Last week, I was helping a couple credit unions develop strategy when it occurred to me that now’s the time to ask different questions of ourselves — questions that can help the movement evolve, one member-owned financial cooperative at a time.
It might be time to SOAR instead of SWOT.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a strategic planning process used by many organizations, including one of the credit unions I met with last week.
SOAR, meanwhile, stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. It’s a model Callahan has used for several years in our strategic planning work with credit unions.
A credit union can SWOT and SOAR at the same time, of course, but each model has its own strengths. Let’s consider each.
When done right, SWOT is an effective way to look at things through your customers' lens, your competition's lens, and your own lens. This is what Japanese corporate strategist Kenichi Ohmae — the thinker who helped bring "Just In Time" production techniques to the West — calls the 3Cs.
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A concern with this model is the overweight emphasis it puts on the weaknesses (W) and threats (T) elements.
Part of this might be caused by the regulatory environment credit unions operate in: Regulators want credit unions to be in the risk avoidance business not the risk management business. This might lead to a mindset over time that always looks for what’s wrong — that focuses on weaknesses and threats versus innovation and opportunity.
SWOT thinking can keep an organization’s drivers looking in the rear-view mirror, instead of looking forward.
During a meeting of middle managers at another credit union, they talked about their success formula. We use a success formula to think about the balance between deliberate and emergent strategy in the resource allocation process.
Many of these leaders did not know what success looked like at their credit union, but they all agreed it’s critical to understand together how the organization defines success. Without those definitions, it’s nearly impossible to create an effective strategy. Teams must discuss and understand their organization's aspirations and how to measure success.
These sessions got me wondering if more organizations should supplemental their strategic frameworks with a new model to think about strategy, specifically the SOAR model.
SOAR focuses more on forward-looking dialogue and lends itself to asking questions that lead to agreeing on goals and aspirations as well as the ways to measure success in attaining them.
What I find most exciting in working with teams on this model is the passion and energy it creates. With SWOT, by the time you get to threats, it feels like someone sucked all the energy from the room.
Credit unions who use the SOAR model find that passion and aspiration toward the future is contagious. For leaders that want to set a new tone or shift a mindset, you might want to spend some time on this exercise.