12th April, 2011

On being a SWOT or a PEST

This I’ve heard many times:

“Oh we’ve done a SWOT & PEST analysis, we don’t need any help with that”

Me: “Great, can I see them?”

And then I get handed a one-page matrix of each with bullet points.

Me: “OK, how did this inform your thinking on how you react to these issues or drivers?”

[blank face]

This is important …

It’s important to identify the internal and external factors facing your organisation and really important that you then work out how you are going to respond.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats

If you’ve identified a demotivated staff team or dwindling funding source in your SWOT analysis but you haven’t addressed what you are going to do about it in your strategy you are setting yourself up to fail.

This isn’t limited to weaknesses/threats, if your strength is a dedicated team of volunteers but you haven’t considered how best to utilise and retain them in order to achieve your goals you are not planning to succeed.

So how do you go beyond the bullet to get to the meaning of the point?

A good facilitator won’t let you gloss over this in your planning sessions.  Ask yourself why something deserves a place on your matrix.  Keep asking why until you get to the heart of the matter.  If you don’t know why, more research may be needed.

When you’ve identified why – for example you know that staff are demotivated because the training budget has been slashed – you can begin to answer ‘so what‘?  So what are you going to do about it? How will you respond?  This should form the core of your aims and objectives.

Political, Economic, Social & Technical factors

To have a good understanding of the environment in which you operate a PEST analysis is key.  (Some organisations add a Legal and Environmental analysis to the mix).  But similarly, it’s not enough to identify the factors or drivers that are likely to influence your organisation.  You must consider how to respond: ‘so what‘?  It can be helpful to focus on the most important ones by prioritising them.

I recommend checking out Third Sector Foresight a helpful online resource from NCVO.  They have some great planning tools, including a detailed analysis of the drivers that should be considered in your PEST analysis and some suggestions on how to rank them.

One final point on being a PEST or SWOT, don’t get hung up on categories and in which box to put what.  The most important thing is that you identify the key internal and external factors that are likely to impact on your organisation and then consider how to respond.


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