Of the many lessons I’ve learned throughout my career, one that has generated sustainable success is the effective use of the SWOT Analysis. For those readers who are not familiar with the SWOT Analysis, it is a flexible tool that helps the leader identify internal Strengths and Weaknesses as well as external Opportunities and Threats (hence the acronym). It can be used to assess individual circumstances and/or organizational situations with a very straightforward process. The challenges for both frequent SWOT users or those leaders just getting started with the tool is that most fail to realize the full value of the SWOT process. Most only realize half the value by ignoring the most effective part of the tool!
In a traditional SWOT Analysis, the leader creates four lists containing the collective insights on the internal Strengths (list #1) and Weaknesses (list #2) along with the external Opportunities (list #3) and Threats (list #4). More often than not, these lists contain anywhere from a half dozen entries to well over twenty entries depending on the circumstances. A more experienced SWOT user will realize each list should be no more than five entries due to the need to truly focus on the most important elements in each list. Even this is not enough as these lists now sit embedded in a strategic planning document or a project plan without providing any context to the leader.
The secret to deriving full value from the SWOT Analysis is to synthesize the four lists into a strategic matrix that reflects the contextual relationship between the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats into a single view. The leader forms the matrix by listing the top five Strengths and Weaknesses across the top of the matrix and the top five Opportunities and Threats down the left side of the matrix. This creates an opportunity to complete a two-by-two matrix where the four lists intersect. The leader completes each of the intersecting sections in a way that identifies actions that will:
- leverage their internal competitive Strengths in order to capitalize on key external Opportunities (Strengths/Opportunities)
- use their internal competitive Strengths to minimize external competitive Threats (Strengths/Threats)
- minimize or eliminate perceived internal Weaknesses while making the most of any new external Opportunities (Weaknesses/Opportunities)
- minimize an organization’s internal Weaknesses while at the same time minimize external Threats (Weaknesses/Threats)
After completing each of these four new sections of the matrix, the leader can now review the full SWOT Synthesis to determine the most appropriate strategic objectives for them personally or the organization they lead. The SWOT Synthesis becomes the supporting narrative to why certain strategies become the focus based on the analysis/synthesis process. With effective use of the SWOT Analysis and Synthesis combination, the Strategic priorities practically write themselves!
Now do you know SWOT and what does it say about your organization’s priorities?