By Jennifer I. Tougas, CAPP, PhD
Director, WKU Parking & Transportation Services, Member, IPMI Board of Directors

Our department held a staff retreat last week. It was the first time in a very long time that we had all operating units together for staff development. Given the nature of our operation, it is difficult to have all of our operational units together at one time and I wanted to take full advantage of the time to build camaraderie. I also wanted to hear directly from the staff about how we are doing as an operation, so we conducted a SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis is a planning tool to look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats within an organization or operation. To conduct the analysis, we broke up into teams of five to eight people. Members of different operations were represented on each team so employees could talk directly with each other about their part of the department, and we hoped, gain a greater understanding of the department as a whole.

Beginning with strengths as the topic, we asked questions like, “What are doing well? What works well? What are we good at?” Each group had a flip chart and markers and one member of the group recorded the feedback from the group. After about 10 minutes, each group shared its results with the full department. While there was some overlap, there were frequently new ideas shared by each group.

We then repeated that process with the remaining topics. For weaknesses, we asked, “What isn’t working? Where do we feel friction? Where do we need to make improvements?”  For opportunities, we asked, “What is available to help us? What changes are coming that work in our favor?” And for threats, we asked, “What barriers prevent us from moving forward? What is working against us?” While strengths and opportunities require internal reflection, the opportunities and threats can include external forces as well. As a final task, we asked, “What are three things we need to work on right now?” This put all our discussions into perspective and focused our attention on where we need to make improvements immediately.

It was an important and rewarding day for the department. Everyone was engaged in the process and seemed to enjoy themselves as well. Equally important, though, will be the follow-through. We need to capture the momentum gained from the day and turn it into tangible progress towards our goals.