The ‘Thin Books’ series impresses with its aim of presenting key organisational and people development concepts in a brief, fluff-free and practical way which makes it a boon to the busy manager or consultant. The Thin Book of SOAR is no exception.
The most widely-known tool for strategic planning is the SWOT analysis – which considers Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. As the authors point out, if an equal amount of time is spent on each, the effort of thinking about negatives (weaknesses and threats) tends to cancel out any forward momentum, so participants can end up armed with a plan but with their spirits drained.
The SOAR model, by contrast, focuses on Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. Weaknesses and threats are not ignored, but reframed to become exciting opportunities. Research (for example by the Gallup organisation, showcased in Buckingham and Clifton’s excellent Now, Discover Your Strengths) shows that focusing on strengths produces greater improvements in performance at the personal and organisational level than focusing on weaknesses. The SOAR model, which looks to the future as well as taking an inventory of the current situation, is dynamic rather than static, and encourages action rather than analysis.
Another feature of SOAR which makes it more suited to today’s increasingly fluid market conditions is its emphasis on inclusiveness, aiming to involve staff at every level as well as customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. This gives the resulting strategy the depth, richness and above all the ‘reality check’ of multiple viewpoints, in contrast to the top-down strategic planning that usually characterises SWOT (to be fair, SWOT is not inherently top-down, but that is the way it has traditionally turned out in practice).
The SOAR model evolved from Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and shares its philosophy. When time is limited, the authors suggest using a ‘quick SOAR’ format lasting a half-day or a day. For longer-term projects, they introduce the ‘5-I’ model (Initiate, Inquire, Imagine, Innovate, Inspire to Implement) – an alternative to the standard 5-D AI model.
In the book’s main case study, a US healthcare company successfully uses the 5-I process incorporating SOAR to develop their strategy with encouraging results. There are also eight shorter ‘snapshots’ giving examples of how different organisations, from manufacturers to school boards, have used SOAR to restructure, make mergers work, respond to crises and become more proactive.
In short – buy this book! In only 48 pages it gives you a model for developing strategy (SOAR), another model for implementing Appreciative Inquiry projects (5-I), and numerous examples of how to use it. SOAR is also a great model for life coaching and determining one’s own direction.
Update (September 2023): The second edition of the book has been renamed Learning to SOAR: Creating Strategy that Inspires Innovation and Engagement. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s been expanded to 69 pages so there must be some useful new material in there. I’ve changed the links in this review to point to the new edition.