SWOTting for Goal Setting

Fly Swat

Over the last two posts we’ve talked about generic techniques for generating and analysing ideas. However the time has come to move back toward the Superior Business Analysis model and talk about the more specialist practices that could be used to implement strategy in your organisation.

So… back to the top. If you want to know about practices for setting strategy, you’ve (hopefully) come to the right place!

Today we’re looking at a few techniques (or maybe sub-techniques, if such a thing exists!) to be aware of in defining business goals. We’ve looked pretty coarsely at brainstorming and analysis and these can clearly be useful ways of getting some ideas on the page for what your goals on. But what other techniques can help in refining these goals to a point that you know your organisation is set to fly high?

The SWOT Matrix

This a pretty versatile tool that you can use to help elicit ideas during a brainstorm, sort ideas at an analysis stage and probably – if I’m honest – use in any problem space. I think it’s particularly useful though in setting organisational strategy.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The idea is that as a basis of developing a strategy, you need to understand what aspects of the organisation are currently strengths (a selling point), weaknesses (needing improvement), opportunities (capabilities to grow into or capitalise on), and threats (internal or external factors that may have an impact on the organisation’s ability to achieve its goals).

Thinking about it, I like the idea of having a goal for each of the four quadrants of the matrix. For example …


Goal SWOTHmmm I like that. It seems like a neat way of setting a very rounded goal set. I’m not sure whether it would always be practical though – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

There are other acronyms and thinking methodologies that can be used in place of or in addition to SWOT. However I tend to think that they are probably better as pure brainstorming support (ok if you’re out of ideas, how about we think about ideas to the problem through this new lens…) rather than as a simple framework for goal setting, or checking the coverage of those goals. Think of Edward de Bono’s ‘6 Thinking Hats’ or PEST/PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental).

The MECE Principle

This is courtesy of McKinsey, a successful and top tier multinational management consultancy with a huge raft of intellectual property built up in this space. MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive and is a useful principle to bear in mind when creating themes for your ideas and then when you are actually word smithing your business goals.

Essentially, make sure the goals you set have appropriate coverage and don’t duplicate each other. It takes time to frame goals – or pretty much anything – in a way that is truly meaningful and unambiguous. However it is very important when you consider that it is goals that should drive whether your organisation’s mission is achieved, goals that form a basis for evaluating the success of your organisation, goals that at a high level guide the development and implementation of fitting policy and process within your organisation, and – what is more – goals may be followed by an awful lot of people over an awfully long time.

So next time you’re completing a list of anything important, think MECE, MECE, MECE.

Magic number of 7 plus or minus 2

Ahhh music to my ears, the recognition that I am not an inferior being because I cannot process long list of bullet points, convert them on the spot into something meaningful and then remember them!

This concept – also known as Miller’s Law (thank you again Wikipedia – I really need to remember to donate to them during their next fundraising drive!) was apparently established by the psychologist George A. Miller in 1956. It decrees, or theorises anyway, that the human working memory can generally process around 7 (but up to 9 or as few as 5) chunks of information at a given time. The theory is that our ability to judge and hold concepts in our short-term memory limits any more.

Which brings us to the point that if you want everyone in your organisation to remember its goals DO NOT create lists of 10 plus highest order goals. You will just be disappointed and your staff will be at the very best bemused. It follows therefore that if you want some people to easily recall your goals, 7 might be ok, but to be confident that your organisation is all aiming for the same goals, keep them to 5, or ever less.

Gosh, that was a fairly restrained rant considering how far up on my soapbox I could have stood on this issue!

There are probably many more snippets of practice to be aware of – and I’d love to hear your thoughts on that – but I’ll leave it at that for today.

Next week we’re going to take a look at what I like to call ‘goal frameworks’. These are essentially the way for eliciting and structuring goals – think logframe / program logic, for starters. Stay tuned…

…but before you go, I’d like to know what you think.

Could four SWOT-based goals be a useful goal framework for any organisation? And are there any other techniques or principles that you can share that might be useful in goal setting?

What do you think?