Questions to jumpstart your SWOT

The SWOT analysis is a common start to strategic planning. (The letters stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.)

Because I think about SWOTs as a systems scan, I like to start strategic planning by getting out and onto the table all of the issues that my client has been thinking about. A grand purging of ideas, if you will.

(Don’t worry. I have clients study data and interview critical community informants to reveal issues they haven’t thought about yet).

But to get the ball rolling, I often ask the board members and staff, and sometimes informed volunteers or recently departed (off the board that is) board members, to complete an online questionnaire.

I’d thought you might be interested in seeing some of the questions I often use to get started:

  • What do you like to brag about when you talk about your organization? (Alt. What makes you most proud of your organization?)
  • What are the three most critical issues facing your [clients/community] that you need to respond to over the next few years?
  • Why are these issues important to you? To your [clients/community]?
  • If you could change anything about the way that you serve your [clients/community], what would you change? Why?
  • What operational investments (e.g. staff, technology, facilities, etc) would significantly improve the impact you can have on your [clients/community]?
  • What one thing would have the biggest impact? Why?
  • Looking into the future, what worries you the most?
  • What makes you most hopeful?
  • If all your dreams could come true, what are your greatest dreams for your work? For you organization?
  • Who do you need to talk to? That is, who has information to share, who really knows or cares a lot, has resources to share, perspectives you need to hear, or  partnerships to offer?

I tweak the questions to customize them for my client. These are the generic form of the questions.

I pop the questions into one of the online survey applications, like SurveyMonkey, to make it easy to respond. With a paper or email response option for those who don’t have access to or can’t navigate the online survey (Yes, it’s true. Not everyone is wired yet).

Once we’ve gotten a critical mass of responses, I compile the answers, looking for common threads as well as outlying opinions.

I then review the compilation with the people who answered. First and foremost, this confirms that I’m reporting the ideas correctly. Second, the discussion helps everyone understand what everyone else is thinking (and the survey format provides needed cover to make sure sensitive issues can get on the table.)  Then we can dive deeper into the responses.

Throughout the development of the plan, I’ll keep going back to the responses to make sure we haven’t forgotten any ideas or worries.

Is this helpful? What questions do you start with in your SWOT?

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