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Lawrence Tech professors promote SOAR approach to strategic planning

Release Date: July 15, 2009

Southfield, Mich. - Two faculty members at Lawrence Technological University have published a management book that shows how to achieve better results from strategic planning by building on the strengths and aspirations of an organization's members. 

"SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy" by Lawrence Tech Associate Professor Jacqueline Stavros and Adjunct Professor Gina Hinrichs was released July 15 by Oregon-based Thin Book Publishing Co. The book can be ordered through Amazon or downloaded in Kindle format.

"This book is based on over a decade of work with more than 30 diverse companies in several industries that include for-profit, non-profit and government," Stavros said.  "The SOAR framework and its 5-I Approach and Quick SOAR have also been used by our colleagues in over 100 organizations to create strategy and strategic plans with proven results."

SOAR is an acronym for strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results. It is an approach to strategic planning developed by Stavros that seeks to move beyond a more traditional system called SWOT, an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

"Weaknesses and threats are not ignored. They are reframed and given the appropriate focus within the opportunities and results conversations," the authors said. "Ultimately it becomes a question of balance. Why not spend as much time or more on what you do well and how you can do more of that? What gives you more energy to take action? What gives you confidence to set a stretch goal?"

Gallup Poll research has demonstrated that productivity is 50 percent greater in organizations where workers focus on their strengths than in organizations where the focus is on correcting weaknesses.

Stavros and Hinrichs advance the claim that SOAR enables workers to achieve innovation and breakthroughs while striving to be the best.

"Research has shown that building on people's strengths can produce greater results than spending time correcting their weaknesses," Stavros said.

Another key to the SOAR approach is active involvement in the strategic planning process at all levels of an organization, whereas SWOT takes a "top down" approach. By engaging stakeholders at all levels, SOAR encourages continuous learning in the organization as workers learn from each other and establish collaborative working relationships.

"A major theme of our book is that strategy is everyone's job, and not just for top management," Stavros said. "Organizational leaders at every level should understand this philosophy and make it part of everyone's job."

In addition to being a book for graduate students, "SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy" can be used by managers, executives, consultants, social entrepreneurs and leaders who are looking for ways to transform entire organizations or communities.

Each stakeholder group should be engaged in the process in order to:

  • Identify and build on strengths.
  • Connect to and clarify the organization's value set, vision and mission.
  • Discover potential profitable opportunities.
  • Determine and align organizational goals and objectives.
  • Implement the plan so it guides everyday decision making and actions.

To achieve those results from SOAR, Stavros and Hinrichs recommend that organizations use a planning process they called 5-I, which stands for initiate, inquire, imagine, innovate, and inspire to implement. In cases where a unit, department or functional group desires to quickly create an aligned strategy for the enterprise, they recommend Quick SOAR.

Stavros first co-created the SOAR concept in 2000 with Lynn Kelley and David Cooperrider, and since then she and Hinrichs have presented their work and further development of the framework and its approaches in journal articles and chapters in management books. This is the first book on SOAR.

Stavros joined the Lawrence Tech faculty in 1998 and has 20 years of experience in strategic planning, marketing and organization development and change. She has lectured in more than a dozen countries and consulted with major corporations, NASA and nonprofits like Girl Scouts USA and the United Way. She has a doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University.

Hinrichs has worked with several Fortune 500 companies as president of Hinrichs Consulting LLC in Chicago and has 25 years of experience in engineering, operations, marketing and project management. She earned a PhD in organization development from Benedictine University and teaches online courses at Lawrence Tech.

Lawrence Technological University, ltu.edu, offers nearly 100 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey and Traverse City. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.