Visioning and SWOT: Strategies to succeed in Work and Life
Updated: May 6, 2019
The ability to perform visioning (developing a mission, vision, and values) and S.W.O.T. analyses are critical skills for both organizational and personal success.
You can engage in visioning and S.W.O.T, personally or as an organization, before you commit to any sort of action. This could be starting a new project, assessing a new job opportunity, exploring a new business partnership, revamping internal company policies, considering opportunities to pivot in life or at work, or altering a plan midway through its execution. You can also engage in either of these processes periodically to refresh your memory and re-align with your goals.
I recently participated in an organizational retreat for a non-profit undergoing a leadership change. The company’s Executive Director is stepping back and taking a support role prior to retirement, making room for a rising star in the organization to step up and into his shoes as the new E.D. As part of the transition process, the new E.D. got off to a great start by making space for all stakeholders to collectively reconnect with the organization’s mission, vision, and values, and then performing a S.W.O.T. analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I’ll talk more about how she did this below. But first: what is visioning, and what is S.W.O.T.?
Visioning is my term for coming up with a vision for the future. You do this by thinking about your mission, vision, and values. People often get confused by the words “mission” and “vision,” because they are similar, but they are distinct ideas. There are reams of blogs out there written on what each word means, but here’s a quick summary:
Mission: The mission statement is a sentence that describes who are you, your purpose, and what is it that you’re doing in the present to get there. The mission statement should focus on your present actions (the cause), while the vision will focus on the effects you want your actions to have.
Per Patrick Hull @ Forbes, blogging here, four essential questions your company’s mission statement should answer include:
What do we do?
How do we do it?
Whom do we do it for?
What value are we bringing?
Vision: What is your long-term goal for the future, your vision of the community or world you will create?
Lindsay Kolowich, a blogger on Hubspot, provides real life examples from 17 successful companies here, demonstrating the differences between a mission statement and vision statement, and provides a “how-to” guide for creating your own.
Values: Values are a person's (or company’s) principles or standards of behavior. It springs from your judgment of what matters most: what characteristics do you hold above all others?
I did my first real deep dive values assessment when I was laid off in 2013. I used a word document and simply spent a lot of time thinking over my life, my activities, and past jobs to figure out what path I wanted to take moving forward. I gave deep consideration to what brought me joy and what brought me unhappiness. It was through the visioning process that a lightbulb went off, and I decided to pursue a career as an environmentalist.
Later, I reassessed in 2016 when I landed in Seattle and was job hunting. I used the tools provided in What Color is your Parachute by Richard Bolles to revisit my values. I’ve also done values assessments with counsellors, and there are great resources online you can use – like this one on Mindtools.com @ https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm. It walks you through a step by step process to identify your values and even provides a list of common personal values for you to think about as examples.
S.W.O.T. stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths are what you – or your organization – are good at. What assets, skills, and relationships you can leverage? Weaknesses are things you’re not so good at, areas you need to develop, gaps in areas of knowledge, or relationships you lack that you need to build to succeed.
Opportunities are possibilities that stem from your strengths or your weaknesses. They might be financial; customer, client, or community related; internal; or learning and growth opportunities. Threats are external factors that threaten your company (or your own) ability to implement your mission and achieve your vision. In regard to a business, threats can come from political opposition to your work, stifling laws and regulations, your opposition and competition, changing customer attitudes, and the like.
For an awesome resource on “How to do a S.W.O.T. Analysis for Your Small Business,” see Dan Shewan’s blog @ https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/12/20/swot-analysis
Why are visioning and S.W.O.T. analyses important skills for work?
The way I see it, the main reasons for visioning and doing a S.W.O.T. analysis are for alignment, honest self-assessment, and organizing your tool-box.
First, the processes can help ensure that all staff, board, and other invested stakeholders are on the same page. This helps build alignment, can be used with icebreakers to strengthen working relationships, and helps refocus your collective energy on the right targets. Second, by creating a safe and collaborative space you are free to self-assess honestly, in a productive way, whether the organization is on or off track in terms of fulfilling its mission and living up to its values. How is the organization doing? Does your mission need to change, or do your values need to be updated? And last, these processes used together will help you organize your company’s toolbox and identify gaps where tools are needed. There should be no assignment of blame or personal criticisms during these processes – this is about the organization as a whole.
Done right, when you finish a S.W.O.T. analysis you should be able to identify potential paths forward for the organization that will help you to be more efficient and better achieve your mission. And though it might sound cheesy, these processes are actually really fun and engaging (or else I wouldn’t bother writing about them). They make you think, provide space for creative brainstorming, and they can leave you feeling inspired and pumped to get to work after!
Visioning and S.W.O.T. analyses can also help you in your personal life. Brainstorming and spending time visioning can help you know yourself better. It’s important to understand what are – and what aren’t – your values. This will help you focus your energy on activities, people, and in a career that will bring you more joy and fulfillment than simply allowing the path of life to take you where it will. For example, you might think that creativity and art are extremely important to you, but through a values assessment as part of the visioning process, you might find out that you value helping people in your community more – so volunteering at a soup kitchen might be a more fulfilling use of your time than dabbling with oil paints on the weekend. By applying the S.W.O.T. analysis to your life to identify your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can identify jobs you might excel at and enjoy more than your current job.
My experience with visioning and S.W.O.T. in my career is that these processes are just as useful at work as they are at home. So how did the E.D. in my example successfully host her visioning and S.W.O.T. retreat?
First: before scheduling a group meeting, she called up all of the major stakeholders her organization works with and set 1x1 meetings with the key contacts. This served multiple purposes: to get to know each other, to get the other person’s perspective on their working relationship (are needs being met?), to start identifying ways they could improve those working relationships, and to think about whether there are other stakeholders that need to be at the table. I’ll talk about stakeholder interviews in a later blog – there are lots of types of stakeholder interview templates and resources out there. A template is provided in Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager (which I blogged about here: ) but there’s no one-size fits all approach – that template would need to be tweaked.
Then: after connecting with all of her stakeholders she planned the retreat. She first took a poll to identify the best date for folks to meet for a half-day retreat. I recommend Doodle poll or When2meet as great polling tools for scheduling – I use them almost daily. She then mapped out what the day would need to look like.
While a full day of visioning and S.W.O.T. analysis could work, people have short attention spans and get hungry. It’s important to work with people’s tendencies and understand their limits. She was also asking us to take a weekend day to come in and work. For these reasons, she scheduled the meeting from 9:30 – 3:00pm on a Saturday at a location accessible to public transit, central to most stakeholders, with a start time of 10am and a catered lunch hour built in. Coffee, juice, and breakfast snacks were also provided. There’s nothing like free coffee and food to incentivize a weekend work retreat! The 10-3pm timeframe also allowed us to take some time in the morning getting there, while those that arrived early could mix and mingle. It didn’t feel like a full work day (since it was shorter), and those that had afternoon or evening plans that Saturday were not disappointed to be able to leave promptly by 3:00pm.
Fourth: in addition to pre-planning and logistics, the retreat was scheduled out and an agenda was provided. Agenda’s are CRITICAL! And not just because I love agendas. They help you prevent individuals, ideas, or side-conversations from derailing your meeting. They create focus. They help you achieve your meeting objectives by limiting time. Just make sure to parking lot good ideas so you can return to them later – by jotting them down on a piece of paper or making a special note in the meeting notes.
Last: the retreat was well executed. It started with a statement of meeting rules (respecting others, stepping up and stepping back, creating a safe space to speak openly, etc.), and was interspersed with icebreaker activities that were focused on breaking down misconceptions about limits on individual and collective abilities. Lunch was a working lunch. All brainstorming activities were recorded in multiple ways: there was a meeting notetaker, participants broke into groups with note-takers, and the E.D. also took notes at times. Brainstorms were done on large whiteboards and sticky-note boards, participants were able to take photos of the boards to bring back as notes.
For any visioning and S.W.O.T. analyses, the follow up is also important. Polling participants for reactions and following up with next steps are key pieces of keeping people engaged and keeping the strategic process moving forward. Failure to follow up can result in lost momentum and forgetfulness. It’s important to remind folks of the outcomes and of how those outcomes will be used moving forward.