Swot or Soar?

In my (coaching) conversations with managers, the well-known SWOT analysis often comes along. The conventional model for strategic planning -Strengths & Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats- is still used within many organizations. The disadvantage is that with SWOT the emphasis is often placed on the negative, on limitations and weaknesses and not enough on the possibilities and strengths.

In contrast to the traditional SWOT analysis, the SOAR analysis is based on the strengths approach and AI (appreciative inquiry. The appreciative approach is an approach for positive organizational change, it focuses more on positive elements and is strongly result-oriented.

SWOT seems to be a balanced analysis, but research has shown that its application in practice leads to a focus on deficiencies, the negative, the limitations and weaknesses. SOAR is a strengths-based framework and building on strengths increases employee engagement and performance.

Negativity bias

A negativity bias is still prevalent in many organisations; it is a tendency to focus more on the negatives than the positives. And this also happens on an individual level, if for instance you get a few compliments–people saying you did a great job- but there is one comment that is not that positive, you will focus more on that one negative comment. Negative experiences weigh more heavily on our brains than others.

People often overlook their strengths in favour of a focus on weaknesses. Whilst focussing on strengths is much more energizing and motivating. Extensive research found that when managers focus on the weaknesses of an employee, the person’s performance declines by 27 per cent. When a manager focuses on the strengths of an employee, the person’s performance improves by 36 per cent (UK’s Corporate Leadership Council). 

In some cases, SOAR can be a good alternative but it is not necessarily a better approach. Depending on your organizational context, culture, objectives and the like – it may be that the choice for the more traditional SWOT is better. But for many organizations nowadays it can be interesting to get acquainted with the alternative SOAR. See here an example of a SWOT and SOAR analysis for TESLA (https://slidemodel.com/how-to-use-swot-analysis-or-soar-analysis/).

Employee Engagement

SWOT also works more top down, while SOAR works especially well if you involve all stakeholders, so it also stimulates employee engagement. Active participation of employees is crucial for the success of a new strategy for instance and people experience less resistance to change, get involved more quickly and more from an intrinsic motivation if there is a shared positive view of the future that people can work towards.

The weaknesses and threats from the SWOT analysis are not ignored, but they are looked at with a “different lens”, from a different perspective. Our working environment is changing rapidly and the way we learn, work and collaborate has changed dramatically. People and organizations must be able to adapt effortlessly to those changes if they want to make optimal use of opportunities that arise.

Strengths – Opportunities – Aspirations – Results

SOAR stands for Strengths – Opportunities – Aspirations – Results. It fits nicely with the Strengthscope development model I work with for leadership development: Aspirations – Awareness – Action – Agility – Success. By working from aspirations towards the desired future (what results do we want to achieve, what does success looks like?), this model has a more positive, future-oriented and action-oriented approach and offers more opportunities for creation, cooperation and innovation.


To thrive and excel, it is essential to have a mindset and approach that helps you focus on strengths and opportunities more instead of mainly focusing on weaknesses and limitations. See the image (Strengthscope) below. On which path do you or your organization spend the majority of the time, the path of limitation or the path of possibility? What are the main reasons why you end up on one path? What specific actions can you take to stay on the more productive and positive path?


Positive Leadership

The goal of positive psychology is “flourishing.” Flourishing consists of Positive emotions, Engagement, Relations, Meaning, Accomplishment (PERMA model by Martin Seligman). Insights and techniques that have a proven positive impact on the flourishing of people in organizations are the “strengths approach” and “appreciative inquiry”. With more attention for work-related well-being (enthusiasm, flow, resilience), strengths of people (for more involvement, positive energy, better performance) and positive leadership (inspiring, focused on connection, meaning and development).

Many organizations can use more positive leadership. Positive psychology and the strengths-based approach are on the rise. The SOAR approach as part of positive organizational development fits in nicely with this.

Kitty Schaap | CoAchieve