SWOT - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

La Misión: Transforming Education in Paraguay

SWOT - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

The team of Extraordinary Educators (EE) had the privilege of interviewing Marcelo Warkentin. Mr. Warkentin is a principal at a school in the countryside of Paraguay. The school was established by a group of business owners who envisioned transforming children’s lives through education. The local businessmen joined forces with a church organization and an international mission agency to start the school in 2013. The school’s mission is to enhance the quality of the students’ lives through their education and the vision is to provide a holistic quality Christian education to every child. The school consists of 442 students from 4-year olds who participate in a preschool to grade 12 students. The school has a team of 56 staff members. There are 42 teachers and support staff which includes a school social worker, a nurse, a psychologist, and two campus pastors. Over sixty percent of the student body receives a scholarship to be able to attend the school. The team of Extraordinary Educators’ opportunity in interviewing Mr. Warkentin for a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis is unique due to his school being a relatively new organization which would benefit from the reflections and opportunities in the end results of this assignment.

Figure 2.1:

Team of Extraordinary Educators SWOT Analysis
S-Strengths
Existing staff follows the mission, vision, and values (MVV) of the school.

– Staff members are held accountable.

– Evaluations are aligned with MVV.

– Staff is culturally diverse.

– Onsite temporary staff housing for new hires.

– Strong leader aligned with MVV.
– Board is developed from a variety of backgrounds, organizations, and church affiliations who provide support and oversee decision making.

– The school is meeting a need within the city for Christian education.

W-Weaknesses
Evaluation process is not formal.

– Due to a requirement of having all positions filled and a need for teachers, the school will keep ineffective teachers until there is a suitable replacement.

– Teacher readiness (often times the teachers do not arrive with the necessary skills to function in the teaching role).

– Making connections with different parent groups in the school (especially in social structure between poverty and wealth).

– Understanding family involvement and how it helps all children.

– Self-esteem issues create divides in parent involvement due to social structure.

– Measuring success standards.

O- Opportunities
– Promoting the school to attract highly qualified staff who align with the MVV.

– Developing measurements for success.

– Finding sponsors for specific students who may struggle financially.

– Field trips to broaden perspectives in developing worldviews and relationships with teachers.

– Clear action plans.

– Accessing a variety of external resources.

– Building an environment where people feel comfortable suggesting and giving feedback to the principal

T-Threats
– Perception of the school in the community as much of the staff are from variety of countries, cultures and beliefs.

– Turnover rates may impact continuity and strategic growth timeline.

– Hirees can pay lip service to school principals without intention of changing practice to align with MVV.

– Affirmation of the MVV vs. living out the values of the MVV in daily lives

– Greater job stability in the public system.

– Family dynamics.

 For a relatively new organization, La Misión has experienced success early on which can be seen in the number of students enrolled at the school and the number of students graduating high school. The SWOT analysis provided the team with many reflections on current processes within the school as well as many suggestions for improvement. Our analysis will help each of us and specifically Mr. Warkentin with planning for the future of organizations. Through assessing our SWOT analysis, each of us gained insight into preparing, implementing and initiating change, current or new responsibilities we may acquire, and improving our consistency (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 11).

Strengths of La Misión

Warkentin’s school, La Misión, shows significant strengths as seen in figure 2.1. The staff of the school affirm their commitment to the Mission, Vision and Values (MVV) of the school. “Organizational mission, vision, and values are important aspirational components that create meaning and purpose for these stakeholders” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 36). Lepsinger (2010) tells us there are times when a leader, team or organization will face obscurity; it is during these times, however, that the MVV of the organization remain clear. An organization “must be able to keep their promises to customers and shareholders and meet their goals” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 10). Principal Warkentin’s staff confirms their alignment with the Mission, Vision and Values of the organization. The evaluations for staff, are closely aligned with the MVV and a failure to align with the MVV can result in possible termination of employment.

The consequence of termination helps to hold all staff members accountable. Lepsinger (2010) provides us with 6 Bridge Builders in closing the execution gap. The third bridge is to Hold People Accountable (Lepsinger, 2010). “Team members who are held accountable rely on each other more, experience more success, and express more satisfaction with the members of their teams than those who are not held accountable” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 61). Failing to hold people accountable in an organization can result in very damaging consequences including decreased productivity, a destructive cycle of blame which leads to dissatisfaction in the workplace, and a feeling of distrust (Lepsinger, 2010). The standards of accountability within the school create a healthy competition among staff members. Lepsinger’s (2010) Bridge Builder 2 is Expect Top Performance. The competition, drive to align with the MVV, and desire to hold a job at the school will ensure top performance among employees. Mr. Warkentins’ school has made a commitment to the MVV for all stakeholders and cannot afford to “work around poor performers” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 46).

Another strength in Mr. Warkentins’ organization is the diversity among the staff and the board members. “Strategic thinking should be understood as a collective, or social, process that includes diverse perspectives from both inside and outside the organization” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 36). The staff is composed of members from various parts of the globe, each bringing a unique perspective to the team. The school board, which oversees important decisions and provides supports, is composed of people from diverse backgrounds as well. Diversity builds strength in an organization. “Organizations need to create more and better ways to make strategic thinking a collective process that engages diverse perspectives and viewpoints”  (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 60). Lepsinger’s 4th Bridge Builder is “Involve the Right People in Making the Right Decisions” (2010, p. 76). The diversity of cultural backgrounds, worldviews and skill sets is a strength for the school. “Delivery of consistent results depends on getting the right people talking about the right things at the right time” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 76).

The school is also targeting a specific need within the community. It is the only institution providing an opportunity for families to choose Christian education for their children. Ungerer, Ungerer & Herholdt (2016) suggest this is Blue Ocean Strategy. “Blue ocean strategy is a strategy that seeks to pursue uncontested market spaces in which competitors are “irrelevant” (Ungerer et al., 2016, p. 290). The First Bridge Builder in Lepsinger (2010), is “Translate Strategy into Action” (p. 28). The school took a strategy as an opportunity. There was a recognition for a need for Christian Education within the community and it was put into action.

Weaknesses in La Misión’s Structures

Addressing staffing needs

While La Misión has many notable strengths, it is important to pay attention to some of the weaknesses that are part of a growing organization. During the interview, Principal Warkentin revealed that this is the fifth year of full operation for La Misión and the leadership will begin the process of organizational review. Part of this review will contain the development of a more formal teacher or staff evaluation process which is lacking at this point. The school is often limited in its ability to increase its academic standards and create greater alignment with the school’s MVV by staff who are unable or unwilling to change their practice according to external requirements (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 175).  Developing a formal review process will hold staff accountable, will prepare staff for the evaluation standards, and will create and awareness of the importance of decision-making in accordance with the institution’s vision, values, and objectives (Galbraith, 2014, p. 52). The development of a formal review process also includes developing a review process for the administration of La Misión. Principal Warkentin mentioned he encourages staff to provide him balanced feedback on his performance.  However, in his experience, they are afraid to provide suggestions for areas where he can improve. Warkentin attributes this fear to the lack of a guaranteed job for his staff. He believes they are working hard to ensure a spot on the staff in the upcoming school year and says it is possible they fear they will say the wrong thing.

Mr. Warkentin also noted that often the successful applicants hired to teach at the school may not yet have proven teaching skills. Their education in teaching pedagogy comes from various countries with differing standards. Although these employees are eager to participate in a Christian education institute and willing to move from their respective countries, the need to understand, support, and assimilate new practices and expectations often causes friction and uncertainty. The desire to increase collaboration and cooperation is necessary at all levels of the school. It can be difficult to align everyone’s practice with the school’s expectations and with each other but as mentioned in Bridge Builder 2, “breaking the low expectation/low performance cycle is very difficult” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 56).  Developing leadership skills in this area is an ongoing need as La Misión evaluates their first 5 years and moves forward with the newly developed 5-year plan. Expecting top performance from all staff and students while continuing to move forward takes a conscious effort (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 59).

Considering student and family needs

La Misión is a school who meets the educational needs of local families, many of whom live in dire circumstances.  Mr. Warkentin revealed 60% of their students are sponsored in that they pay a minimal tuition fee and the rest of the cost of attending school is covered through generous donations from various outside sources. The other 40 % of the student population is affluent and this disparity between students often creates social and academic imbalances.  Often self-esteem impacts involvement of individual students as well as their families in broader school events.  The differences in social structure among family’s needs continual attention to bring all students and their families into stronger relationships for educational success of all. Encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone through a caring, supportive environment is a way “to build mutual respect and trust that will provide the basis for a cooperative working relationship” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 64).

Convincing parents to be involved in their child’s education is another area of growth La Misión is working toward. The goal of acquiring an education is a large one for many families; day-to-day circumstances such as income earning, helping at home, and insufficient funds impact a family’s ability to consistently make education a priority. The impact of poverty necessitates creative solutions and “success requires the committed efforts of many” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 146).

Creating consistent standards

A third major area of weaknesses Warkentin addressed in the interview was the need to create a consistent standard of evaluation for student progress.  While the school adheres to the national standard curriculum, the leadership is desiring to move to a comparative standard for assessment and achievement markers used by other high-achieving institutions. Aligning with the public school curriculum in the city will facilitate clarity for parents and provide for easier transfers to post-secondary institutions for La Misión graduates.  La Misión also adds additional classes to reinforce and strengthen their students for future successes.  Setting clear priorities in this area will allow appropriate allocation of resources and create greater alignment at all academic levels in La Misión (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 135).

Opportunities for Growth of La Misión

In Lepsinger’s Bridge Builder 6, he writes, “cooperation and coordination are critical to execution. It is almost impossible to get anything important done without the assistance and joint efforts of others (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 122). In response to Hughes et al., (2014) Figure 3.6, Mr. Warkentin noted staff was initially hesitant to collaborate and withheld creative lessons and innovative ideas from each other. Although he has seen improvement over the years, he feels that this is an area for improvement. An essential part of cooperation and coordination is having a team of people unified in their belief of the MVV. As seen in figure 2.1, we discovered an opportunity for Mr. Warkentin which involves promotion of the school to spark the interest of the right applicants. In the interview process, team EE discovered it is sometimes a challenge for the school to hire the right person. Our discussion for this opportunity involved ideas such as social media platforms and finding other resources which would be attractive to the right people. Such initiatives address one of the weaknesses, as seen in figure 2.1, in which the school fills a position because of a need for teachers rather than filling the position with the right teacher. Perhaps proper advertising, incentives, and promotions would encourage more applications to be sent, which in turn benefits the school because they can choose the applicant who most closely aligns with the MVV.

For La Misión, there is also opportunity in creating and improving action plans. Well-developed action plans are the cornerstone of translating strategy into action (Lepsinger, 2010). “Complex initiatives require plans to monitor progress and ensure that deliverables are produced on time and on budget. And the frantic pace and frequent changes that define the 21st century workday make action planning even more essential” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 28). Action plans will ensure mutual understanding of the process towards achieving the MVV among all team members. They clarify roles and responsibilities among team members, help to hold people accountable, increase coordination and cooperation and are an effective tool in connecting strategies to results (Lepsinger, 2010).

The action plans need to involve a plan for implementing change, assessing risks taken and results of the risks taken. The after-action review (AAR) as written by Hughes et al. (2014), is a tool which can be used in reflecting on risks taken and whether or not change is needed. The AAR is a 6 step process which reflects on actions taken and what can be learned from these actions (Hughes et al., 2014). “The focus is on performing better in the future by capturing key insights quickly and then translating them back into action. It’s about becoming more action oriented, not more analytical” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 114). The AAR effectively aligns investments of time, energy and resources with strategies necessary for improvement (Hughes et al., 2014).

As La Misión is relatively new, they need to clearly define measurements for success. The school needs to measure the academic results of the students so they can continue to compete with the public school system and ensure that students are leaving the school with the skills and tools required to be successful in post-secondary education or in the workforce. Academic standards, also a strategic aspect for the school, should be consistent and persistently monitored and reinforced (Lepsinger, 2010).  Although a strength of this school is providing a blue ocean market through Christian education, and Principal Warkentin mentioned La Misión is already vastly ahead of the public education system in terms of quality of education, they still need to produce results aligned with their MVV to convince stakeholders of the continued need for this school in the community. One specific suggestion for making the school competitive is through offering field trips for the students so they can work further on building relationships and developing their worldviews. Although a high quality education rich in information is vital, students also need education rich in experience to help them make personal connections. “The worshipers the Father desires (John 4:23) are formed, not just informed. That formation should begin with children’s ministry that grabs hold of the imagination” (Smith, 2016, p. 143)

The EE interview also revealed specific opportunities for the students that require innovation in accessing external resources. The need for resources and financial support for families who are experiencing poverty led to a discussion about how the school can help these students and families. In some cases, older siblings are faced with greater responsibility at home and have less time to participate in studies. In Principal Warkentin’s experience, this poses a difficult challenge as some of these students demonstrate significant academic strength. The benefits of education are evident, but the needs at home take precedence and this is the point at which the school mission statement, to “give students the opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives through education” becomes directly relevant. The opportunity lies in seeking external financial resources to help families by providing them with the supports necessary to be able to have their children pursue an education.

Addressing all 6 of Lepsinger’s (2010) Bridge Builders, having an authentic leader, having a clear MVV, and a staff that is on board with the MVV are all excellent starting points in achieving success.  La Misión seeks to lift up and embody their missional verse of Psalm 119:105 which says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (NIV) for life-long learning and a faith-filled life for their entire school community.

Threats to La Misión

In a world where the external threats are increasingly impacting the success of an organization, organizations need to effectively implement change, improve resiliency and take risks in order to maintain competition. “One-third of 500 companies will disappear within 15 years, and the average lifetime for the largest enterprises is approximately 40 years” (Zeeman, 2010). The question is, how can “today’s organizations experience continuous growth to perform better than its competitors” (Zeeman, 2010). Every organization will face obscurity, unclarity threats, or times of necessary change. “The advisability of decisive action in the face of uncertainty depends largely on the quality of strategic thinking brought to bear on the situation (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 121).” It is important to be prepared for these times of uncertainty through strategic thinking and strategic acting for the continued success of an organization. (Hughes et al., 2014).

External threats

Lepsinger (2010) tells us that learning to see threats, is a “vital organizational competency to master, lest the organization fail to recognize and take advantage of strategic opportunities—or fail to recognize and thus fall prey to strategic threats” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 73). As noted in figure 2.1, Warkentin’s organization experiences some external and internal threats. One of the external threats is the concern expressed by the community with the level of diversity among staff members.  A number of staff come from other countries. The community’s concern is directed at the cultural values of staff members which ought not to impede the teachings of the cultural values of the community. The students need to learn the cultural values of their own community which may not be understood by staff members who are foreign to the culture and may not value local traditions. Principal Warkentin draws attention to this threat by ensuring that all staff are aligned with the MVV of the school, even though they may come from diverse backgrounds. As previously mentioned, Lepsinger (2010) Bridge Builder Six suggests involving the right people in the decision making process. He suggests “adopting processes that ensure that high-quality decisions are being made” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 76). By having a diverse staff with a variety of background knowledge and skills, Warkentin will have high-quality decisions being made in providing the best education for students in the community. It is vital that this is communicated to parents and community members.

A second external threat comes indirectly from the public school system.  While the public schools are not in opposition to La Misión, the appeal of steady work without being held accountable to a higher standard can draw teaching staff away from La Misión.  Public schools in Paraguay do not have high academic standards nor do they require a particularly high standard of professional conduct.  La Misión desires to maintain a level of professionalism and is continually searching for teachers who understand the importance of adhering to the MVV.  Hughes et al. (2014) draw attention to the effects of holding people to a higher standard. With this culture also comes “a strong sense of fear about even the possibility of censure and reprisal for any mistake” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 83). According to Principal Warkentin, the possibility of being fired is real and staff may not want to change their practice to meet a higher standard.  The complacent mediocrity of the public school is more appealing than constantly improving personal practice.

Internal threats

Family dynamics is one of the internal threats faced by La Misión.  The school is missional in its approach to involvement with the surrounding community, providing sponsorship for opportunities for any local children to get a Christian education.  Since 60 % of the student population are from impoverished homes, the financial disparity between these students and those from much wealthier home situations can cause divisions.  This separation is reflected within the school as well as among the parent groups; self-esteem is a factor in bringing these groups together to be actively involved in the school.

Another internal threat revealed in the SWOT is the yearly need to replace staff.  Some teachers leave of their own volition for other jobs while other teachers are released from their one-year contracts as a result of less than acceptable teaching ability in light of the school’s standards.  Needing to hire new staff who will increase the school’s capacity for a high standard of education results in many transitions for both students and remaining staff.  The turnover rates can impact continuity from year-to-year as well as affect the strategic growth timeline.  It is clear that “cooperation and coordination are critical to execution” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 122), however “it appears that they are elusive and difficult to attain’ (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 122). Fostering cooperation and collaboration among staff members is difficult when every year brings new colleagues who take time to acclimate to the expectations and surroundings of a new school.

One of the most elusive internal threats at La Misión is the cultural tendency to give verbal agreement to questions, suggestions, and requirements without intention of following through. According to Warkentin, this Paraguayan cultural practice extends to Christians serving in a Christian school as well.  When trying to have school practices align with the MVV while people do not see anything wrong with simply paying lip service, creative strategic planning is required.  Lepsinger (2010), writes “relationship quality is based on perceptions and past experience. Good ones involve factors such as credibility, respect, trust, caring about the other person’s needs, following through on commitments, and “walking the talk” (p. 144). Warkentin discussed concern in some staff members who affirm their alignment with the MVV, yet do not adhere to it in their daily actions. The leadership of La Misión continues to discuss and develop plans to foster adherence to the MVV in word and in deed among all their staff.  “Even if you can’t change the culture of the whole organization, you can take steps to change the culture and behaviour of the people in your part of it.  It is important to do what you can where and when you can do it” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 129).

Assessing La Mision’s Capacity for Strategic Action

The leadership of La Misión is in a uniquely strategic position to reinforce their educational institution’s MVV through reconfiguration in yearly hiring.  This facilitates strategic action to more closely align staff practice each school year which is very different than North American schools who must contend with union contracts and slow-moving policies for change.  While considering the proactive results of all the SWOT elements, it is necessary to consider the ability of La Misión to institute suggestions of strategic action in its potential agility to adapt practice and policy.  Agility is defined as “an organization’s ability to sense and respond to turbulence in the competitive environment quickly and effectively” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 127). Principal Warkentin’s responses to “Assessing Organizational Capacity for Action” features from Exhibit 3.6 in Hughes et al. (2014, p. 131) indicating the institution’s possibility for practical changes are listed in Figure 2.2.

Strategic challenges “require a collective problem-solving process” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 131) which may be counter-cultural but necessary; time, ongoing professional development, encouragement for evidence of small changes, and support for needing to adapt to larger required changes.  At the very foundation of any newly-designed changes in school growth is the goal of practical Christian living in every aspect of the teaching staff’s involvement.  It is important to scaffold the steps for success in increments that are possible for staff to achieve while maintaining the high standard expected in La Misión. “Because of the interdependence between values and behavior, executives sometimes make needed change in policies or formal structures or architecture and achieve some limited changes in behavior patterns” (Kotter, 2008, p. 79).

 Figure 2.2

Disagreements are avoided in order to keep the peace and not disrupt things.

 

Most staff members do not like conflict. Paraguayans, in general, will not argue with you but will definitely talk behind your back. Compromising and avoiding conflict styles are more prevalent since cooperation is a fragile concept (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 171).

 Disagreements among people and between groups are used to help solve complex challenges.
 A person’s success is judged by how well the person’s boss thinks he or she is doing.  A person’s success is judged by how well he or she helps the whole organization work together.

 

This is the goal, but for many the cultural tendency to focus on peer approval causes friendships to be more important than the quality of work.

 Information is territorially guarded within this organization.

 

People are not comfortable sharing information they have created. It has gotten much better the last few years, but some people don’t like to share a lesson plan they created.  They are afraid another person may use their information to get the upper hand (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 178)

 Information is shared widely in this organization.
This organization never acts quickly.

 

This organization can act quickly when it needs to.

 

This element is present and active. The top leadership is very engaged and quick to respond to revealed needs.

Ineffective collaboration across organizational boundaries is ineffective.

 

Collaboration still needs to improve. Creating common ground through interdependence when working toward shared goals will increase cooperation in a conflict situation (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 199).

 Collaboration across organizational boundaries is effective.
 People in the organization feel a major disconnect between its publicly espoused values and the actual behavior of people within the organization (especially at the top).  The organization’s espoused values are widely embraced and practiced among all members.

 

People affirm the school’s values, but they don’t always understand how to live out these values in their daily practices. Focusing on clarifying this key element as an intense short-term goal may yield substantial positive results (Rumelt, 2011, min. 14:48-56).

       “Setting clear priorities is one of the most important things strategic leaders can do to ensure alignment.  Setting priorities facilitates coordinated action across the enterprise, and it also provides a basis for acting decisively with the short term and the long term in mind” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 135).

As a relatively new organization, La Misión is beginning the process of a review of their first five years from which to develop a strategic plan for the next five years.  Strategic acting is an opportunity for strategic learning (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 130) which is essential in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world (Ungerer et al., 2016, p. 4).  The results of La Misión’s organizational assessment for strategic acting yielded a balanced for left-side and right- side elements.  The leadership of this school is able to make the necessary decisions for meeting the current needs and, moving forward, to develop the appropriate strategic plan for staff development, increased community engagement, ongoing MVV alignment, higher academic assessment and standards protocols, and embedded leadership evaluation.

Conclusion

The SWOT interview provided Principal Warkentin and the Team of Extraordinary Educators the opportunity to conduct an evaluation of La Misión’s development as an organization. It involved carefully examining “environmental conditions that could affect mission success or cause mission failure” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 73). The SWOT analysis provided Principal Warkentin the opportunity to analyze the organization for any useful information with significant impact on the future success of La Misión. The examination of the organization, which involved the team of Extraordinary Educators, was subject to the opinions and critique of people who are not directly involved in the organization and do not hold any bias. The diversity of the team of EE also allowed for valuable perspectives to be present in the discussion and interview process, as well as eyes for anomalous or interesting pieces of data that may have been otherwise overlooked (Hughes et al., 2014).

References

Galbraith, J. R. (2014). Designing organizations: Strategy, structure, and process at the business unit and enterprise levels. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hughes, R., Beatty, K., & Dinwoodie, D. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kotter, J. P. (2008). Corporate culture and performance. Simon and Schuster.

Lepsinger, R. (2010). Closing the execution gap: How great leaders and their companies get results. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Romero Sanabria, A. (2016). Más paraguayo que la mandioca (9na ed.). Asunción: Anibal Romero Sanabria.

Rumelt, R. (October 25, 2011). Good strategy/bad strategy: The difference and why it matters.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZrTl16hZdk

Smith, J. K. (2016). You are what you love: The spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Ungerer, M., Ungerer, G., & Herholdt, J. (2016).  Navigating strategic possibilities: Strategy formulation and execution practices to flourish.  Randburg, South Africa: KR Publishing.

Zeeman, A. (2017). Senge’s Five Disciplines of Learning Organizations. Retrieved from https://www.toolshero.com/management/five-disciplines-learning-organizations/