4.6 SWOT Analysis

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand what SWOT analysis is.
  2. Learn how SWOT analysis can help organizations and individuals, and its limitations.

Table 4.12 SWOT

Chess master Bruce Pandolfini has noted the similarities between business and chess. In both arenas, you must understand your own abilities as well as your flaws. You must also know your opponents, try to anticipate their moves, and deal with considerable uncertainty. A very popular management tool that incorporates the idea of understanding the elements internal and external to the firm is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. Strengths and weaknesses are assessed by examining the firm, while opportunities and threats refer to external events and trends. These ideas can be applied to individuals too. Below we offer examples of each element of SWOT analysis for organizations and for individuals who are seeking employment.

SWOT point Organizational Examples Individual Examples
Strenths Having high-levels of cash flow gives firms discretion to purchase new equipment if they wish to. Strong technical and language skills, as well as previous work experience, can help individuals rise above the competition.
Weaknesses Dubious leadership and CEO scandals have plagued some corporations in recent years. Poor communication skills keep many job seekers from being hired into sales and supervisory positions.
Opportunities The high cost of gasoline creates opportunities for substitute products based on alternative energy sources. The U.S. economy is increasingly services based, suggesting that individuals can enjoy more opportunities in service firms.


Concerns about worldwide pollution are a threat to petroleum-based products.

A tight job market poses challenges to new graduates.

Five forces analysis examines the situation faced by the competitors in an industry. Strategic groups analysis narrows the focus by centering on subsets of these competitors whose strategies are similar. SWOT analysis takes an even narrower focus by centering on an individual firm. Specifically, SWOT analysis is a tool that considers a firm’s strengths and weaknesses along with the opportunities and threats that exist in the firm’s environment (Table 4.12 “SWOT”).

Executives using SWOT analysis compare these internal and external factors to generate ideas about how their firm might become more successful. In general, it is wise to focus on ideas that allow a firm to leverage its strengths, steer clear of or resolve its weaknesses, capitalize on opportunities, and protect itself against threats. For example, untapped overseas markets have presented potentially lucrative opportunities to Subway and other restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Meanwhile, Subway’s strengths include a well-established brand name and a simple business format that can easily be adapted to other cultures. In considering the opportunities offered by overseas markets and Subway’s strengths, it is not surprising that entering and expanding in different countries has been a key element of Subway’s strategy in recent years. Indeed, Subway currently has operations in nearly 100 nations.

4.6.1 R

China’s huge population and growing wealth makes it an attractive opportunity for Subway and other American restaurant chains.

SWOT analysis is helpful to executives, and it is used within most organizations. Important cautions need to be offered about SWOT analysis, however. First, in laying out each of the four elements of SWOT, internal and external factors should not be confused with each other. It is important not to list strengths as opportunities, for example, if executives are to succeed at matching internal and external concerns during the idea generation process. Second, opportunities should not be confused with strategic moves designed to capitalize on these opportunities. In the case of Subway, it would be a mistake to list “entering new countries” as an opportunity. Instead, untapped markets are the opportunity presented to Subway, and entering those markets is a way for Subway to exploit the opportunity. Finally, and perhaps most important, the results of SWOT analysis should not be overemphasized. SWOT analysis is a relatively simple tool for understanding a firm’s situation. As a result, SWOT is best viewed as a brainstorming technique for generating creative ideas, not as a rigorous method for selecting strategies. Thus the ideas produced by SWOT analysis offer a starting point for executives’ efforts to craft strategies for their organization, not an ending point.

In addition to organizations, individuals can benefit from applying SWOT analysis to their personal situation. A college student who is approaching graduation, for example, could lay out her main strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats presented by the environment. Suppose, for instance, that this person enjoys and is good at helping others (a strength) but also has a rather short attention span (a weakness). Meanwhile, opportunities to work at a rehabilitation center or to pursue an advanced degree are available. Our hypothetical student might be wise to pursue a job at the rehabilitation center (where her strength at helping others would be a powerful asset) rather than entering graduate school (where a lot of reading is required and her short attention span could undermine her studies).

Key Takeaway

  • Executives using SWOT analysis compare internal strengths and weaknesses with external opportunities and threats to generate ideas about how their firm might become more successful. Ideas that allow a firm to leverage its strengths, steer clear of or resolve its weaknesses, capitalize on opportunities, and protect itself against threats are particularly helpful.


  1. What do each of the letters in SWOT represent?
  2. What are your key strengths, and how might you build your own personal strategies for success around them?

This is a derivative of Mastering Strategic Management by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.