Inspiring your team to SOAR

Inspiring your team to SOAR

A strategic planning tool rooted in optimism 

When you’re planning for a road trip to the mountains, you’ll take stock of your current supplies, including: 

  • how much water/food to bring 
  • what to wear according to the weather 
  • how much fuel you have in the tank 

You wouldn’t want to whimsically hit the road only to discover that you’re woefully under-prepared for your journey. 

Likewise, before moving forward toward goals, educational institutions must first assess their current positioning to get a better idea of where they want to go–and how they want to get there. 

This analysis will not only make the journey smoother, but it will also help prepare organizations for greater success–whatever mountaintop they’re trying to reach. 

One tool for conducting a strategic analysis is called a SOAR analysis. 

Person outside their tent depressed as they forgot their coat and equipment to start a fire

What is a SOAR analysis?

A Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (SOAR) analysis is a strategic planning tool that evaluates an institute’s current position and potential for growth or improvement.  

In an educational institution, the analysis can be done on something as large as an institute or centre/department, or on something as small as an initiative, program, or course. 

By harnessing a holistic, positive perspective, SOAR analyses position organizations to create more optimistic and ambitious plans that foster excitement and increase buy-in from all stakeholders–including staff, instructors, learners and community members. 

When should you complete a SOAR analysis?

An organization may choose to complete a SOAR analysis in the following scenarios: 

  • starting a new strategic planning process – this could be anything from a small faculty team collaborating and planning on student success in their program to large institutional strategic planning. 
  • after a significant change or disruption – this could be cuts in government funding or adapting our learning environments and assessments to major technology shifts–such as to the influx of AI tech. 
  • before launching a new initiative or program – this could be deciding if a new academic program should go forward, or if a significant change should be made to an existing program. 

Before we SOARed, we SWOTed: Origins of SOAR

SOAR evolved from an earlier strategic planning tool: a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis.  

SWOT analyses were a favourite tool for strategic planners because they seemed to create a balanced analysis of both the external and internal forces in each organization. 


However, this “balanced” analysis would often lead to a demoralized team, as members would spend more time focusing on all the potential problems and threats than on the solutions. This dampened enthusiasm and led to modest planning. 

Using the road trip example above, it would be akin to only seeing potential threats along the journey, such as: 

  • What if I get a flat tire? 
  • What if there’s a random snowstorm? 
  • What if I twist my ankle and get stranded? 

This type of fear-based thinking might delay your goal of finally reaching that mountaintop, or it may even derail your trip altogether. 

Cloudy bottleneck 

Furthermore, SWOT analyses were typically limited to the leadership team, which meant fostering buy-in with the rest of the organization could be problematic.  

To address this, a rollout plan (or a plan for the plan) was often needed, increasing the time and energy between planning and implementation. 

Benefits of a SOAR analysis

SOAR incorporates the strategic elements of SWOT while shifting its threat-focus into optimism. 

Positive expectations 

By focusing on strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results, teams become naturally more optimistic, leading to dynamic, creative goals unhindered by negative mindsets. This helps teams climb higher, reach further, and spur on innovation. 

So, on that mountain road trip, your focus would be on aspirational elements of the journey, such as: 

  • How high can I climb? 
  • How will the wonder of nature change me? 
  • Who will I affect along the way/who will affect me? 
Person climbing a mountain

Includes multiple stakeholders 

To alleviate the rollout-plan bottleneck of SWOT, a SOAR analysis is often open to all major stakeholders. This creates transparency, increases buy-in, and sparks a more well-rounded conversation with varied perspectives. 

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