In our never ending quest to help HR understand basic tools and prinicples, today we at the blog present the SWOT analysis.

SWOT is a simple tool, at least on the surface.  Once you understand the tool, you should be able to execute quickly and effectively.

What is a SWOT?

SWOT is a tool designed to give you insight into your current state, much like the SIPOC.  The difference is the SIPOC is a snapshot of a process, where the SWOT looks at your business or your practice overall.  The SWOT is made up of four quadrants.


This section is a list of what you have going for you.  What are you proud of?  What can you count on?  Some classic examples of strengths for a business include:

  • market position
  • global footprint
  • efficient distribution system
  • technical patents

For HR, this list would be a little different, of course.  Some items you might list in an HR SWOT:

  • Bench strength
  • Thorough succession plan
  • Well leveraged HR Technology platform
  • Deep knowledge of HR-facing laws


You might think this is a tough area to complete, but experience has shown that this box tends to be filled up first.  Most people are wired to see faults, especially in their own business.  For example:

  • Incomplete data for metrics
  • Market reputation not aligned with strategy
  • Low cash reserves

Your weaknesses are not specifically things that need to be fixed, but are focused on constraints in your operation.  You may see actions to fix these issues later (in the opportunities area), but don’t spend too much time thinking about fixes here.  What kind of constraints might you find in HR?

  • Unclear strategy for talent movement
  • Skillset gaps for new HR generalist(s) – finance, labor negotiation
  • HCM not connected to benefits, compensation systems


These are the internal or external factors that could negatively impact your practice going forward.  Some of them you will be able to proactively deal with, some will be out of your control.  The key is to recognize them so you can start thinking about contingency plans.

  • Political unrest in developing markets
  • Weather delays in construction projects
  • Expiring contracts with union groups

From an HR standpoint, your threats may be more balanced between internal and external.

  • Job market creating high flight risks in top performers
  • Lack of qualified candidates for high-skill positions
  • NLRB rulings
  • Expected reduction in operating budget and headcount


The sunshine field, here we list all the wonderful things that can be accomplished.  After completing your weaknesses and threats, this field should almost populate itself with answers to those problems.  Additionally, of course, you might recognize trends in the market or other events that you could leverage to your advantage.

  • Trend of consumers toward smaller, fuel efficient vehicles
  • Economy of scale in supply chain – standardize materials in manufacturing operations
  • Competitor patents expiring

For your HR practice, you will again have a balance of internal and external items:

  • Business struggles of competitor for skilled labor; opportunity to recruit from their labor pool
  • Software upgrades in LMS creating greater access for EEs from home
  • Potential partnership with staffing company to reduce costs and increase candidate quality
  • Renewed executive focus on R&D activities and succession planning

OK, so what do I do with it?

The SWOT is an exercise that should be completed at the beginning of your planning stage.  Your strategy, whether for your business, department or project, should use this starting point to make sure you are not only leveraging your strengths and opportunities, but addressing weaknesses and threats.   The insight gained from a frank conversation on these four areas should make you more aware of your environment and more prepared to move forward with planning.

The most important thing to remember about the SWOT is that you must be honest with yourself in your analysis.  Like so many other tools, the SWOT is only as good as your conversation around it and your action plan you create with it.  This session is not the time to be modest, to be protective, or to hide your flaws.  The level of self-awareness the tool can bring will help you move your practice forward significantly, but only if you open up and trust your team enough to take a candid look at the world around you.


  1. Great summary of an important tool Dwane. I’ve been doing some planning with my team and neglected to use this early in the process. I’ll need to build this into to our ongoing work. Thanks for keeping these on the forefront.

    • Thanks, Jay. Glad you liked it. It’s a really simple tool once you get to know it, and I’m always surprised at the increase in self awareness it brings.

      Thanks for reading!

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