The Importance Of Knowing Where We Are: Understanding The Organization Context And Environment

Part 2 – The Internal Environment

Editor’s Note: See Part 1 HERE

From the perspective of developing a strategic plan, understanding the internal environment is as important – if not more important – than understanding the external one. And while we consider some areas below that may appear external, the way in which we think about them and understand them is based on our organization’s leadership, culture and capabilities – and we have far more control over our internal situation than we have over the external environment. Indeed, developing a flexible, agile, resilient organization, with creative and imaginative people who are encouraged to contribute their ideas, can often be one of the critical elements in success.

We spoke about reframing in the previous article – Part 1 – and here we use it again in this example. One of our clients – a military organization – already had a vision and strategic plan and wanted to know what capabilities its people needed for the future in order to achieve the vision. Typically in such projects, the organization thinks about what it’s going to do in the future, what its operating environment might be like, what new technologies might be developed, and so on. This client’s operating environment was so uncertain that the typical approach could result in so many possibilities and confusion that we advised against it. Instead, we suggested that they develop capabilities that would be of use to them in any future environment or circumstance. So we reframed their capabilities into the following three categories; the characteristics under each of the categories are just a few examples of what they came up with.


  • Physical fitness, stamina, and endurance
  • Understands and uses technology, but doesn’t depend on it
  • Performs in multiple physical environments


  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to think critically
  • Ability to operate in ambiguous environments
  • Ability to synthesize as well as analyze


  • Ability to engage with others.
  • Patience/perseverance.
  • Awareness of their own strengths and limitations.

Altogether, they identified 10 to 15 capabilities or characteristics under each of the three headings, and then they identified ways in which those might be taught or developed. Obviously this was a different situation than most encounter in the commercial world, but the same ideas about reframing apply. So let’s take a look at one typical way to think about the internal environment using an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT.)

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) Analysis

Conducting a SWOT analysis is very useful, although we do not recommend spending a lot of time on it when we are concerned about strategy. This analysis tends to focus on micro-level issues, and for strategy we are more concerned with macro-level issues. Generally the leadership and management know what valid future SWOT concerns or issues (internal and external) they have. If they do have concerns, then a useful question to ask is: Are these underlying “root” concerns, or are they only symptoms of something deeper—and if so, what? The Socratic method of questioning can be useful to get at the deeper problem. Socratic questioning is a systematic, disciplined, and deep form of questioning of those who are knowledgeable about the subject, and it usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems. However, if it seems difficult to think in these terms, here are some topics to get you started.


Analysis of strengths can be done by examining your own organization, and asking yourself what you and the rest of the leadership think it is particularly good at. Generally we do not suggest a formal analysis process, but rather a discussion among the leadership. You can also analyze your strengths against those of your competitors. This can be done by discussion, or by using the results of analyses and commentary from Wall Street or other analysts. Examples of strengths are:

  • Good financial position
  • Strong loyalty
  • Belief in the organization’s products or services
  • Creative, innovative people
  • Technological capabilities


Christine MacNulty
Christine MacNulty
CHRISTINE MacNulty has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic -planning for concepts as well as organizations, futures studies, foresight, and technology forecasting, technology assessment and related areas, as well as socio-cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and the Services, NATO ACT, NATO NEC, the British Army’s Force Development & Training Command, and the German BBK. Prior to that her work was in the commercial arena where she had Fortune Global 500 clients. During the last thirty-five years Christine MacNulty has contributed methods and models for understanding social and cultural change through people’s values. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1989. She is the coauthor of two books: Industrial Applications of Technology Forecasting, Wiley, 1971 and Strategy with Passion – A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, August 2016. Her paper: “Method for minimizing the negative consequences of nth order effects in strategic communication actions and inactions” was published in NATO Defence Strategic Communications Journal, p 99, Winter 2015. Two monographs “Truth, Perception & Consequences” (2007) and “Transformation: From the Outside In or the Inside Out” (2008) were published by the Army War College. Perceptions, Values & Motivations in Cyberspace appeared in the IO Journal, 3rd Quarter, 2009, and The Value of Values for IO, SC & Intel was published in the August 2010 edition of the IO Journal.

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  1. I like using the SWOT approach with SWAT-like tactics. (SWAT being those guys with the body armor and guns.) I find many when giving an approach will over analyze the approach, making it difficult to execute. Often there is a pattern within the SWOT… a series of triads that once emphasized simplifies the whole analysis.