What is a SWOT?
by Skip Corsini

Successful companies constantly review their current business strategies to make sure they are working and effective. One of the simplest and most effective ways to do so is through a situational, or SWOT, analysis. It is a powerful tool in creating and maintaining the necessary and all-important strategic conversation within a company.

A SWOT analysis is a useful management tool that evaluates the fit between what an organization can (Strengths) and cannot (Weaknesses) presently do, and the business conditions working in favor of (Opportunities) and against (Threats) the firm. Done correctly, the outcome is a strategic action plan that will take advantage of new opportunities. The SWOT tool is applicable to businesses and organizations of any size, public or private, as well.

The benefits of a SWOT analysis are numerous and always positive. First, the process is simple and non-threatening in fostering collaboration within the management team. Second, it makes it possible to explore, in a structured way, new sources of information and new ways of doing things. Third, it is fast and relatively inexpensive in terms of investment in company time and energy in comparison to more elaborate strategic planning activities. And fourth, it clarifies the essence and direction of a plan to solve the issues identified.

For a SWOT to be effective there are three areas which deserve consideration from the start. First and foremost is the need for an outside facilitator to conduct the SWOT sessions in order to promote the proper environment for open dialogue. Next, participants focus their attention on specific issue areas, such as marketing, and involve people from other areas to participate and help the team generate all the pertinent information. In addition, a SWOT can be highly effective in separating internal business issues from external issues, often creating greater productivity and a more strategic approach to identified problem areas.

The hidden value of a SWOT, like any form of strategic conversation, is that the process is as important as the outcome. Inherent in the SWOT is the notion that often a business has the answers to its own key questions but may not have a mechanism in place to get those answers out into the open. An effective SWOT makes use of the skills and viewpoints of virtually every person involved by virtue of the structured identification and discussion that takes place, and helps develop a clear set of goals and objectives. A SWOT also provides a valuable team-building experience and a chance for different people to participate and answer the questions "where are we going and how do we get there?"

No more than two half-day meetings are required for most projects. Experience shows that a group of 8 or so people is about right for an effective SWOT session and that the selection process for participants is crucial to promote the best possible working atmosphere. A follow-up session a short while after completion of the SWOT brings the participants together to review the results presented by the facilitator and to address the all-important implementation issues. Quarterly sessions can then be held to assess progress and encourage continued commitment and enthusiasm.

A well managed SWOT analysis can, and should, release a tremendous amount of positive energy within the company that can be used to move toward a higher level of managerial and business accomplishment. The power of fresh ideas, or merely those that might have been dormant, is a valuable source of business renewal and ensures long-term success.

Skip Corsini is a consultant and writer with a twenty-five year career in marketing, business development, training and development, communications, and education. He has served in finance, real estate, and high technology, and in non-profit organizations. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973, and his California teaching credentials from Sonoma State University in 1979. His professional training includes completed coursework in Bank of America's Xerox Selling Skills program, Citibank's SPIN Selling course and Dale Carnegie Training. To contact Skip call 415.205.3039 or send a message to scorsini@sbcglobal.net .

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Copyright 2003 by Skip Corsini. All rights reserved.

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