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SOAR allows for positive planning


Gary Straquadine

Gary Straquadine has a message for businesses, organizations and even families.
Don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from being successful.
Straquadine, the Vice Chancellor of USU Eastern, spent an hour with the Business Expansion and Retention general board last month talking about how to use the SOAR program (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results) to bring about change that is needed in any kind of unit of human activity. He said that having a strategic plan for anything is secondary to the actual planning, because that is where you learn about yourself and your organization.
“Writing strategic plans can be painful,” he told the group. “Most people would rather get a root canal, would rather defend their 13 income tax returns to the IRS, spend eight days on a Caribbean cruise with their ex-spouses parents. It seems anyone would do anything rather than strategic planning. But to me it is not the strategic plan itself that is important, but what we do in the strategic planning process.”
But he said there is more to it than just thinking that you need a plan. Many places decide for one reason or another to create a strategic plan, maybe there is a change of leadership or maybe they just do it every five to eight years, but there is often one thing missing when they begin it.
“What is important to begin with is that there is a launchpad,” he said. “You need this as you begin your plan you need a sense of urgency. If you don’t have that you are wasting your time.”
The first step to creating a good plan is to bring in the outside. Organizations need outside views, and if leadership is serious about making changes, they need to show that urgency every day. That urgency can come from a number of places. But a good place to start is by using a crisis to begin it.
“Leadership should use a well-managed crisis to get going, he stated. “Ask yourself, what is the crisis in your organization? A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Urgency is the platform for all of this. If leadership doesn’t have it you are not going to go very far. It will just be a silly exercise. “
And of course dealing with the negatives, particularly those the don’t want to change because it is to easy to keep doing the same things or something was always done one way and why change it is an imperative because they can poison any kind of plan to move ahead.
“I don’t really condone marginalizing those kinds of people,” he stated. “But you have to move ahead. Address those that are always working hard to hinder change. They must be dealt with.”
He then turned to the typical behavior in organizations that they first try to develop a mission statement. But he said that is starting in the wrong place.
“Start with a value statement,” he explained. “You need to define your core values concisely. For example a company might say they have a commitment to sustainability and want to act in an environmentally friendly way. That is Patagonia’s value statement. It is also Ben and Jerry’s value statement. Apple uses Think Different. Google uses a commitment for doing good to the whole. They want to be a great company that builds a search engine without being evil. You need to articulate what your core values are in two or three sentences. It’s not hard to build your mission when you know your values. Disneyland for instance has three core values. First is safety, courtesy is second, efficiency is third. Ask yourself this. What’s your core values?”
Straquadine says that many people hire a consultant to help them with the process; that is the basis of bringing in an outsider. He kidded that hiring a consultant is like letting someone steal your watch to tell you the time. But he says the answers people have to their problems in an organization are almost all inside it. They just need some help to clarify and bring the solutions out.
“When it comes to strategic planning, if we don’t know where we are headed we are going to end up somewhere else,” he said. “That’s why the planning process and the plan is important. There are many ways to do this. It can be a long term process or there are models that take a week. These are generally nice, academic models. You need to ask how formal you want your plan to be.”
He said the old way of doing that was using SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities or Threats). It has been tested and proven, yet he says there is a problem with it.
“With that model people spend a lot of time on weaknesses and threats and they almost become paranoid because of it,” he says. “It often leads to what he says is analysis paralysis, and keeps them from changing their organization.”
He said that in the emerging technologies of today, we are moving to something called SOAR. This model has come out in the last three to five years. It uses similar things to SWOT. SOAR uses the S and the O from SWOT but adds Aspirations and Results and does everything a little differently. This gets at the strategic needs of an organization. Strategic planning while using appreciative inquiry (the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a systems capacity to anticipate heighten positive potential) is the biggest key to being successful. He said that defining expectations from aspirations is important because they are different things.
“One of the trickier parts about using the SOAR model is getting at what the groups aspirations are,” he said. “The model itself provides a framework for all of this. The four I’s are important: Inquire, Imagine, Inspire and Innovate.”
He recently worked with Castleview Hospital on their strategic planning and spent four hours with the hospitals board. They went through the process of SOAR.
“When you are done doing this you have walls in the room covered with sticky notes and colors that have ideas on them,” he said. “There were people in that room that are a lot smarter than I am, and the nice thing about the process is that it gives everyone an equal voice. Then the discussion and sharing can begin.”
He gave an example of what he did with Castleview Hospital in terms of guiding them through the SOAR model. He then talked about defining SOAR and the essence of SOAR. He says he often does exercises and identifies the four quadrants and people work individually. Then everyone fills the walls with categories and then the arguing begins where everyone shares. Try to be sure everyone has an equal voice. Then summarize the plan itself.
In the process those participating in SOAR can figure out what the organization already has to build on, what stakeholders (customers, workers, etc.) are asking for, what the organization has deep feelings about (what they care about) and to measure, they need to find ways to know they are succeeding.

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