Why a little-self analysis is always a good thing

[Image courtesy of Simon Cunningham at Flickr Creative Commons]

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to give advice than to take it? The thing about dispensing words of wisdom is that (a) they don’t cost you anything and (b) you’re often stating what’s obvious to you but not to the other person, and (c) it’s not personal. 

And (c) is what it’s really about.

Because when it’s not your life, our your loves, or your business, you can see more clearly and be more objective. But when the spotlight is turned on you, the view is very different. 

I recently saw a SWOT analysis carried out by an agency I work with on a client of theirs. It was brutally honest, laying bare the weaknesses of the company, its service and its competitive position. At times, it made for uncomfortable reading. 

On the plus side, it was unashamedly upbeat about strengths, and concluded that on balance, the organisation was in a strong position.

We’re all happy to blow our own trumpets, but highlighting our faults is a bit more of a challenge. But if we don’t identify and acknowledge them, it’s difficult to address them.

And when I say ‘we’ here, I’m thinking more professional than personal. That said, if you’re a small-to-medium business, it often still feels personal. 

So how do you go about finding your faults and fixing them? Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Dare to compare. If critiquing yourself in isolation is too much to contemplate, then take one of your competitors and do a side-by-side comparison. Take your website and theirs, and create a grid with form, content, approach, tone, structure and so on. Some things you do will be better, others will fall short. The same is true of your competitor. And if they tick all the boxes and you don’t, then at least you have a standard to aim for. 
  • Press the button. You know that elevator pitch you’ve always meant to write? Do it. Sit down and write something that you could deliver in 60 seconds or less. You’ll end up with very few words, but it’ll probably take you a considerable time to arrive at them. That’s because you’ll be forced to focus on the absolutely top-line things, which can often get lost in the detail of everyday busyness.
  • Outsource – but accept the outcome. A friend of mine is a management consultant. She the nicest, friendliest, chattiest person you could hope to meet. In a social setting. But when it comes to business, she morphs into another being entirely: someone who’s dispassionate, objective and unemotional. She’s able to bring her steely gaze and unforgiving approach to bear on the knottiest of problems. But here’s the thing: she always prefaces the process by telling clients that they’re going to find out things that will not be easy to accept. But accept they must. In business as in life, without acceptance there’s no moving on. 
  • Start small. This works for everything, whether it’s overhauling your marketing or changing your diet. If you look at the problem as a whole, it seems big and unwieldy. If you break it down into chunks, it suddenly becomes manageable. Fix the tagline. Rewrite that email. Update your segmentation regularly. Improve your response time to customer emails. Rethink your newsletter, so the content isn’t just me-too recycled factoids. But what about an overarching plan, I hear you say? Yes, that’s fine. But not the point where the hunt for perfection actually prevents you from taking the first step.
  • Focus on the journey, not the destination. Finding and fixing faults isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s an ongoing one, because the competitive landscape is constantly changing. Just last month, I was talking to somebody who said he’d let his lead in the market slip because he’d got complacent. “When you’re number 1,” he said ruefully, “there’s only one way to go.”

And do I practise what I preach? Sometimes.

Because I’m as guilty of the next person of dispensing advice that I don’t take myself. But it’s right at the top of my list of things to address.

Just before the one that says I should stop making lists, and actually start doing what’s on them.