Monday, October 24, 2011

Following through

There are lots of organizations with good ideas and even more with good intentions.  But in my experience even with those that plan to follow through the reality is that all too frequently it doesn’t happen.  It’s not that they didn’t want to; it’s just the way it works out.
Most organizations have an executive that gets voted in for 1 or 2 years.  It is unusual for the executive to continue for a lot longer than that.  This high turnover rate unfortunately usually results in change in focus and priorities.  It is not so much that people are solely driven by their own personal interest.  Its more that circumstances change.  But the problem is that a lot of good ideas get started, but never completed, and with that a lot of opportunities for success come and go without progress.  Here today and gone tomorrow.   

So now it is my turn.  And I will see if I am any better at being able to keep things on track. 

I have recently become the chair of a strategic steering committee for a Canadian Quality oriented organization.  This organization is excellent in creating standards for national and international use.  But when it comes to internal discipline at the committee level they are a lot like lots of other well intentioned folks.  Projects begin and then then go away. 
This year along with the committee chair position I have inherited a SWOT analysis that was stared a year ago at our last in-face meeting.  Folks gathered together, then broke into work groups and set out to define what the committee’s and organizations strengths and weaknesses as perceived by the committee members.  In addition, the analysis looked forward towards the opportunities that could enhance activities and threats that could throw things off-the-rails. 

That was a good start, but unfortunately, consistent with common behaviour, here we are now, one year on, with no further activity.

Well I congratulate my predecessor for recognizing the strategic value of examining activity in an organized approach, and I support the use of SWOT analysis and a valuable Quality tool, but if there is no follow through then the process is barely an intellectual exercise.  Without some form of timely follow-through it is essentially an intellectual waste-of-time.  With being unduly derisive, somewhere on the list someone should have included “not following through” as a weakness, or more appropriately a threat.  To be fair, my predecessor had to step down prematurely, so it would be unfair to lay the inaction as her responsibility.

I am pretty comfortable with SWOT analyses, I did my first one for my proficiency testing program about 6 years ago, and I update it every two years.  I find it a very useful technique for prioritizing next steps.  It keeps me focused on where we are and where we want to be.  My only looming threat at CMPT is my inability to create a cohesive succession plan for me.  

You can see the results of my SWOT review in the Management Review section of the CMPT Annual Report at

But I digress.

Back to the challenge at hand.  In preparation for our meeting tomorrow, we have sent out an electronic survey to all the committee members to rate the 16 Opportunities cited on scales 1-5 (lowest to highest) for choice, appropriateness, feasibility, and interest, and identified the top 6 that clearly stood out on all scales.  At our meeting we will now select the top 2 to take to senior management with the why and how to capitalize. 

In addition we will look at the 6 Threats and sort out the 2 that need addressing the most. 
Actively working through a process of identifying and clearing threats and optimizing on opportunities is one of my personal definitions of organizational progress.  Doing it over and over contributes to sustained progress and success.  I haven’t checked, but I hope that concept is captured in ISO9004:2009.

As with all organizations it is not within our purview to do our own analysis and then go and spend organizational money.  But it is certainly our responsibility to go through the discipline of the exercise and present the results in a definitive way to those that can make those important decisions.

So I congratulate our committee on starting a introspective look at ourselves.  I take it as my responsibility to move the process forward.  Once started, there is an obligation to work to a sound conclusion. 

I am interested in knowing if others have worked through the exercise and found value in SWOT analysis.

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