*UPDATED* Coaching Tools 101: What, How and When to Use SWOT Analysis! (for Strengths & More)

I am often asked "What is a SWOT Analysis?" Well, I've been using it for decades and it's one of my favourite tools!

In fact, when I started The Coaching Tools Company in 2008, the Personal SWOT (for career planning and coaching) was one of the very first tools available on the website.

A Personal SWOT is a powerful tool to have in your toolkit - read on to learn more!

So, what is a SWOT analysis?

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

We use the SWOT grid to evaluate a person or situation to understand it better. We start by looking at the 'internal' strengths and weaknesses, and then build on those to evaluate the more 'external' opportunities and threats.

The SWOT can be used to evaluate a business (which is how it started), 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. Humphrey 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.

And it has also become a useful tool in our personal career and life toolboxes too!

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.

7 reasons to use a SWOT Analysis include:

  1. Ideas and input for goal-setting (the most common use).
  2. Personal career planning and exploration.
  3. To prepare for an appraisal at work.
  4. Corporate planning - could be at a departmental or organizational level.
  5. Evaluating the success of a plan, project or strategy
  6. Competitor and/or Market Analysis in business.
  7. To analyze a personal crisis situation and provide ideas eg. to evaluate a client's strengths and shortcomings, threats and opportunities and help them identify an action plan.

How to Use the SWOT Analysis Tool (in 3 Steps)

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) Perform the SWOT Analysis

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) Review the results

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 in each area?

  • 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) Look for opportunities!

Additionally, what opportunities are there to:

  1. MAXIMISE Opportunities: Maximise the impact of your ideas or goals by looking for a match between the Strengths you've identified - and the Opportunities.
  2. CREATE New Opportunities: We get stronger by converting a weakness or threat into an opportunity... So take the Weaknesses and Threats you've identified and consider how you could convert them into Strengths or Opportunities. (An example could be a weakness where we rely too much on one customer-type. This weakness is converted when we turn it into an opportunity to diversify your products and/or explore new markets for that product).

How to Maximise 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.

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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Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools, resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client learning to use SWOT for Strengths and Opportunities wearing boxing gloves by iofoto via Shutterstock


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