Strategy and Tools in Business

Strategy and tools in business

Over the years a lot of good and bad stuff has been said about SWOT. Sure it is not the most robust of tools but when used in the way it was originally developed – it is a powerful tool.
Some people have argued that it is time to move on from SWOT to other things – in this piece we explore SOAR an appreciative Inquiry tool.

An interesting article on this topic was published in Ai Practitioner magazine ( ) (it is available here )for those that are not subscribers).

Having read the article, the SOAR approach to my mind makes the same mistake that many using the SWOT analysis do – and that is they miss the context. When the (highly researched) SOFT was changed to SWOT the new authors missed the point which is why the tool is often miss-understood. It was never designed to stand on its own, nor was it ever to be part of the direct action phase – it was a diagnosis and data capture tool.

The authors of this article to my mind make 2 fundamental mistakes:
1) they assume that all applications of SWOT are in the way they describe
2) they appear to ignore weaknesses and threads – apparently believing that their solution will soar (pardon the pun) over any difficulties.
Would the shareholders of Enron be in the position they are now in (extinct) if they had faced up to their threats and weaknesses, rather than focus on what they thought were their strengths?

The article clearly states in its summary
This article has attempted to address the strategy-to-execution gap. In doing so, we have discussed SOAR, a strengths-based framework that builds on the best points of SWOT (strengths and opportunities) in order to move beyond the “as-is” state of the organization’s environment to the “to-be”.

Yes this as a framework can be used as the authors state to take SWOT data and apply it – but SOAR in itself is not a diagnostic or orientation tool. Anyone using this as a diagnostic tool is going to make the same errors as 1000’s of people have done with inappropriate use of SWOT.
This thread has been started to help CIPD students (and others) complete their studies – and for that they must use SWOT and PESTLE – if they chose to use other tools they will need references – I cannot see any on the article .

Appreciative Enquiry has its place.
Appreciative Inquiry is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. In so doing, it enhances a system’s capacity for collaboration and change. Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a 4-stage process focusing on:

  • DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  • DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  • DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  • DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t. It is the opposite of problem solving. AI focuses on how to create more of what’s already working.
This method is more positive in nature than many others, however it is as a strategy naive in that it assumes success breeds success – many organizations are in fact where they are now because they did solve problems and did not just focus on what works.

Would a company that currently makes plastic carrier bags be advised to use SOAR – or look at the external factors which may bring about the end of the need for their product?

Equally any diagnostic process needs to look holistically at the people and the processes – not just one or the other.

Is SWOT redundant?…..

No but it is sure made more reliable with additions of other models in the transition to application.


Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy. He has been involved in HR, OD and strategic development for over 20 years. He can be contacted via

© This article is copyright RapidBI 2008 – it may be copied providing the authors are credited, and direct links maintained

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