Doing an Honest SWOT Analysis is a Good Place to Start

Governor-elect Katie Hobbs will likely be announcing details about her gubernatorial transition team shortly. Once the team is established, folks in key leadership positions at the state agencies should prepare in case members of the transition team ask for a meeting.

It’s a 48 Day Sprint to Inauguration Day: Here’s What We Might Expect During the Transition – AZ Public Health Association

How can a person in agency leadership prepare for a meeting with the transition team? Something that’s worked well for me is to develop a SWOT analysis of your area of responsibility and for the agency. Going through a SWOT analysis will give structure to your conversation with the transition team by identifying the internal and external factors that are helping or hurting your effectiveness.

What’s a SWOT analysis? It’s a strategic management technique that identifies agency Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are generally internal to your agency. Opportunities and threats are more external factors. Here’s a short description of each category.

  • Strengths: characteristics of your organization or division that are working well toward achieving the mission
  • Weaknesses: things that are impairing the ability of the organization to achieve its mission or to excel
  • Opportunities: things in the political or economic environment that the organization could exploit to improve their performance (e.g., things the current or previous administration or leadership was hostile toward that would help reduce health disparities for example)
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could derail agency performance in achieving their mission

Here are some helpful hints as you prepare a SWOT analysis:

  • Be honest and objective. This is not a feel-good analysis. It’s a tool to dispassionately look at your performance. Imagine that you’re looking at your agency from the outside rather than the inside. What have your stakeholders been telling you and others about their perception of your strengths and weaknesses. Include that information in your analysis.
  • If you have objective performance measures, be sure to include your performance on those metrics. If your current agency leadership has been ‘cooking the books’ to make those performance measures look better than they are, I would recommend that you disclose that information (if you have been told your conversation is confidential).
  • If your existing performance measures are weak, subjective, or designed to make your outgoing director or governor look good, make sure to note that in your analysis. If you have ideas about what would be better performance measures it would be a good idea to mention those to the transition team.
  • Include outside assessments in your SWOT analysis. Has the Auditor General’s Office produced reports about your agency? What were the findings? Were they addressed or covered up? For example, if the Auditor General found your predecessor failed to follow up on thousands of serious nursing home complaints… and rather than fix the problem, your predecessor simply reclassified 98% of high-risk complaints as low risk (not requiring prompt follow-up), you should discuss how that happened, who was responsible, and what you’re doing to correct the malfeasance.
  • When possible, include the root cause of your weakness and threats. For example, if you run a public health licensing division and your predecessor(s) or current/past agency director prevented you from hiring staff, wouldn’t update licensing fees to support those staff, or wouldn’t include what you need in the agency budget request, you should identify those decisions as a root cause of your weaknesses.
  • The transition team will also likely be talking with stakeholders about your agency’s weaknesses… and the threats your weaknesses post to them. Anticipate what they will be saying and be candid about those weaknesses. For example, if your Vaccines for Children (VFC) oversight program over-regulated pediatric offices resulting in a more than 50% reduction in VFC providers, you should explain how that weakness/threat happened and what you’re doing (if anything) to rectify the problem.
  • If another part of your agency is posing a threat to your division, make sure to include that in your analysis. For example, if you run the public health division and the operations side of your agency (procurement/accounting) isn’t processing contracts with the county health departments promptly (an agency weakness that poses a threat to the county health departments) be sure to include that weakness and threat in your analysis. Include your honest assessment of what if anything has been done to fix the problem, including who might be responsible.
  • Make sure to identify opportunities that could be created with simple policy changes. For example, if you’ve been deciding to not to apply for federal grants because your current agency director and the outgoing governor won’t allow you to hire people to manage the grant if you get it, include that in your matrix with a suggestion that the incoming administration remove the arbitrary ‘head count’ cap that the Ducey administration has imposed on your agency.
  • Keep the initial SWOT to the A list items in your area of responsibility or your agency. Spreading yourself too thin will muddy the water. Remember, the purpose of this high-level SWOT analysis is to help guide your time with the transition team.
  • As you close out your SWOT in your discussions with the transition team, include strategies that could be used to convert weaknesses into strengths. Maybe you can identify ways to use strengths to overcome threats. Would you be able to use strengths to maximize opportunities if you had better leadership decisions? Are there ways to use strengths to compensate for or minimize weak?

Remember, in some ways a meeting with the incoming administration’s transition team can be seen as a job interview.

The incoming administration will likely be looking for problem-solvers who can objectively assess the performance of their agency and identify strategies to improve performance. They’re unlikely to be impressed with persons who appear to be singing the praises of the outgoing administration/director out of personal loyalty.

For you to speak with candor during your transition team meeting you will need to ensure that your conversation with the team is private and confidential. Do everything you can to create an environment that’s safe and that will allow you to speak candidly.

In short…. just be honest.