Strategy and tools in business – To SWOT or SOAR?
Over the years a lot of good and bad things have been said by many HR and consulting practitioners about the SWOT analysis. Certainly it is not the most robust of tools in its basic form. But when used in the way it was originally developed, it is a powerful methodology and framework.
Some people have argued that it is time to move on from the SWOT analysis to other tools and techniques. In this piece we explore SOAR an Appreciative Inquiry tool.
An interesting article on this topic was published in AI Practitioner magazine ( http://preview.tinyurl.com/2bvobg ) (it is available here http://preview.tinyurl.com/26wk4v – or here) for those that are not subscribers).
SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.
The authors propose it as:
Many proponents of the SOAR method talk of it as being a “positively re-framed SWOT analysis”.
Having read the article mentioned, along with several others of a similar vein, the SOAR approach to my mind, makes the same mistakes (in the context of strategic planning) that many people attempting to use the SWOT analysis do. That is they miss the context.
When the (highly researched) SOFT was changed to SWOT the new authors missed the point of explaining the context of its use. In my experience this is one reason why the tool is often miss-understood. It (SWOT/ SOFT) was never designed to stand on its own. Nor was it ever to be part of the direct action phase. SWOT was a diagnosis and data capture tool.
The authors of this piece on SOAR to my mind make two fundamental mistakes:
1) They assume that all applications of SWOT are in the way they describe
2) They appear to ignore weaknesses and threats – apparently believing that their solution will soar (pardon the pun) over any difficulties.
Evidence of the authors’ assumptions can be seen in the way they describe SWOT:
SOAR is biased towards what they can do rather than consider what areas they should avoid. This completely misses the point about opportunities being created by the omissions of others or changes in customers patterns.
In the context of SWOT, Weaknesses are supposed to be internal weaknesses. Factors which may inhibit the organization from delivering its promise. It is not supposed to look externally at ‘who might outperform us’.
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 SOAR 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 SOAR as a diagnostic tool is going to make the same errors as 1000’s of people have done with inappropriate use of SWOT.
Rear view mirror?
Some proponents of SOAR go as far as to say
“The reason is that 50% of the SWOT process keeps organizations looking in the rear view mirror focusing on trying to fix weaknesses and swat away real or imagined threats. Unfortunately, it keeps most organizations stuck in the status quo and saps the energy and enthusiasm necessary to move forward.”
Is this true? Is a SWOT really just looking in the mirror? Or is it about using the forward view, taking account of the rear view and side mirrors before making a manoeuvre? There is no point ‘changing lanes’ if there is a semi-truck right next to you – it’s all about context and timing. Sure SWOT for personal development is not the best tool, and maybe SOAR is a better fit – but for true strategic planning it’s not one OR the other but BOTH….?
Appreciative Inquiry 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 proponents. 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 now because by prioritising 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 exclusively – or look at the external factors which MAY bring about a reduction or indeed the end of the need for their product? Customer pressure, Environmental impact, Cost of provision etc…
Is SWOT redundant?…..
No but it is sure made to be a more reliable process with additions of other models in the transition to application. So to
To SWOT or SOAR? Or are they just different tools with a different purpose?
Page reviewed April 2015
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