- Everyone knows what a SWOT analysis is and everyone also realises its importance for the successful strategic planning and implementation of their business.
- While everyone understands the essence of a comprehensive SWOT analysis, not everyone realises that a strategic SWOT analysis, the "now what" part of the whole thing is also important.
- So before your business fails or gets into a trap, you should be honest with yourself and get onto your own strategic SWOT analysis to grow your business in the right direction, because otherwise, failure will come.
What is a SWOT Analysis?
SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats - 4 factors of business performance. Strengths and weaknesses are considered internal characteristics and opportunities and threats are considered external characteristics.
The entire concept of SWOT as a management tool was developed in the 1960s and 1970s and was the result of extensive research conducted by SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) to identify why Fortune 500 Companies were struggling with corporate planning and change management – fundamental parts of developing a strategy. While there are a number of people involved in the research team, the credit largely went to Management Consultant Albert S. Humphrey.
Who can use a SWOT Analysis?
One of the most attractive features of the SWOT Analysis is that it is just as applicable to a two-person business as it is to a 500-person business.
Size, industry, product or service are irrelevant when using a SWOT Analysis so it is a valuable tool to any business leader.
It can also be used within an organisation for improved performance across departments or internal teams.
Advantages of a SWOT Analysis
In the 2003 book, Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning People, Performance and Payoffs, published by John Wiley & Sons, SWOT Analysis was identified as one of the most valuable tools for strategic planning, and the most important advantages of conducting SWOT Analysis for businesses are:
- The business leaders have a shared perspective and understanding on the state of the organisation,
- The major barriers to achieving strategic objectives are identified, making response development easier,
- Relationships between internal and external issues can be identified and proactively dealt with,
- The major influences on behavior and performance within the organisation can be identified.
So, how do you conduct a SWOT Analysis?
The basic SWOT Analysis looks something like this.
The strengths are anything the organisation is doing well to its strategic advantage. Things that are positive factors within the business. These could be:
- positive performance,
- improved market share segments,
- market saturation,
- competitive advantages,
- internal resources or assets.
The weaknesses are the internal barriers to achieving strategic objectives. These are things the organisation lacks or does poorly, especially when compared to its competitors.
The opportunities are the market or external opportunities and conditions that are not currently being leveraged. This includes:
- unserved markets,
- emerging markets,
- product or service development demand. or
- positive economic influences creating opportunities.
The market or external threats and conditions that could become roadblocks to achieving strategic objectives. These include:
- increasing competition,
- market collapse,
- product or service redundancy, or
- poor economic influences.
When it comes to doing your own SWOT Analysis, you would write the most poignant four or five critical factors affecting your organisation’s ability to achieve the current objectives and goals.
This is a straightforward process, however, there is one problem that businesses commonly face at this stage… How do you choose the five most important factors? My advice to businesses is to seek consensus across the team by conducting a SWOT Analysis in a round-table style.
This way you create a cohesive, discussion-based approach that draws on the knowledge and perspectives of several people, not just the business owners. Narrowing the list down to a smaller number is imperative to creating a highly practical, easily implementable SWOT Analysis.
Once you have conducted your initial SWOT Analysis, it’s time to get strategic. This is where you meet the Strategic SWOT Analysis.
Strategic SWOT Analysis
This is essentially the ‘So What?’ that comes after you have clarity about the position of the organisation – you turn it into a tool that helps to identify alternative strategic directions for the business. This is something that, in some ways, ‘levels up’ the standard SWOT Analysis. It makes it more valuable, more practical, and gives you a very clear set of directions to underpin strategic planning.
You turn it into a Strategic SWOT Analysis by asking the following questions;
- How do we use our Strengths to take advantage of our opportunities and critical objectives?
- How do we use our Strengths to overcome our threats and restraints?
- How can our opportunities be used to reverse our weaknesses?
- How do we manage risk and vulnerability – the places where our threats align with our weaknesses?
When you put this into a simple matrix, it looks a little something like this.
You can imagine that when you have four or five factors for each category you end up with a lot of potential strategic pathways so it is important that you don’t try and tackle them all at once. Instead, highlight the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on the business and make those your immediate strategies.
Strategic planning is an ongoing process – it is never complete and your strategies should always be evolving. When I work with clients we work in 90 day cycles. We re-evaluate and re-strategise based on where they have got to in the past 90 days.
By keeping the planning cycles short, the plans become easy to implement and it is easy to maintain accountability.
It is critical to remember that when you are using a SWOT analysis or a Strategic SWOT analysis, it’s the time for honesty, inclusion and it provides a chance to listen to different people’s views and opinions on the business. While not always valuable, sometimes it can be a fantastic platform to engage employees in a small business and improve their buy-in to the strategic vision. It is a simple, practical and a highly implementable tool that should be included in every organisation’s strategic planning.