Go from Strategic Planning with SWOT to Osotu!

You’re preparing to hold strategic planning sessions as the head of your organization’s leadership team and you open up the first part of the meeting on the first day by doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis. 

Starting with SWOT

You begin the exercise and within 15 minutes, two thirds of the room is overwhelmed with boredom.  Eyes glaze over and all of the energy is sucked out of the meeting in a whirling vortex.

You look around and think to yourself, “What have we done?  Why are people so bored? Why is this exercise so painful?”

Because you said, “SWOT Analysis”. 
Because people have done this over and over again.
Because the answers rarely change.
Because people are tired of repeating the same exercise both at work and as a part of outside volunteer boards on which they serve.

What if a SWOT Analysis got re-imagined? What if it took on a creative energy with which it normally isn’t associated? What if people switched on their brains for this exercise rather than turned their thinking off?

Impossible! - SWOT is inherently boring 

But it doesn’t have to be.  As a matter of fact, re-imagining SWOT can be the creative springboard for a fantastic strategic planning session.  Think of the new SWOT as an Organizational State of the Union or Osotu for short! 

Switch to an Osotu

Why is this better?  Well, the name is kind of catchy and different, Osotu…  OK, that’s a lame reason but there’s a lot in a name.  For starters, it doesn’t trigger immediate bad reactions.  Add to that the fact that creatively, its intention is to move away from old methods of repetitive thinking and shift to an environment that stimulates new, collaborative ideas.

What’s Different About an Osotu?

An Osotu is not a grocery list, like a SWOT Analysis usually winds up becoming.  It’s a three dimensional picture that tells a story, looking at the organization in a way that is compelling and real.  Think about the State of the Union in terms of our country.  It is a story of where the nation is and what our leadership sees for the future.  The same is true for an Organizational State of the Union. It tells a past and present narrative and sets the planning team up to create a future vision for the organization, as it relates to the people, environment and ideas that surround it. 


Check out MPOWR Envision strategic planning software


If your Osotu is done properly, it contains all the information a SWOT has but it organizes it so people can hear the story and see themselves as a part of the story.   Osotu should be able to take the place of the SWOT Analysis.  Pay attention to the way you frame your organizational story, what people are allowed to say (hint: anything… respectfully), how honest you are with each other (hint: very), how thoroughly you look at your environment internally and externally and how willing you are to tackle ‘sacred cows’.

Making Your Osotu the Best It Can Be:

  1. Choose your functional focus areas first. That means, what are the key parts of your organization you need to systematically monitor, manage and grow to ensure you are taking care of your employees, your customers and your business operations.  Typically these focus areas are between three  and six.  Any less and you are probably missing something.  Any more and you lose the ability to call them focus areas because you are spread too thin. Typically, but not always, these focus areas are things like: finance, human resources, market/customer, operations. But each organization is different and may choose slightly different areas.  What’s important is that they are relevant to those involved in planning.

  2. Choose the best presenter/communicator from your senior leadership team to be responsible for the Osotu. Why is this important?  You need someone with energy and enthusiasm to frame the snapshot in such a way as to engage people.  Put this person in charge of gathering the facts from the people that know most about each focus area.  Put clear parameters around these facts so there is consistency and you are reporting on the same key elements within each focus area.

  3. Choose parameters in your focus areas and give a snapshot of both past and present: Product (service) launches, new product (service) developments, new hires, financial decisions, structure of departments, positioning to serve the customer, areas that need improvement or attention, competitive reports and economic trends. In short, the internal and external environment of the past and the present. Where have you been, where are you now and why?  When you give the history, choose that which is relevant to give the present day some context.  Not agonizing detail, but 5 minutes of where you have been, what mistakes you have made, what successes you have achieved and what you think the organization learned as a result.  Finally, put this information in a chronology that makes sense to your audience ensuring that you include the contributions that critical leaders (and not just the people at the top) along the way have made to the organization. 

  4. Don’t present massive amounts of data that overwhelm people with information they won’t use or can’t apply. If you need to put up a bar chart, line graph or pie chart, ensure that it illustrates a salient point that is laudable or actionable. For example:  If sales has kicked it and gone 20% over their goal, show that in a bar graph.  If competitors have launched 50% more new products (services) in the last year than you have, show that in a graph too.  But skip the line graph on your industry’s economic indicators from 1985 to the present unless you need it to illustrate a very specific point.  Ask yourself each time you put data on a screen, “What is the message I want people to take away from this?” If you can’t answer that question clearly, take it out.

  5. Make it real. What does this mean?  It means talk about mistakes…talk about things you should have done differently.  Talk about when leadership went in the wrong direction.  Talk about getting off track from your mission.  Talk about what should’ve been done.  Don’t use this as a blame game time.  Don’t use names or point fingers but DO set a tone of honesty and openness.  In addition to mistakes, talk about successes through the people and the teams that contributed to the outcomes.  Make it celebratory.  Make sure to recognize both the people and events that went right.  Where and when did the organization do well and, most importantly, WHY?  Can it be repeated?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

  6. Don’t shoot the messenger. In the course of telling your Osotu, if someone asks a tough question or makes an uncomfortable point, answer honestly.  If you don’t have a response, ask how people recommend fixing the issue, problem or concern.  Penalizing those for speaking out about the elephant in the room goes counter to an atmosphere of transparency.  And organizations that are not honest with themselves eventually fail.  Don’t set yourself up for failure. 

  7. Organize the format to pull in outside perspectives, people and formats. If you have video footage that’s relevant, use it.  If you have to make a short video, consider making one.  The cost and time barriers of a video have all but disappeared.  Leverage this powerful medium.  If done correctly, it can be really effective. Also, consider include someone from outside the company (after an NDA is signed…!) who can give you another vantage point that you might miss.  Think about people from your bank, your accounting firm, your customer base.  I could be anyone who is good at strategy and willing to participate. 

Shifting from SWOT to Osotu makes a difference because it puts your people at the center of the discussion.  It takes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and weaves them into the story of your organization instead of listing them out in rote fashion. It connects the story of your  human capital to your results. Stories that are honest but upbeat, historical but fresh and excited about the past but ready to build a bridge to the future make people want to stay engaged.  Go from putting people to sleep to getting people energized about the next challenge.  Break the mold and see your organization not only create a strategic plan with meaning but an environment that will increase your likelihood of actually executing your plan.

It takes extra time to re-organize your planning process using Osotu but it is worth it and it will help you more easily develop your strategic plan.  There are few things more important than marshalling all of the creative energy on your team to imagine what and where you will be in three to five years.  Take advantage of a new process and see what you can unlock.


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Andrea Gibbs, MBA

Andrea Gibbs, MBA

Andrea Gibbs serves as Strategy Executive at MPOWR. A natural-born communicator, Andrea provides clarity to meeting discussions and brainstorming sessions.

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