Louis Harris facilitating
Louis Harris facilitates a SOAR session.

Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Panning

In their booklet, the Thin Book of SOAR, Jacqueline Stavros and Gina Hinrichs introduce a positive approach to strategic planning known as SOAR: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. The premise of this approach is discovering and building on strengths. It also brings the planning processes to organizational levels beyond senior management. It offers an Appreciative Inquiry approach to planning.

A Positive Alternative to SWOT

Stavros and Hinrichs compare and contrast SOAR with SWOT, a planning tool with widespread use. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. While SWOT can be used beyond senior management levels, SOAR incorporates stakeholder input from broader parts of an organization. In doing so, it allows planners to have a better understanding of the building blocks available to move forward.

Better to Focus on the Positive

SOAR is consistent with the notion that it is better to do more of what you are good at, than it is to do less of what you are bad at. Stavros and Hinrichs stress that weaknesses and threats are not ignored in SOAR, they are considered within the context of a strengths assessment and addressed at the end when results are planned. Also, a general sense of weaknesses and threats is part of a change agenda established before the planning process begins. While it can be important to understand weaknesses and threats that are studied in a SWOT process, the question becomes how much time to devote to those areas of risk and negativity during the process itself.

The other benefit of SOAR is applying aspirations of the strengths and opportunities identified. It allows the planners to factor the team’s vision of where it should be in the future into the plan. It enables the process to have more of an impact on an organization and its stakeholders. Another key component is Results. The process ends with a planning roadmap with measurable results.


Stavros and Hinrichs put their SOAR process into 5-Is: Initiate, Inquire, Imagine, Innovate, and Inspire to implement. Initiate refers to the decision to use SOAR in planning. Inquire refers to discovering strengths. Imagine is where the opportunities are envisioned. Innovate is where aspirations are built into the planning design. Inspire to implement is where the results are agreed upon by the team. The whole process creates energy and positivity.

Your Betterment can Help

If your organization is contemplating a round of strategic planning, consider using SOAR. Your Betterment can help.


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