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How to Make Your SWOT Analysis Actionable

strategy Oct 04, 2021
The Classic SWOT Analysis Chart: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats. Yes, we’ve all sat through a SWOT exercise or two (or three). Much has been written about the SWOT analysis as a business strategy tool since it first appeared in the 1960s.  

As of late, the SWOT has fallen into disfavor in certain consulting circles.  Certainly, there’s no business tool that’s right for every business or situation, but I believe the SWOT still has its uses. The point of this post, however, is this: while the SWOT equips you with some critical information (and, we hope, insights), it’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference.

So that’s where I have to ask: if you’ve ever done a SWOT analysis before, what did you do with the information?

In other words, how actionable was it?  How did it help you on a practical, tangible level?

There is still value in using the SWOT analysis, as long as you make it actionable. There’s a clear, consistent way to do it, and I’m going to show you how. 

How do you conduct a SWOT analysis?

Since it’s been a little while since SWOT has been widely used, it’s probably worth taking a few minutes to review.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with SWOT, or perhaps who need a little refresher, here goes…

The gist of SWOT is to provide a way for a company to analyze its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in relation to some important dimension — typically market position.

The idea is to set up a chart, looking something like this:

To get you started on questions, the chart above provides a good list, as well as this article over at Inc. Magazine.  Of course, these lists are just a starting-off point; you should dig as deep as possible, taking into consideration the specifics of your particular industry.

Sometimes, a marketing team might also add a column for “relevant competitors,” which I would highly recommend doing if you’re serious about having as much information as possible.  

Remember, in order to go to market wisely, it’s not enough to have information about just YOUR company—you need to have deep insights about your competition as well.

The Actionable SWOT Analysis

An Actionable SWOT simply focuses the analysis around leveraging the information that the classic SWOT analysis provides. Specifically,

  • Strengths: How do you leverage?
  • Weaknesses: How do you mitigate?
  • Opportunities: How do you exploit?
  • Threats: How do you dissolve?

In “chart” form (for all you visual learners out there), it might look something like this:

The Actionable SWOT Analysis doesn’t just ask “What IS?” — it asks the next logical question, “What do you do about it?” I firmly believe that without that question, the SWOT analysis falls flat — and does not deliver its full “punch.”

Prioritize the Impact

Another way to take action on your SWOT analysis is looking at it through the lens of priority. Ask yourself and your team: 

  • Which of these strengths really help us accomplish our goals?
  • Which of these weaknesses really hurt us the most?
  • Which of these opportunities (fully realized) would have the greatest positive impact?
  • Which of these threats (if they came to pass) would hurt us the most?

Once you've thought through these questions, you can begin to process which actions would have the most impact. 

Thus you have a tool that helps you analyze very quickly what’s going on, and how to respond in a way that makes sense — whether you’re analyzing an employee, a client relationship, or your company’s place in the market.

Takeaway Questions

  • How have you seen the SWOT analysis work in the past?
  • How have you seen it fall flat?
  • What ways have you utilized the SWOT in a way to make it actionable?

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