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Put a Positive Spin on Strategic Planning with SOAR

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Strategic planning can be vital to a business’s growth and continued success, but where does a body shop owner or operator start?

With any number of frameworks out there on which to build your strategic plan, choosing one and working with it can be an important first step.

Some two decades ago, Jackie Stavros, a professor in the College of Business and IT at Lawrence Technological University, near Detroit, introduced a framework called SOAR, which stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.

As stated by Stavros and her co-author Gina Hinrichs in The Thin Book of SOAR, the framework is, “a profoundly positive approach to strategic thinking, planning, and leading that allows any person at any level in an organization to create strategy and strategic plans through collaboration, shared conversations, and a commitment to action.”

SOAR’s “profoundly positive approach,” among other aspects, differentiates it from SWOT–Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats–a framework with which FenderBender readers may also be familiar. 

Here’s more from Stavros on how SOAR works.

As told to Mike Munzenrider


Rethink the Framework


If we’re going to have a strategic conversation, why would we have a conversation about what’s bad? SWOT, with its focus on weaknesses and threats, has a different purpose than SOAR. If we’re going to create a strategy, then it’s important to determine what results we’re looking for. 

SOAR doesn’t ignore weaknesses and threats–it reframes them. If you want to make a weakness into a strength, that’s an opportunity. Those two things, strengths and opportunities, are what SOAR is based on.


Diversity of Thought


SOAR relies on stakeholder engagement, getting everybody from senior leadership and management, to employees and customers involved in the strategic planning process. It’s also important to make clear what your organization’s vision and mission are and to put it into plain language so everybody involved knows what it is.

The goal of engaging all stakeholders is getting diversity of thought. And while you may not be able to engage with literally everyone in any given organization or business, find representatives of a given department who can speak for others. 

It’s important to make sure there’s alignment of strategy throughout an entire organization. While using SOAR to carry out strategic planning for a university might differ from the process for a body shop, each department or section of the organization needs its own individual plan that aligns with the overall strategy. With all that said, here’s what you’re looking for within each area of SOAR.


Strengths

This is the beginning of the conversation asking stakeholders to identify what we’re great at, what are our dynamic capabilities?


Opportunities

This is where we ask what would make us even better, how do we improve processes, systems, or create new products or services to offer?


Aspirations

Here we ask stakeholders and customers what they care deeply about with respect to the organization or business, what are our wishes?


Results

Finally, ask, “How do we know we’re succeeding, what type of results do we want to see?” Take the answers to all four questions and create three to five strategic initiatives that leverage strengths and use opportunities to get the results you’re looking for.


Strength in Flexibility 


SOAR is a flexible framework–you can start with results and hit the other aspects from there, or simply discuss your business’s strengths as a means of energizing employees and managers and reminding them of that at which they excel. It empowers people to be better employees.

It’s important to approach SOAR with a plan, in terms of who you’re going to bring together, for how long–two hours or a whole day?–and how often. Design the conversation in terms of what questions you’re going to ask by creating an agenda and determine how you will turn the answers into an actual plan.

That said, I don’t want it to be something complicated–you decide it all. Going through the process benefits all involved because people commit to their ideas. They walk away feeling innovative and they’re going to do their jobs better because they had the conversation.


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