Part 1: The Issue
In the business toolkit of any trained professional, there are innumerable business tools available and yet not one of these tools is protected from being manipulated to support the point of view of the person using the tool. So, as an executive listening to and reviewing the reports from your team on a regular basis, how can you see through the haze of tinted report perspectives, ask good questions, and keep your teams motivated?
One of the most commonly manipulated business analysis tools is the SWOT report. For those who aren’t familiar with a SWOT report, it is a situational analysis tool used to review a business challenge or opportunity. The letters SWOT stand for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.”
The first two areas predominantly focus internally:
While the last two focus externally:
Are SWOT and other reports subject to error and bias? Yes. And, if you’ve completed a SWOT or other serious analysis at a company of almost any size, you know a broad survey report is likely to surface some real issues with internal political implications, data availability, and data objectivity. These factors can lead to data manipulation, or an avoidance of outlying information from the report to make the results appear more consistent and “finished.”
An example of the ‘political implications’ mentioned above can be seen if one tries to answer the question, “What kind of employee dares put into their report, “Weakness #2: Executive management was slow to invest in developing markets granting competitors a two-year head start.”?” Not one who wants to stay around long, is a fine answer. So, needing good, and complete answers to questions like these is one of the key reasons top executives involve consultants who are more likely to be straight with them. Consultants looking to join the 401(k) or profit sharing plan; they should just want to add value by providing honest feedback.
Part 2: A Solution
What is an executive reviewing reports submitted for review to do? How about swatting the SWOT by taking these four steps.
S = Survey the situation.
Recognize that you need to get the needed information from the data presented. To do this look to the source and ask these survey questions:
Who is writing this report?
What does the author have to gain or lose based upon the acceptability of this report?
What resources for insight did the author have access to support the creation of the report?
If you take a few minutes to survey the situation, you’ll have more perspective regarding where the report’s limitations might lie.
W = Write a list of questions you wanted the report to answer.
Take the time to leave the report for a few minutes and list out what you wanted to get from the report. Every executive gets reports that may be interesting, but lack the clarity to help answer the questions that need answering. The big “Don’t” here is “Do not let the report tell you what questions need to be answered—that is your responsibility.
A = Analyze the report’s actual findings.
Read the report through and if it is being presented, listen to what it is saying. What did you learn?
Is there a need or risk in the business you just learned more about by listening?
What skills and training needs became clear when reading and listening to the people behind the report?
Which of your questions remain unanswered?
T = Talk directly about what you still need to know.
Think about critical pieces of data that were missing and challenge those who prepared the report to get those answers for you soon. Where they brought new data into the discussion, complement them on the help. Ask the person(s) behind the report what items they struggled with the most in the report? …after they answer, and what they wish they could have included in the report or what they wish had more data to support.
As you can tell, using the SWAT technique to work with reports doesn’t just apply to SWOT reports, but to almost any presentation. Consider using this process on a review of the financial statements, an operational report, and even the dashboard reports built by your favorite data scientist.
SWAT will improve the quality of your questions and your focus on what can make a difference for your business.
Try the process and let me know what you learned and observed. Send me your feedback to email@example.com and I’ll do an update next month.