Every department has felt the crunch of today’s times:
- Decreased budgets and reimbursement
- Increased operating costs
- Breaking equipment
- Decreased volunteerism
- Increased operating scrutiny from politicians and government leaders
Despite all of this we still manage to make the calls and provide the essential services to our community. Let me ask this: have you done an analysis of the situation, looking at all angles positive and negative recently? If you haven’t taken the time lately you need to do so. A periodic review of your team, your organization and even yourself can help to correct the course and find a means of coming out of these times alive!
In the business world I have used a simple tool to look critically at all aspects of a challenging issue and setting goals: the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. It works in any industry and when done right can yield tremendous insight in a short period of time leading to action and positive results. This article will give a brief introduction to the SWOT technique and help you run your next team meeting using it as a talking point.
Start off with a brief discussion as you normally do, presumable without the SWOT, and as the discussions get disorganized bring the SWOT to the table. Write down each of the four components on a board or projector and facilitate the discussion. Be careful to provide an environment fully open to all ideas and views.
Strengths and Weaknesses review the internal factors in developing a goal, say recruiting more volunteers or managing the operating expenses. This can be a touchy topic to some since it involves constructive criticism and our line of profession caries a very personal attachment to what we do. Start with the positive and write them down clear and bold for the team to see. Every department has strengths and likely a lot of them! Strengths might be:
- Excellent safety record
- Meeting response times
- Great team support network
Moving to weaknesses will likely occur naturally in the group. Some teams will quickly follow a strength with a weakness. The team needs to be frank about the weaknesses and determine the answer to “what are we lacking?”
- Too few members to spread the call load evenly
- Modern/ working equipment
- Incentives for volunteers
Reviewing external factors includes assessing the positive and negatives of your department’s community and environment. Opportunities help to change the conversation from where are we, to how do we get where we need to be? What factors can help us meet our mission. Contrasting with a Threats analysis will keep your opportunities realistic and achievable. Opportunities may include recruiting newly graduated EMT students from the community college to help staffing. Perhaps the threat is the competition of other departments doing the same. Counter that with a view on the strengths of the department to help lure the folks in.
After going through this exercise you should move to conversation on how to turn those weaknesses to strengths and how to explore the opportunities while being mindful of the threats. Get the team to identify clear goals and a plan to reach them. If done correctly the group will have emerged positively charged and ready to act. Harness that energy and identify goals that the team can commit to reaching. Don’t spread the team too thin with too many goals and allocate the right number of team members to get the job done with full ownership.
Using the SWOT analysis can help you organize your efforts to meet the demanding landscape. When performed semi-frequently you can identify the negatives before they manifest as a problem. Always go back to the SWOT you are working on to note changes and measure your outcomes. Happy SWOT-ing!