SOAR, don’t SWOT

A couple of years ago I was contracted to support a fledgling social enterprise (a ‘not for profit’ company) to plan a strategy and transfer from grant dependency to income generation. As part of the scoping element, I read the SWOT analysis which had been prepared six months earlier by a group of management consultants, who’d taken a more traditional process-driven approach to forward planning at the time. It was a well-prepared document, covering the strengths and weaknesses, possible opportunities and the potential treats facing the organisation in detail. Reflecting on my reading of the report, I noticed two things: firstly that my reading and thinking was dominated by the weaknesses and threats ignoring the strengths; and secondly, the document was flat and lacked passion. From conversations I’d already had with the staff, I knew there was real commitment – it was a high class product and service, and they were delivering well.

This led me to decide to start again with them, using the OD philosophy Appreciative Inquiry and in particular SOAR* (which stands for ‘strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results’) the AI alternative to a SWOT analysis (SWOT stands for ‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats’, so can focus unduly on the negative, rather than the positive in an organisation). Alongside the SOAR process, we asked staff to imagine it was two years later, and they were looking back on the success of the enterprise, describing in detail the present state of the company and its journey to achievement.

By using SOAR and exercises like ‘Imagine back’, we created a very different organisation with aspirations, commitment and measurable results. Three years on, it is successful social enterprise. The AI constructionist principle tells us that ‘words create worlds‘ – so the words we choose to use influence our perception, expectations and focus. Surely, then, organisations should be SOARing, not being SWOTted, if they want to get the best out of themselves?

If you need some strategic planning with a difference – something that will inspire and help create a positive future – give us a call today on 0151 427 1146. We can help you plan differently…

* SOAR is trade marked and was first developed by Jackie Stavros and Gina Hinrichs, authors of The Thin book of SOAR.

Tim Slack