I have been through a number of strategic planning processes. Most of them include some variation of the traditional SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and the final product is usually a large, nicely bound, strategic plan. Upon completion, after a sigh of relief that the work is done, the plan typically hits the bookshelf or desk drawer and it’s rarely revisited until the next planning cycle begins 12 months later. In some cases parts of the plan have been obsolete before we even had a time to print it out because of the rapid changes happening in the business and the market.
What I’ve come to realize is that the value of strategic planning is not the plan, but the conversations that result from the process. Even so, in most cases the strategy conversations being held by leadership seem to dwell on the weaknesses and threats of the organization which tends to suck the life out of the room. It’s no wonder why so many individuals view strategic planning as about as much fun as having a root canal. Fortunately I am here to tell you that there is another alternative out there that really takes strategic planning to a whole other level.
In their book “The Thin Book of SOAR; Building Strengths-Based Strategy” friends of the CVDL, Jackie Stavros and Gina Hinrichs, introduce a positive, whole system strategic planning framework grounded in Appreciative Inquiry. SOAR, which stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results, is an approach used to engage not just leadership, but all of an organization’s relevant stakeholders in transformational dialogue designed to identify: what the organization is doing extremely well; what stakeholders are asking for; a compelling vision of the future; what skills and abilities can be increased and leveraged; strategic initiatives to move the company forward; and the measures needed to track progress and success. The research shows that this appreciative process with its greater emphasis on strengths, purpose, values, and the positive dimensions of the organization lead to more creativity, learning, and meaningful conversations that forge strong relationships, energize participants, and accelerate change.
Furthermore, as Stavros and Hinrichs point out on page 38, “SOAR is flexible and scalable; each organization can design its own approach to fits its needs and culture.” It has been used in organizations around the globe across a myriad of industries/sectors. As an example, The John Deere company has been using SOAR since 2003 and since its deployment its leadership has reported increased employee engagement and significant willingness throughout the ranks to implement the strategic initiatives flowing from the process.
So the next time your organization ramps up for weeks and weeks of conventional strategic planning, consider exploring how using SOAR can accelerate the process and the time required to get results.