A SWOT analysis is one of the most important strategic tools available to a company, division or department. The acronym SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In conducting a SWOT analysis, you evaluate your current position and compare it to future opportunities and risks.
Simplicity and a broad perspective are two core traits that combine to make a SWOT analysis so important in strategic planning. It can be a simple tool to use because the process involves listing all items in each category in a spreadsheet or table. Depending on who is performing the analysis, it is common to involve business or division leaders, regular employees and even clients. The broad perspective stems from the fact that you identify everything that makes your company successful, but also your areas of vulnerability.
What really makes SWOT powerful is its usefulness in setting a course to take advantage of prime business opportunities, according to Mind Tools. Without a strategic plan, companies can just aimlessly drift around without a strategic direction, or operate without development. In highly competitive industries, failing to seize openings is almost as catastrophic as making a major mistake. If a new customer segment emerges due to shifts in preferences, for instance, it is often a race to see which company best serves the need first. SWOT allows you to map out this possible opportunity well in advance, and begin planning to deliver a quality solution and marketing plan before the opening hits.
Self-Preservation and Protection
Though it isn't always pleasant to scrutinize your weaknesses or deficiencies, top companies know where they stand in all critical areas relative to the competition. Walmart is renowned for its low-price leadership in discount retail, for example, but company leaders likely recognize criticism of its limited customer services. With some weaknesses, you have opportunities to improve. With strategic limitations tied to its low-price strategy, the goal for Walmart is more to downplay the weakness, target customers who prefer low prices, and promote that core benefit.
Threats are another key SWOT element in guarding against risks. Companies that don't use a planning tool like SWOT may be caught off guard when threats emerge. In contrast, effective use of SWOT helps a business adjust or prepare for pending threats. Some businesses wait until a recession slows revenue, for instance, while others recognize the potential for recession in advance, alter promote strategies and trim budgets. Other potential threats identified through SWOT include shifting customer preferences, technological changes and environmental concerns.