Four ways to Improve your SWOT Assessments
Updated June 2, 2021
I like SWOT assessments (you know — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.” Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.
Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.
Make it Specific
If you can take a bullet-point on your list, and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough. One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”. This is a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process. What is it about your people, very specifically, that is a strength? Is it their experience? Maybe it’s their deep knowledge? How about their ability to be generalists? Once you know what’s special about your people, then as your advisor, I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.
Make it Future-Based
We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years. A big portion of strategic planning, at any level, is the ability to look one, three, and even five years into the future. It’s an advantage to do — because most people don’t. Giving yourself, and your business, the future-vision you are striving toward can heighten your strengths to an unexpected degree.
Make it Real
(Include the Hard Stuff)
Put “the hard stuff” on the list. Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about. We often qualify these as “the problem ___”. Fill in the blank with customer, owner, staffer, process, etc. Even without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources. They need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing. For example: “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” or “Spotty follow-through.”
Make it Broad
Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in. Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT. But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise. Your SWOT really needs to be a full picture of all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
The Question to ask of your SWOT Assessments
Here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:
“Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”
If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should. If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it. Revisit each of the four ways to improve your SWOT Assessment, and really spend the time to do a full evaluation. If and when you come up with questions, send email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can schedule time to talk it through.