A scan of the internal and external environment is an important part of the strategic planning process. Environmental factors internal to the firm usually can be classified as strengths (S) or weaknesses (W), and those external to the firm can be classified as opportunities (O) or threats (T). Such an analysis of the strategic environment is referred to as a SWOT analysis.
The SWOT analysis provides information that is helpful in matching the firm’s resources and capabilities to the competitive environment in which it operates. As such, it is instrumental in strategy formulation and selection. The following diagram shows how a SWOT analysis fits into an environmental scan:
SWOT Analysis Framework
Internal Analysis External Analysis
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Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
A firm’s strengths are its resources and capabilities that can be used as a basis for developing a competitive advantage. Examples of such strengths include:
• strong brand names
• good reputation among customers
• cost advantages from proprietary know-how
• exclusive access to high grade natural resources
• favorable access to distribution networks
The absence of certain strengths may be viewed as a weakness. For example, each of the following may be considered weaknesses:
• lack of patent protection
• a weak brand name
• poor reputation among customers
• high cost structure
• lack of access to the best natural resources
• lack of access to key distribution channels
In some cases, a weakness may be the flip side of a strength. Take the case in which a firm has a large amount of manufacturing capacity. While this capacity may be considered a strength that competitors do not share, it also may be a considered a weakness if the large investment in manufacturing capacity prevents the firm from reacting quickly to changes in the strategic environment.
The external environmental analysis may reveal certain new opportunities for profit and growth. Some examples of such opportunities include:
• an unfulfilled customer need
• arrival of new technologies
• loosening of regulations
• removal of international trade barriers
Changes in the external environmental also may present threats to the firm. Some examples of such threats include:
• shifts in consumer tastes away from the firm’s products
• emergence of substitute products
• new regulations
• increased trade barriers
The SWOT Matrix
A firm should not necessarily pursue the more lucrative opportunities. Rather, it may have a better chance at developing a competitive advantage by identifying a fit between the firm’s strengths and upcoming opportunities. In some cases, the firm can overcome a weakness in order to prepare itself to pursue a compelling opportunity.
To develop strategies that take into account the SWOT profile, a matrix of these factors can be constructed. The SWOT matrix (also known as a TOWS Matrix) is shown below:
SWOT / TOWS Matrix
Opportunities S-O strategies W-O strategies
Threats S-T strategies W-T strategies
• S-O strategies pursue opportunities that are a good fit to the company’s strengths.
• W-O strategies overcome weaknesses to pursue opportunities.
• S-T strategies identify ways that the firm can use its strengths to reduce its vulnerability to external threats.
• W-T strategies establish a defensive plan to prevent the firm’s weaknesses from making it highly susceptible to external threats.
The Strategic Planning Process
In today’s highly competitive business environment, budget-oriented planning or forecast-based planning methods are insufficient for a large corporation to survive and prosper. The firm must engage in strategic planning that clearly defines objectives and assesses both the internal and external situation to formulate strategy, implement the strategy, evaluate the progress, and make adjustments as necessary to stay on track.
A simplified view of the strategic planning process is shown by the following diagram:
The Strategic Planning Process
Mission and Objectives
The mission statement describes the company’s business vision, including the unchanging values and purpose of the firm and forward-looking visionary goals that guide the pursuit of future opportunities.
Guided by the business vision, the firm’s leaders can define measurable financial and strategic objectives. Financial objectives involve measures such as sales targets and earnings growth. Strategic objectives are related to the firm’s business position, and may include measures such as market share and reputation.
The environmental scan includes the following components:
• Internal analysis of the firm
• Analysis of the firm’s industry (task environment)
• External macroenvironment (PEST analysis)
The internal analysis can identify the firm’s strengths and weaknesses and the external analysis reveals opportunities and threats. A profile of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is generated by means of a SWOT analysis
An industry analysis can be performed using a framework developed by Michael Porter known as Porter’s five forces. This framework evaluates entry barriers, suppliers, customers, substitute products, and industry rivalry.
Given the information from the environmental scan, the firm should match its strengths to the opportunities that it has identified, while addressing its weaknesses and external threats.
To attain superior profitability, the firm seeks to develop a competitive advantage over its rivals. A competitive advantage can be based on cost or differentiation. Michael Porter identified three industry-independent generic strategies from which the firm can choose.
The selected strategy is implemented by means of programs, budgets, and procedures. Implementation involves organization of the firm’s resources and motivation of the staff to achieve objectives.
The way in which the strategy is implemented can have a significant impact on whether it will be successful. In a large company, those who implement the strategy likely will be different people from those who formulated it. For this reason, care must be taken to communicate the strategy and the reasoning behind it. Otherwise, the implementation might not succeed if the strategy is misunderstood or if lower-level managers resist its implementation because they do not understand why the particular strategy was selected.
Evaluation & Control
The implementation of the strategy must be monitored and adjustments made as needed.
Evaluation and control consists of the following steps:
1. Define parameters to be measured
2. Define target values for those parameters
3. Perform measurements
4. Compare measured results to the pre-defined standard
5. Make necessary changes