Previous posts have commented on SWOT analyses – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (See my posts of Aug. 28, 2005 with five criticisms of the method; Dec. 9, 2005 #1 with an example from a large department; and Jan. 13, 2006 #3 about SWOT’s historical roots.). An article in MIT Sloan Mgt. Rev., Spring 2007, Vol. 48, at 96 adds another idea.
John Humphreys, a professor at Texas A&M University, explains that many leaders who conduct a SWOT analysis – and the consultants who advise them – hate to call anything a weakness. Everything is an “opportunity.” Does a law department have a crappy matter management system? Yes, but that is an “opportunity!”
A general counsel should recognize that some weaknesses can be ameliorated with proper efforts, while others can’t be changed. A law department can place a lawyer in Hong Kong to address a weakness in its support for Asian operations, but it can’t replace the CFO who harbors an antipathy toward lawyers. Furthermore, not all weaknesses are necessarily significant for the law department. Maybe the receptionist is grouchy, but so what?
As he writes, “opportunity becomes a generic pit into which a broad continuum of true opportunities and veiled weaknesses are tossed.” He urges strategists to be honest when they describe a poor situation.