*UPDATED* Coaching Tools 101: Everything you need to know about SWOT Analysis!

I am often asked what is a SWOT Analysis? Well, I've been doing them for decades and it's one of my favourite tools! When I started The Coaching Tools Company, the Personal SWOT (for career planning and coaching) was one of the very first tools available on the website. It's a powerful tool to have in your toolkit - read on to get the lowdown...

So, what is a SWOT analysis?

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and the something being evaluated could be a business, a person, place, product, process or even an industry. Also known as a SWOT Matrix, it's a tool that helps us evaluate how we are doing. What is great? What needs work? What we could develop? And what do we need to watch out for?

SWOT Analysis Background

The creation of the SWOT Analysis Tool (originally called the SOFT Analysis) is attributed to Albert Humphrey. Albert was a US Business Consultant who specialized in organizational management and cultural change. He created the SWOT Analysis while working for the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960s - and the original purpose was to get a team of people involved in planning.

Since then, the SWOT Analysis has become an essential tool in many business toolboxes to help identify competitive advantage - and where we may be disadvantaged.

When to use a SWOT Analysis

There are many different ways to use a SWOT Analysis but for it to work best you need a clear objective - a reason for performing the SWOT Analysis. Some of the reasons to use a SWOT Analysis include:

  1. Ideas and Input for Goal-Setting (the most common use)
  2. Personal Career Planning or Personnel Appraisals
  3. Corporate Planning - could be at a departmental or organizational level
  4. Evaluating the success of a plan, project or strategy
  5. Competitor and/or Market Analysis
  6. To analyze a crisis situation and provide ideas

Using the SWOT Analysis Tool

What is a SWOT Analysis IMAGE - Example GRIDThe SWOT Analysis was originally designed as an input to corporate planning and to DRIVE OUT Goals. But it's also an excellent tool to help with personal career planning.

1) First - the SWOT Analysis is performed. Ask questions in each section to identify:

  1. Strengths and Weaknesses (internal or 'actual' qualities). These are the advantages or disadvantages the project, department, business or person has over others.
  2. Opportunities and Threats (external or 'potential' factors). These are the items relating to a project, department, business or person that can be exploited and taken advantage of - or to avoid.

2) Once the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing the business or person have been identified, we examine and evaluate the results. What potential ideas, actions or goals are there?

  • Strengths - how can we boost or capitalise on those strengths to be even more successful?
  • Weaknesses - how can we reduce, minimise or remove these weaknesses altogether?
  • Opportunities - what opportunities could be exploited and developed?
  • Threats - how can we minimise or eliminate the threats altogether?

3) Additionally, what opportunities are there to:

  1. Match: MAXIMISE the impact of your ideas or goals by looking for a match between the Strengths you've identified - and the Opportunities.
  2. Convert: CREATE new opportunities by taking the Weaknesses and Threats you've identified and converting them into Strengths or Opportunities. (An example could be a weakness of too much reliance on one customer-type. This weakness is converted to an opportunity to diversify or explore new markets).

Maximising the Benefits of the SWOT Analysis Matrix Tool

Personal SWOT Tool: Maximise the benefits of this tool by asking people around you - friends, colleagues, your boss or coach - to offer their insights into your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The SWOT categories can also be used as the basis of a simple 360 feedback exercise.

Business SWOT Tool: Maximise the benefit of the SWOT Analysis by using it in a team environment. When you get involvement and input from lots of people, you get many different perspectives which broadens our understanding. And this in turn gives the opportunity to set the best and most effective goals. In addition by involving employees and stakeholders within an organization you get greater buy-in to goals and ideas because people have had input and feel heard.

Get Both a Business AND Personal SWOT Tool in the Small Business Toolkit!

Issues with the SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is just one business method and does have weaknesses. People may focus on creating lists rather than really considering what the most important or influential factors are. In addition the SWOT exercise doesn't typically have any prioritisation built in. So before deciding which goals to move forwards with it's important to review, evaluate and prioritise the goals.

Another issue is that a SWOT item may be a strength when looked at from one angle, but when considered in another light - it may be a weakness or a threat. For example, a personal strength of being detail-focused is a strength when proof-reading, but could be a weakness when trying to generate ideas in a brainstorming session. So when completing a SWOT, always focus on the OBJECTIVE of performing this SWOT Analysis. And remember that whether an item is a strength or weakness depends on the context.

TIP: In addition, a SWOT list item may appear important - but not actually generate any goals or ideas. Or a SWOT item may appear small and unimportant but trigger a number of other ideas or goals. We never know which items are going to be the most useful, so include as many list items as you can.

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