As you head into a brand new year, you may be thinking about how you can get a leg up on the competition. You know that you can’t just coast along or rest on your laurels. You’ve got to stay a step ahead of your competitors.
So you plan and you strategize and you look for anything that will give you an edge. You research your competitors to see what they’re doing. You look for ways that you can deliver what they can’t. And you take a hard look at yourself, too. Maybe you use a tried and true tool like a SWOT assessment. You look at your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunities, and your threats.
But what if your biggest competitor was you? What if, while you were evaluating your own business, you treated yourself like the competition? Your assessment would still have the same components, but you might look at your evaluation a bit differently. You might be more brutally honest in your assessment. Here’s an example of what I mean.
- Strengths: You may think you have a good feel for what your strengths are—what it is your business does well. But is that what your competitor thinks when he looks at you? Have you ever had an impartial, independent sources confirm to you what your strengths are?
- Weaknesses: We all know that we have weaknesses—things that we don’t do particularly well. Too often, however, when we evaluate ourselves, we also excuse ourselves for our shortcomings. Our evaluations are peppered with “yeahbuts.” We say something like: “Yeah, we don’t have as good a handle on expenses as we should, but that’s because we’re shorthanded in the finance department.” Guess what? Your competitor doesn’t care (and neither do your customers).
- Opportunities: Sometimes, when we’re planning, we lock onto something we consider a great opportunity just because it seems like a good idea. We’re infatuated with it. We’re emotionally attached to it. So we come up with justifications for pursuing it. How does your competitor look at this opportunity? Does he just not see it, or does he see something (a problem) that you don’t see? Is there someone you trust outside of your organization who can give you an unvarnished opinion on what you see as an opportunity?
- Threats: When it comes to things that threaten our success, we can sometimes be less than completely honest with ourselves—and this can go both ways. We may see something as a threat that really isn’t a big deal, and it can paralyze us. Or we can dismiss a genuine threat as inconsequential because we just don’t want to face it. Your competitor may look at threats to your company as an opportunity for himself. So when you assess threats to your company, try to look at them the way your competitor would if he was looking at you.
A SWOT analysis of your company can be very beneficial to your strategic planning. But in order to deliver real value, it has to be brutally honest. So the next time you analyze your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, try to do so through the eyes of your competitor—because he won’t cut you any slack.
If trying to see yourself through the eyes of your competition eludes you, try bringing in an independent, impartial outsider you can trust—someone who won’t be afraid to ask you tough questions about your assumptions. I’ve walked a lot of companies through the SWOT analysis, and I’d be happy to help you get the answers you need—even if they’re not the answers you think you want!
Happy New Year and happy planning! Here’s to a great 2014!