Businesses often have to create strategic plans that focus on how they will make their products or services faster, better and cheaper. One tool many businesses use to begin the strategic planning process is SWOT. You don't have to be a powerful business leader to begin using this very informative tool because once you understand the fundamental considerations of SWOT, you can use it to create an improved strategic approach.
According to the University of Washington's Organizational Effectiveness Initiative, Albert S. Humphrey created SWOT in the 1960s. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors -- things that you can control by establishing new rules or routines to create change. Opportunities and threats are external factors, because they are things you can't control. New laws, regulations, competitors and changing technology often create opportunities and threats. While you may find different approaches in capturing information for SWOT, the core concepts are the same.
Strengths are the qualities you would like to exploit or reinforce to maintain your edge -- the people who report to you, the relationships you have, intellectual property, patents or financial resources. When considering your strengths, ask questions to focus your thoughts. For example, what advantages do you have over your competition? What makes you or your business unique? Whom do you have the best relationships with and why? What kind of positive feedback do you get from others?
While many people find it difficult to think about their weaknesses, everyone has something they can improve upon. Weaknesses within the business might be things you do not do well today but want to become better at in the future. You may take into account where your performance gaps are, areas you should you try to improve to make yourself better, what competitors are currently outperforming you and what kind of negative feedback are you receiving.
Opportunities might be items you may want to pay attention to by devoting more time, money or resources to in order to achieve future success. Opportunities may surface as an observation of change that could be happening around you. When thinking through opportunities, focus on technology that may be changing the way things are being done. Consider whether new laws or legislation might impact how you do things. Analyze how others are gaining by doing things differently than you.
Threats may come from changes in the competition, technology, weather, customer behavior or demand. To identify threats, constantly scan the cultural environment to understand the changes taking place around you. Reflect upon your weaknesses to determine if they are a threat. Examine your financial resources to determine whether you have what you need. Research whether any laws exist that would prevent you from responding to a threat. Analyze how you are protecting yourself from potential threats.
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