SWOT Analysis Gone Wrong

The SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) matrix has been around since the mid-1960s. It is probably the most popular strategic planning tool being used in organizations large and small today, mostly because it is memorable and easy to use. However, during my research this year, I realized that I was actually misusing this tool, and you may be too.

While the SWOT analysis has historically been used to conduct internal environmental research and personal assessment, studies show its evolution and emergence as a strategic framework. One such study involves enhancing the framework to incorporate theory to remedy its atheoretical reputation. This is primarily due to the misuse of the SWOT as a checklist rather than for strategic application (Lohrke et al., 2022). As with most frameworks, for the SWOT to be useful for managers, it needs internal customization to assign meaning to the process users will follow. One such approach is the TOWS Matrix.

Organizations looking to achieve their competitive advantage or create high-performing work cultures turn to this tool to help spot areas of inefficiency and ineffective practices or behaviors. Spot them it will do, but that’s it.

What do you do with all that good stuff you filled in?

I’ve come to realize the SWOT is most useful as a starting point in the evaluation of self and/or the organization’s effectiveness instead of as the only measure of competitive advantage. There are secondary and even tertiary steps that follow. The SWOT should never be used in isolation. It’s like a conversation starter. What do I do with all the good information I’ve just discovered about you? Where do we go from here? Where does this end?

The SWOT requires the application of a supportive model such as the LISA (leverage, improve, seize, and aware) model or the TOWS model to extend its value beyond evaluative purposes.

The next time you want to evaluate your SWOT as part of your strategic planning process, leverage the use of one of these additional models to augment the value of the SWOT and move swiftly towards the achievement of your business goals.