SWOT analysis is a technique that identifies the internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats presented to an organization. Commonly attributed to the work of Albert Humphrey, the technique identifies positive and negative attributes about an organization (or individual) and if those attributes are internal or external. A matrix as shown in the graphic identifies the different elements and their relative placement in the matrix.
I have had success with this analysis technique in both for profit and not-for-profit organizations. I will describe the approach I have used applying the tool to organizations.
Generate Ideas: I have usually used the SWOT analysis approach in a facilitated brainstorming environment. You want to quickly generate ideas and discuss them. Be respectful and inclusive. As the organizer, your role is to facilitate, not moderate.
Usually the participants are members of the organization. The board of directors of a local community service organization is an example of such an arrangement. Do not discount interested outsider participation however. If you have a willing CPA, doctor, cop, office manager, homemaker, retired person, consider having them temporarily join the brainstorming discussion. This outsider perspective can add richness to the discussion and is well worth the occasional explanation that may come with the outsider’s perspective.
Come to an Agreement: The discussion needs to conclude with an agreeable consensus. Universal consensus is not required, but it is always nice when that happens. Be careful not to dismiss an opinion just because it is a minority viewpoint. Sometimes those less popular ideas have a core of gold.
Interpret the Results of the Analysis: Great, we all agree the PTA club needs to have more money in the treasury. What do we do next?
Develop Action Items: This is where the real actionable value of the SWOT analysis comes into action. Raising money for the PTA is the action. What will you do, exactly? Rob a bank-bad idea. It is illegal, does not identify when, where and who. Have a combination rummage sale/baked goods sale on campus next Saturday, with parents and staff participating-good idea.
SWOT analysis can be a very effective way to develop a list of actions to take advantage of strengths while mitigating weaknesses and simultaneously identifying those external threats and opportunities that should be understood and exploited for beneficial results.