successful second stage companies – many run on a particular operating system. And just as you’ll find advocates of many operating systems for your PC, you’ll find enthusiasm for many different operating systems for business.

    The key with choosing an operating system for your business is to avoid getting lost in the process of choosing one – the important part is USING one. Luckily, there’s a great primer on 4 of the most popular systems being taught by GLEQ, and we’ve arranged for Beyond Startup members to attend at no charge.

    The workshop is being taught twice in October:

    • 10/16/2012 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm at SPARK East in Ypsilanti, Michigan
    • 10/23/2012 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan

    The session will introduce four business planning models:

    • Jim Horan’s “One Page Business Plan”
    • Kaufman Foundation’s “NewVenture Program”
    • “The Business Model Canvas”
    • Gino Wickman’s “Entrepreneurial Operating System” (EOS)

    Participants will hear 20 minute orientations to the models and will have an opportunity to ask presenters questions about the models, tools and processes. For registration information, email catherine @


    Note that there is one other popular system not being covered at this event: Rockefeller Habits.

    Do I Really Need A Business Plan?


    Last week I sat down with someone pondering whether they needed a business plan. At the risk of being lambasted, I don’t recommend business plans. At least, not the kind of long, detailed business plan affectionately known as shelf-ware. Rather, I recommend taking a page from Nike – Just Do It.

    If you go out and get customers, and start generating revenue, you’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Eric Reis has popularized the term Lean Startup to describe this general approach in his recent book of the same name.

    What you do need is a clear picture of where you’re headed and how you’ll benchmark your progress, and you can do that effectively with a one-page plan. Both Rockefeller Habits and the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) offer versions of the one-page plan. I’ve used both and personally found the EOS version most helpful. You can download a free copy of the EOS one page plan template on the EOS site – they call it the V/TO or Vision Traction Organizer.

    Looking for a Second Stage Roadmap? Look to EOS.

    Traction-bookOne of the early systems we implemented at Pure Visibility was Rockefeller Habits, which taught us about the importance of building meeting rhythms, and dedicating time each quarter to setting goals. We implemented the Rockefeller Habits one page plan successfully on our own, using the book. However, we eventually hit a wall where we could see what Vern Harnish (the author) wanted as an end-product, but the process of getting there was not nearly as clear. We wanted more specifics – or what you might call a “second stage roadmap”.

    About this same time we ran across the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) – a perfect next step in our case. They are very similar systems; EOS simply resonated with us and answered the “how to” questions which had previously tripped us up. (As an added bonus the author, Gino Wickman is from Michigan, and many of the case studies in the book were already familiar to us. This made it easy for us to check in with others using the system, and trust that it was working well enough for them to be worth the switching cost of changing systems ourselves.)

    We worked with Duane Marshall, an implementor of the EOS system, and the experience positively rocked our world. We clarified roles, where we were going, what it would look like… the list goes on and on. It’s no coincidence that the EOS book is called “Traction”, as that is exactly what the system delivers.

    Curious to learn more about this system? Check out the EOS blog, the book Traction (download the first chapter free), and Gino’s free ebook “Decide!” If you’ve only got time for one, start with the book Traction, as it’s the foundation of the system and an easy read. After reading it, you’ll know right away if the Entrepreneurial Operating System feels like a fit for your company.

    For more articles on this topic see: “Entrepreneurial Operating System.”