Swap your SWOT for a SPOT

 Graphic: Trevor Melton

Graphic: Trevor Melton


Is your organization weak, or do you just have problems?

We may hate to admit either, but reflect your reality: no one lives in a business world of unicorns and rainbows. The cornerstone of many strategic thinking and planning processes is the venerable SWOT (Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats) Analysis. SWOT is a useful and concise tool, but the term “Weaknesses” has always bugged me: it sounds pejorative, like a character judgment.

So let’s replace your organization’s Weaknesses with Problems and put your strategy on the “SPOT.” Replacing “weaknesses” with “problems” makes the issues more tangible. Problems are what we fix every day at work - the language of “weakness” throws shade on the reality of business issues we can solve. We use SPOT Analysis as a key process in strategic thinking & planning, based on years of using Grove Consultants’ excellent process templates.

Through the years, we’ve added some analytical refinements to make it more than a list.

  • Segment your problems into ones you can (a) Fix or Influence, (b) Monitor or (c) Live With.
  • Prioritize only the problems you can fix.
  • Prioritize your opportunities.
  • Ready for the next level? Determine your organization’s top strategic areas of focus:
  • Prioritize your opportunities and “fix” problems together.
  • *Note: Many problems and opportunities are “glass half full/glass half empty,” depending on phrasing, so combine those similar problems and opportunities into one.
  • Rephrase your top priorities so each item begins with an action verb. The action verb is critical because it demands you DO something about the problem or opportunity.

Interesting Notes:

  • The genesis of SWOT/SPOT analyses is unclear, but the earliest reports of its use at Stanford Research Institute appear in the 1960s. Personally, I like to think of Hannibal’s 218 BC crossing the Alps (with elephants, no less!), and wonder if he used a SPOT analysis for his decisions. His assault on the Romans was successful — against all odds.
  • Strengths and Threats are important as an environmental backdrop but do not typically indicate a course of action. Your Strengths often link to Opportunities, and our experience reveals that many Threats (which we define as truly existential and could end our enterprise as we know it) are actually Problems — sometimes wicked problems, but still problems — which we can address.
  • There are other similar analyses: SCOT (Challenges, not Problems); in project management, we find SVOR (Strengths, Vulnerabilities, Opportunities, and Risks). And those are among the thousands of analytical frameworks and models available to organizations today (Five Forces, 2x2 Matrices, et al).

Regardless of which tools you use, make sure the process culminates in a concise, do-able set of high-level focus areas. Don’t stop at analysis: convert your insights into action! And if you’d like some seasoned support to make that happen, drop us a line and we will put your organization’s strategy "on the SPOT!"


Jody Lentz is a lifelong facilitator with a passion to create high-performance, low-drama work environments. His focus on supporting organizations to create and maintain better teams, better meetings and better decisions touches strategy, culture, leadership and innovation. Also, he worked for LEGO and lost on Jeopardy!