Know Which Threats Really Matter


Arriving at one’s final strategic destination is made far more likely by keeping one’s eyes fixed firmly upon it. External threats can rattle us and distract us from our goals, too often causing us to question the validity of our plans. Not all threats, though, require course correction. Winning leaders are those that know the difference and prepare accordingly.

Typically, leaders formalize understanding of any threats arrayed against the business through the completion of a SWOT – or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – analysis. Doing so enables the key leaders of the firm to look both inside and outside the firm at factors impacting it now and in the future in order to arrive at a better, common understanding of where to place strategic leverage and where to invest defensively. A thoughtfully executed SWOT analysis also helps place a check on unrealistic unconstrained or unbound requirements planning which can lead businesses to drastically overestimate demand and in turn their own revenue targets.

To ensure a shared agreement on terms, let’s level set on the definition of “Threat,” which, in addition to being confused with weakness, can mean different things to different people. For the purpose of this discussion, and typically for SWOT exercises, one should think of threats as: external forces or events – beyond our control – which may or will impede the ability of an organization to achieve its objectives. Common examples of threats are: economic downturns, wars, epidemics, competitive upstarts, new and/or disruptive technologies, scarcity of qualified workers, and increased government regulation just to name a few.

There are three key points to remember here. One, that threats are external. Two, threats are beyond our control. And three, threats have an ability to harm a firm and/or impede its strategic progress. But while aligning around the definition of the word threat or even agreeing upon the threats that are arrayed against the firm both matter and are important to the process of building a higher-performing team, neither represent the end of the process nor the most important part of it.

Unfortunately, though, for many firms, the completion of their SWOT is an end unto itself. The document is completed and, for most, never considered again. However, the SWOT is meant to inform and impact the larger plan itself. Once a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and, in this case, threats is compiled and agreed to, the real work begins.

It is at this point that winning teams should then ask themselves the following question: 

“Assuming we have a plan that we wholeheartedly believe in and are willing to fight for, will the occurrence of _____(insert threat name)_____ invalidate our plan or cause us to stop believing in or stop fighting for it, yes or no? 

For any threat where you as a leader and your team have collectively responded, “No,” you should do nothing more than keep your eyes affixed to your final destination and press forward if/when these threats occur. For those with an affirmative answer, the strategic plan for the business must include contingency plans for if/when these potential threats become realities. In this way, logic, and cooler heads, will prevail when bad things happen rather than emotion, drama, or worse.

See, it’s often natural for human beings to lose their minds when something unfortunate occurs. That’s because we don’t like change – especially negative change. And most of us are born with a tendency to act more like Chicken Little than Cool Hand Luke when a crisis occurs. But because we’ve taken the time to think ahead – about every potential negative event, force, or outcome – with a plan for what to do when they happen, our team will be ready to carry on come what may … either by marching forward unfazed, or by reaching in our desk drawer and pulling out Plan B.

Understand that all threats are not created equally and run your shop accordingly. It will be among the best contributions to associate mental health that you ever make.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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