Just in case you are wondering what a column about Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) has to do with the fitness industry, let me explain. In this article, I’m referring to S.W.O.T. as in Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

A S.W.O.T. is a business practice that is used as a self-evaluation tool for organizations, departments, senior- and middle-level managers as well as for non-management employees. To perform a S.W.O.T., a club evaluates its strengths and weaknesses, identifies areas in which its strengths aren’t being fully used and looks at threats that can damage or adversely affect its business growth potential. If you are one of the fitness organizations and progressive managers who already evaluate your organizations, various departments and personnel, please do not read any further. However, if this is new to you, you need to continue reading so you can have a better business year in 2006.

As a club general manager in 2005, at what point did you sit down with your operating groups to determine not only how they were doing but also how they could do a better job to reach and/or exceed their goals? As a personal training manager, when did you sit with each of your trainers to determine not only how they could be more productive, but also how you could help them develop an action plan that could increase their productivity? As a group exercise manager, when did you evaluate whether or not your studio occupancy rate was cost effective? If it wasn’t cost effective, how did you develop an action plan that would increase your studio occupancy rate? These points are just the tip of the S.W.O.T iceberg.

When used progressively, a S.W.O.T. analysis can get the leadership team rapidly aligned, engaged and involved with the organization at all levels and build a shared, balanced consensus of an organization’s and department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A S.W.O.T. can also build a consensus about an individual manager’s performance profile vis-à-vis the manager’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and keep managers focused the daily business issues and the intermediate and long-term goals of the organization.

As a consultant, I have used this classic business tool in the fitness industry for the past five years. A proactive S.W.O.T. has helped various clubs nationally and internationally develop action plans to reach their financial and operational goals and assist fitness departments to develop action plans that helped them reach their financial objectives. This tool also helped a club owner hire a general manager instead of the owner performing the general manager function. After doing a S.W.O.T., another fitness director realized that she should voluntarily give up her position before she was asked to leave because her passion was in training and not in management, and an operations manager opted to become a full-time personal trainer and Pilates instructor because her background was more suited to service than to operations. A S.W.O.T. also helped an assistant manager decide to become a full-time personal trainer because he had more passion as a trainer than as a manager. Another personal trainer decided that he didn’t have what it took to be a successful fitness professional, and he left the fitness industry.

The suggested frequency of a S.W.O.T. depends on the type of operation you manage. If you manage a profit center with an annual budget objective, you should be doing a S.W.O.T. every month. The monthly analysis will protect your quarterly, semi-annual and annual financial objectives. Not doing a S.W.O.T. at all suboptimizes your ability to meet and/or exceed your goals.

If you are a personal training manager, each of your personal trainers should do a S.W.O.T. The frequency of the trainers’ S.W.O.T. is dictated by the increase in their success. The more successful they are, the less frequent the S.W.O.T. The less successful they are, the more frequent the S.W.O.T. until they either correct their problem areas or are terminated. Your ability to meet your monthly goals should be delegated to each trainer as a monthly performance expectation. If they all hit their expectations, you will hit your goals; if they don’t, you won’t hit your monthly goals.

Whenever the fitness industry meets and engages the Harvard Business School, the fitness industry always wins by incorporating new techniques into our best business practices.

What is a S.W.O.T.?

S.W.O.T. stands for the following:

Strengths: Think about what you do well. What makes you stand out from your competitors? What “value-added” do you professionally bring to the member’s table? Does your club or department really create a “unique” experience for your members? Are you consistently hitting your budgetary objectives? If you are, that is strength. If you are not, that is a weakness.

Weaknesses: List the areas that are a struggle for you or your organization/department. Can you successfully engage your members or clients to the point where they can support your operational goals and financial objectives? Can you comfortably engage/communicate with all types of members? Can you address the diversified service needs of the members? If you can’t, that’s a weakness.

Opportunities: Try to identify areas where your strengths are not being fully used. Does your staff or department have access to programming skills that you have not been able to successfully display/advertise/market?

Threats: Look at things both inside and outside the club and/or your department that can damage and/or adversely affect your business growth potential. Are there new fitness/training trends that you don’t have access to? Is the status of the economy affecting your business? Have you developed strategies that can minimize the impact of the “weak” economy?