So you think you want to do a SWOT analysis? There are plenty of resources available about how to do a SWOT analysis, which can be a valuable tool for business growth. However, few so-called experts will tell you that preparing yourself in advance is a critical first step for getting the most out of the effort a SWOT analysis will require.
Before you get started, let’s make sure you’re really ready. Here are five questions to ask yourself before starting a SWOT analysis:
Editor's Note: Blog author and Tigerpaw COO Joel Vaslow knows a thing or two about SWOT research and strategies. He has doctorate and master’s degrees in industrial/organizational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Over the past 20 years Joel has assisted with or directly participated in SWOT analyses for dozens of companies from Fortune 100 companies to small privately held businesses to non-profit organizations. He has seen SWOT analyses that were incredibly effective and well utilized, SWOT analyses that were a colossal waste of time and everything in-between.
Why are you doing the SWOT analysis?
Maybe you read about SWOT analysis in a do-it-yourself strategic planning book. Maybe an over-priced consultant told you need to pay them even more money to guide you through the SWOT analysis process. Maybe your marketing leader told you it’s time to update the SWOT analysis you did last decade. Or, perhaps you read about it in a blog about New Year's resolutions for businesses.
While any of these may be why you’re considering a SWOT analysis, unless your goal is to make sure everyone in your organization understands what’s working, what’s not, what to look forward to and what to look out for, you may not be ready yet for your SWOT analysis.
Who will participate in your SWOT analysis?
As a leader of your organization, it would be great if you had super powers that allowed you to clearly evaluate every aspect of your business from both the inside as well as from the outside looking in.
However, chances are, your sales and marketing teams have the best insights into what prospects think of you compared to your competitors. Your operations team likely has the best insights into what’s working and what’s not working from a process standpoint. Your service team is best positioned to tell you how well you’re really taking care of your customers.
Unless you have the buy-in and participation from a cross-functional set of team members, your SWOT analysis will not be as effective as you need it to be.
What data will you use?
If you’re like me, you love a good story. Stories about customer problems provide great teaching moments. Stories about customer successes are great to celebrate with your team. Stories about the stupid things your competitors are doing can make your sales team feel great about your position in the marketplace.
But how representative are the stories you have about your customers, your competitors and your company? To get the most out of your SWOT analysis, you’ll need quantitative data rather than just a collection of stories.
Gather and organize your data before you begin. The last thing you want is to stop to gather more data after you’ve started your SWOT analysis.
How honest are you ready to be?
As good as your sales pitch and your marketing materials may be, they represent what you want others to believe about you but may not be how others actually see you. Likewise, the customer accolades you celebrate with your team represent when things go well but not how often they go well or how often you fail to meet customer expectations.
The employee feedback that you shrug off as griping or rumor mongering might be something you can’t afford to ignore. If you aren’t ready to admit your weaknesses or that your strengths aren’t quite as strong as you’d like them to be, a SWOT analysis will be a waste of time.
What are you prepared to do with the results?
Once you’re done with the SWOT analysis, you should be able to answer these questions:
- Are you ready to share it with everyone in your organization?
- Will you commit to reviewing it regularly to track your progress?
- Will you change your marketing to better accentuate your strengths?
- Will you address or embrace your weaknesses?
- Will you conduct feasibility research regarding your opportunities?
- Will someone in your organization be accountable for monitoring your threats?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, or if you’re just not sure, you should re-evaluate your commitment to avoid wasting everyone’s time.
Ready, set, SWOT
A SWOT analysis can be an incredibly valuable exercise for any organization. However, make sure you are truly ready and have proper flotation devices (at Tigerpaw, we prefer the arm floaty things) before you dive into the deep end.
To make it easy for you to continue your prep work and complete a SWOT analysis, download our SWOT Analysis Workbook, which includes a readiness checklist and full SWOT analysis template.