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Accurately Assessing Your Organization’s Strengths and Weaknesses

We recently received the following question from an attendee during our ACHE Cluster session, Strategic Planning from Formulation to Action, in Phoenix:

What is the risk of not assessing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses accurately at the outset of a strategic planning process?

A strategic planning process is an optimal time to hold a mirror up to your organization and assess what you see, ideally in a constructive and honest way.  A significant output of the environmental assessment is a summary of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, both of which are internally focused (as opposed to the summary of opportunities and threats, which are externally focused).  There are risks to the planning process if this assessment is not completed accurately:

Risks of Overestimating Your Strengths

·         Building unachievable strategy based on core competencies that don’t exist

·         Expanding programs or services that are not positioned for success’

·         Potential to overlook opportunities to develop distinction in areas that are nearing this state

Risks of Underestimating Your Weaknesses

·         Directing resources away from services that require them

·         Further exposing vulnerabilities to competition

Ultimately, the most significant risk is that either error could lead you to focus on the wrong set of issues and develop the wrong set of strategies moving forward in the planning process.

How can you avoid these mistakes?  First, ensure that the steering committee guiding the strategic planning process represents a diverse cross-section of your organization.  This can help avoid tunnel vision by any single stakeholder group.  You can imagine it is easy for a committee of hospital administrators to accept “medical staff engagement” as a strength if there are no physicians present to dispute the claim.  Next, support each strength or weakness with tangible evidence.  Quantitative evidence is best, as it offers a more limited range of interpretation.  Qualitative or anecdotal evidence that is gathered through the interview process is acceptable, but not ideal.  If interview findings are used as support for a strength or weakness, they should represent the consensus opinion.

When your organization completes a S.W.O.T. analysis, how do you ensure the results are accurate?