Home All Strategic Planning: A Joyful Experience

Amanda Horne is an executive coach and facilitator whose business theme is "Thriving People and Workplaces." She is an Authentic Happiness Coaching graduate and a founding member of Positive Workplace International. Full bio.

Amanda's articles are here.

Editor’s Note: This is the 7th in a series of articles about The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. See also Kirsten Cronlund’s article, A Powerful Collection: Book Review, Giselle Nicholson’s Innovativeness as Positive Deviance, and Amanda Horne’s articles on Virtuous Organizations, on Positive Deviance, on Civility, and on Giving: Pro-social Motivation at Work.

Strategy AND Joy?

Are you one of the rare people who loves strategy sessions or planning days? How many of your friends or colleagues rub their hands with glee at the thought of strategic planning sessions? Many consider these events something that they must attend, but certainly do not look forward to.  They’d far prefer for the strategic planning to be left to the strategic thinkers, “while the rest of us get on with our work.”

With a different mindset and framework, strategic planning can be energizing, interesting, and engaging. It could even be joyful… With the festive season upon us we need some joyousness somewhere in this article!

Positive Strategy

In September 2010, I wrote a PPND article about SOAR. Today I’d like to supplement that article with more recent information.  SOAR stands for: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. It is a strengths-based approach to strategic thinking, formulation, and planning.

Positive Strategy is the title of Chapter 63 in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Co-authored by Jackie Stavros (co-creator of SOAR) and Lynn Wooten, the chapter “explores SOAR as an approach for framing strategy through a POS perspective” and “examines the SOAR framework through several concepts in strategy literature.”

Why We Want to SOAR

The benefits of using a SOAR approach include:

  • Flexibility: It can be adapted to suit different people and timings.
  • Fluidity: SOAR can be used continuously in many conversations, saving organizations from relying solely on their dreaded one-off planning days.
  • Possibility mindset: An expanded creative mindset is generated.
  • Collaboration: The process naturally draws people toward each other.
  • Collective resourcefulness: According to the authors, “participation and commitment to the organization’s strategy initiatives” is fostered.
  • Inclusion: This is a whole system approach, whereby everyone can be involved to the extent that they feel they can usefully contribute.
  • Involvement: The enjoyable process engenders interest in further planning sessions.
  • Optimism: The authors report, “… optimism in the room during and after this meeting was incredible.”
  • Capacity building: Internal relational components are built so that resources can be used effectively.
  • Creativity: When people enjoy planning together, the capacity for creativity increases.

“Strategies should be living and generative actions. Furthermore, strategy should be part of everyone’s job. The SOAR framework provides a fresh and innovative approach to traditional strategy conversations.” ~ Stavros and Wooten

My experience with SOAR supports this. I weave the framework invisibly into client conversations. It is particularly powerful in one-on-one and small group coaching conversations. I regularly notice that clients who do not consider themselves to be strategic thinkers easily begin to create visions and aspirations for themselves and their teams. The approach helps clients think more creatively and optimistically, yet at the same time be realistic.

In the August edition of AI Practitioner, Stavros includes this feedback from a SOAR facilitator:

“The first [surprise] is how well the Quick SOAR went despite the inexperience of the leaders. This speaks to the integrity and adaptability of the framework. Second, it was discovered that SOAR innately produces engagement by creating an opportunity for dialogue, deep listening, and thus a sense of community and valued participation. Third, participants were amazed at the efficiency of SOAR. By starting from strengths and success and taking the time in the beginning to create a vision, the practical results and solutions seemed to fall into place. In contrast, the traditional approach of focusing on problems and solutions involves a lot of controversy, negotiation, and compromise, which takes far longer and is hard work. Lastly, we had fun, we were enlivened, and we were inspired.”

Profit from the Positive

In their recent book, Profit from the Positive, Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin (also PPND contributors) explain how SOAR can enhance business planning. An example of a client who used SOAR revealed that the managers involved in the planning talked about aspirations in a way they hadn’t done so before. The managers readily engaged in realistic discussions about problems and weaknesses by using SOAR to reframe them as opportunities. The SOAR process was engaging, energizing, and led to a sense of empowerment.

I talked to Margaret about her recent experiences since writing that book, and she shared this: “I’ve used SOAR many times with senior leadership teams with really positive responses. The positive energy in the room was palpable. The cool thing that happened was this SOAR analysis naturally led into creating a half dozen key priorities for 2014 and served as the fodder for a vision statement!” Margaret also shared that clients made comments that SOAR was powerful, a great positive way to create a vision, a way to expand their view of the topic, motivating, and a source of openness and collaboration.

Strategic concepts support the SOAR framework

To demonstrate that SOAR sits comfortably in the broader world of strategy development, the authors mention a number of strategic concepts and theories whose underlying assumptions support the SOAR framework. These include:

  • Strengths Theory
  • Resource-based View
  • Dynamic Capabilities
  • Innovation
  • Abundance
  • Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)
  • Visioning
  • Strategic Intent
  • Strategic Storytelling
  • Balanced Scorecard
  • Triple Bottom Line
  • Constructive Accountability Theory

Your Strategic Thinking Capacity

Individuals tend not to be great at all elements of strategic planning. Jackie Stavros and her colleague Matthew Cole have developed the SOAR Profile, a rapid self-awareness tool, from over ten years of research on the SOAR framework. The purpose of the SOAR Profile is to help respondents understand themselves better in order to improve self, team, and organizational performance. The SOAR Profile measures an individual’s natural capacity for strategic thinking about four elements that are essential for the dynamic, future-oriented strategy of the 21st century: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results.

If you are interested in exploring your own strategic planning capacities, the SOAR Profile is available online.



Stavros, J. M., & Wooten, L. (2011). Positive Strategy: Creating and Sustaining Strengths-based Strategy that SOARs and Performs. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.

Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013). Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. McGraw Hill.

Horne, A. (2010). SOAR – Workshop Review Positive Psychology News.

Sprangel, J., Stavros, J., & Cole, M. (2011). Creating sustainable relationships using the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results framework, trust, and environmentalism: A research-based case study. International Journal of Training and Development: Special Issue on Organization Development, 15(1), 39-57.

SOAR Profile References

Stavros, J.M. & Cole, M.L. (2013). SOARing Towards Positive Transformation and Change. ABAC ODI Vision.Action.Outcome, 1(1), 10-34. This is a new journal and is a publication of the Organization Development Institute (ODI) of the Graduate School of Business, Assumption University of Thailand.

Stavros, J.M. (2013). The Generative Nature of SOAR: Applications, Results and the New SOAR Profile. AI Practitioner, 15 (1), 7-27. Abstract.

Cole, M. L., & Stavros, J. M. (2013). Creation of the SOAR Profile: An innovative tool to evaluate strategic thinking capacity. Poster presented at Research Day 2013, Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI.

Photo Credits: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Soaring Gull courtesy of Tim Briggs
Human soaring courtesy of audreyjm529
Soaring eagle courtesy of Just Used Pixels

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Amanda Horne 19 December 2013 - 3:17 pm

There are plenty of case studies for SOAR, and anecdotally I have colleagues who have used SOAR and who have used other approaches. They commented favourably about the SOAR approach. The beauty of SOAR, in my opinion is that it can sit with other approaches. For examples, proponents of SWOT worry that weaknesses and threats are avoided in SOAR. However, in SOAR weaknesses and threats ARE included, they are considered, and are reframed inside the SOAR process.

I don’t know if there are comparison studies. I imagine this could be hard to do in an organizational context with control groups and study groups.


Amanda Horne 19 December 2013 - 9:10 pm

I’m not sure if there’s a Hawthorne effect at play. In my practical (non scientific) experience, when I used versions of SOAR with clients, they weren’t aware of it. Our conversations were shaped and influenced by the SOAR approach, but I didn’t let them know I was using a specific approach. One client group at the end of such a session said how much they enjoyed the discussion and that they usually hate planning sessions.

If I was an employee and given two choices: participate in a strategic planning approach based on SOAR or attend a traditional planning session(such as the ones I used to attend and disliked), I’d attend a SOAR approach. I wish SOAR was around in my day when I was an employee.

Cynthia J. Vazquez 9 January 2014 - 1:45 am

It was good Read!Thanks Amanda.I’m a small business owner.I have 2 other partners.Although i emphasized the need for a good strategic planning, they aren’t taking it seriously. I certainly will share this with them so that they will get more awareness on the topic.

Amanda Horne 24 January 2014 - 1:50 am

Cynthia, perhaps there are ways to weave in the mindset and process of SOAR in ways that will be palatable to the people you’re working with. Or could you practice the process with a group who would be interested in experimenting?


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