A SWOT Analysis Template  shows strategic elephants

Use a simple SWOT Analysis template to sort Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) of your organization.

I see the process of strategic planning as a search for the few most important issues that will affect the overall performance of your organization over the next few years. These high impact issues I call ‘strategic elephants’. This designation follows John Argenti, developer of the Argenti Strategic Planning Process.

A SWOT analysis template helps to focus the data gathering. It is an aid to discussions on the data by the strategic planning team. It can aid them towards agreement on the biggest issues facing the organization.

Difficulties in clarifying and agreeing strategic issues

Some obstacles to the planning team completing the SWOT template include the following -

  • They do not share a common understanding of how the organization as a whole operates in its context.
  • The team will not acknowledge weaknesses, let alone address them.
  • Their planning process does not open enough to include people who know important aspects of the business.
  • The management focus on internal operational problem solving, and exclude adequate consideration of factors outside the enterprise.
  • Planners have difficulty prioritizing issues raised.

How a SWOT analysis template helps planners

How could the planning team gain a shared understanding of the way the enterprise functions in its environment? I suggest they could by using a clear reference model of the organization.

An example of such a framework is the business model canvas. This provides a common language to discuss issues. This language also reduces undue personalizing of the matters raised when people engage in blaming.

Such a framework can help in the search for major issues affecting corporate performance.

Unwillingness to acknowledge weaknesses can be a lack of trust among planning team members. However, a SWOT template can aid people to open up about what they think is really going on.

Have members of the management team complete the SWOT template on their own. Following this, the managers share their views in small groups. I suggest that the Chief Executive Officer, invite the Chief Functional or Divisional Officers (CXOs), and their direct reports to this SWOT workshop. These top three layers of management then meet in small groups to agree an initial set of SWOTs. Then this enlarged group share their findings in a plenary session.

It can be useful in this larger group session to have a SWOT Analysis Template projected on a screen to show key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as they emerge from the discussions.

The results of this work go to the strategic planning team. They undertake further in depth analysis to agree a final short list of key strategic issues, summarized in the cruciform chart of the SWOT Analysis.

The SWOT Analysis Template

The simplest kind of SWOT template is a two by two, four cell table. Label each cell as in the diagram.

I have numbered possible strategic factors or issues one to six in each cell of the table. This does not mean an organization must have six factors in each cell of the matrix. I strongly recommend that the number of items should be less than or no more than six. Almost invariably, if a planning team cannot agree to six or less issues in each cell, they are still focusing on operational problems rather than strategic issues.

Dimensions of the SWOT analysis template

The SWOT chart may look simple. It contains a lot of meaning.

The top half, Strengths and Weaknesses, shows the internal view of the organization as it is now.

The lower half, Opportunities and Threats, highlights the external trends likely to affect the organization in the future.

The left hand column represents the positive assets, and environmental trends. The right hand column shows organizational liabilities and environmental threats.

Insights from a SWOT analysis

I now offer examples showing the value of using a SWOT template. The items in each cell of the table are not detailed. I would like you to see the way a planning team can use the template, to reveal patterns of strategic issues.

The numbers of items and their ranking can give a sense of the overall strategic situation of the organization.

These few examples show how useful even this simplest form of SWOT template can be.

SWOT Template bells and whistles

Some people add other features to the simple version. Some like ranking the factors in importance to the organization. Others add probability and impact columns for the Opportunities and Threats to help rank the various issues.

I recommend that most organizations stick with the simple 2X2 SWOT template. Only add features to the basic template when the whole planning team strongly agrees it would aid their planning deliberations.

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Go here for a large collection of SWOT Analysis Templates for many enterprises.

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