Adding Emotion to Your SWOT Analysis

Get Emotional With That Next SWOT Analysis

I think I’ve facilitated a grand total of 2 SWOT analyses with small groups. Even with my clients in one-to-one meetings, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve gone through this exercise.

However, I have suggested to several CEOs that they apply some emotion to their SWOT exercises when conducting off-site meetings. So far, the response has been favorable.

The Reason I’m Lukewarm on SWOT

Conducting a SWOT exercise is typically one of the required steps in so-called strategic planning exercises. I find the process a bit forced, arbitrary, and even artificial.

If anything, SWOT is as much mindset in the field of play as it is filling in boxes in a company meeting. As Bill Belichick (NFL coach) is planning for next week’s game, I know he’s keeping in mind his team’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure that when Eisenhower was planning D-Day that he was keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the allied forces.

Bottom line, if the CEOs we serve need a group exercise to figure out strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and/or threats, then “Houston, we’ve got a problem, a serious one.”

The Emotional Side of SWOT

Depending on your view of SWOT, consider adding some oomph or buzz to this strategy activity. Here’s what I mean:

Strengths | What is the CEO or his/her team confident about? The primary emotional word is confidence. Other emotional words include fearlessness, spirit, or even brashness.

Weaknesses  | What is your client’s biggest frustration? Employees of your client might use emotional words such as irritation and dissatisfaction. When your client gets to weaknesses, make sure he/she is thinking about frustrations from a customer perspective too.

Opportunities | Your turn, what do you think the primary emotional word is for opportunity? Consider excitement. What gets your client excited? What gets the entire team pumped up? I also like enthusiastic and delighted, but my favorite emotional word for opportunity is excitement.

Threats | What do your clients fear? Remember that most fears are never realized. However, fears are normal and serve a purpose–they make us pay attention to what could happen. You may have other emotional words for threats, but I’ve never budged from fear.


I’ve had more than one CEO tell me that staff engagement has been higher when focusing on the emotional words to SWOT during a group exercise. I believe that’s because they are more able to personalize SWOT as opposed to stepping through the motions of a potentially artificial exercise.

Emotions Belong in the Strategy War Room

I’m not a touchy-feely person. I hardly think I’m in the minority, though. So maybe some words of encouragement are necessary.

When Rick Neuheisel was coaching the Washington Huskies, he told The Seattle Times, “It’s not about the trophy, it’s about the climb to the trophy.” If you read the entire article, one can tell that Neuheisel had a way of stirring the hearts and emotions of the kids he coached, taught, and mentored.

Likewise, do not allow your clients to just go through the motions of an exercise encouraged by the management and leadership gurus. Instead, show them how to connect with everyone on their teams by encouraging them to tug at the emotions of their employees.

Remember, the employees of your clients don’t just want a paycheck. They want to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. They want meaning too, just like your clients. Emotions count.

It’s time to emotionalize the SWOT exercise.

Title Photo Attribution: Patrick Perkins

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