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SOAR, Don’t SWOT!

SOAR, Don’t SWOT!

I distinctly remember the first time I heard the term SWOT and how I reacted to it. My first reaction was to the acronym, which to me is very negative. And then I reacted to the words it stood for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about my work that way. And in the context of program review, evaluation, or strategic planning, I never found it to be particularly helpful, but I didn’t know of any other options.

Well, this fall, I learned about SOAR. First of all, the acronym is an enormous improvement over SWOT, wouldn’t you say? I would much rather soar with my programs than swot [sic] someone with them! SOAR was conceived by Jacqueline Stavros and Gina Hinrichs and described in their book, The Thin Book of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy, published in 2009. Here is what SOAR stands for:

Strengths

Opportunities

Aspirations

Results

To me, this is a much better reflection of the way I think about my work, and I particularly like the focus on aspirations, which can drive planning and budgeting. In fact, I like it so much, that I have been using it to help a community organization in its strategic planning process, and we are finding it to be very useful. Of particular use is the positive focus it helps us maintain on our work together. It is so easy to get bogged down in the negative and focus on what we’re doing wrong and lose sight of our strengths and how to build on those. This approach enables us to do just that: focus on building our strengths.

I did some research to learn more about SOAR and the types of questions each concept addresses. Here is what I found:

From: http://asq.org/service/body-of-knowledge/tools-SOAR

A strengths, opportunities, aspirations, results (SOAR) analysis is a strategic planning tool that focuses an organization on its current strengths and vision of the future for developing its strategic goals.

When conducting a SOAR analysis, the basic questions to be answered are:

  1. What are our greatest strengths?
  2. What are our best opportunities?
  3. What is our preferred future?
  4. What are the measurable results that will tell us we’ve achieved that vision of the future?

From: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO STRATEGIC PLANNING: SOAR-BUILDING STRENGTHS-BASED STRATEGY by Stan Capela & Ariana Brooks-Saunders; HearthShare Human Services

STRENGTHS: WHAT CAN WE BUILD ON?

  • What are we most proud of as an organization?
  • How does that reflect our greatest strength?
  • What makes us unique? What can we be best at in our world?
  • What is our proudest achievement in the last year or two?
  • How do we use our strengths to get results?
  • How do our strengths fit with the realities of the marketplace?
  • What do we do or provide that is world class for our customers, our industry, and other potential stakeholders?

OPPORTUNITIES: WHAT ARE OUR STAKEHOLDERS ASKING FOR?

  • How do we make sense of opportunities provided by the external forces and trends?
  • What are the top 3 opportunities on which we should focus our efforts?
  • How can we best meet the needs of our stakeholders, including customers, employees, shareholders, and community?
  • How can we reframe challenges to be seen as existing opportunities?
  • What new skills do we need to move forward?

ASPIRATIONS: WHAT DO WE CARE DEEPLY ABOUT?

  • When we explore our values and aspirations, what are we deeply passionate about?
  • Reflecting on Strengths and Opportunities conversations, who are we, who should we become and where do we go in the future?
  • What are our most compelling aspirations?
  • What strategic initiatives (e.g. projects, programs, processes) would support our aspirations?

RESULTS: HOW DO WE KNOW WE ARE SUCCEEDING?

  • Considering our Strengths, Opportunities, and Aspirations, what meaningful measures would indicate that we are on track to achieving our goals?
  • What are 3 to 5 indicators that would create a scorecard that addresses a triple bottom line of increased revenue, people and resources?
  • What resources are needed to implement vital projects?
  • What are the best rewards to support those who achieve our goals?

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