Energy prices are changing daily. The capital markets are in free fall. There is talk in Washington of nationalizing everything from Energy to Medical Care to the Banking System. Our courts have become political entities rather than judicial entities. Technology is changing so rapidly that a product may be out of date by the time the credit card bill is paid. Iran threatens with Nuclear capabilities and Israel must defend itself, possibly leading to another World War. Inflation, Stagflation, Deflation, which one will we be faced with in the coming year?

How do you create a meaningful plan for the future in uncertain times like these?

Many of us were trained to use tools like PESTLE and SWOT to develop a plan.

PESTLE is an acronym to help us evaluate the external environment in which our plan must succeed. PESTLE stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental. Each of these external environments need to be assessed and our plan developed with the mind set of how to succeed in each existing or expected environment. In a stable environment, it makes sense to consider these outside factors, but almost impossible to do in our exponentially changing world today when all of these environments are changing at a pace that makes it impossible to gauge the future and how it might impact the organization.

SWOT is an acronym to help us develop a plan that matches the organizations resources and capabilities to the competitive environment in which it must succeed. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are generally considered to be internal factors, while Opportunities and Threats are considered external. SWOT like PESTLE is predicated on a stable external environment which doesn’t exist today. SWOT is further complicated by spending time on Weaknesses.

9/11 convinced me that it is virtually impossible to evaluate the external environment in which an organization must compete and survive.

Consequently, some organizations still go through the motions with the old process and then put the plan on the shelf until next year. Others attempt to create three different plans based on worst case, best case and most likely. In the event that something happens, the organization can revert to one of the alternate plans. (Seems like a lot of work with questionable applicability.)

While I have used these tools to create plans, I have come to realize that these plans are how based. How do we capitalize on this strength or opportunity. How do we address this weakness or that threat. It presumes that we can see or anticipate the unseen and unknown.

More recently, I have become aware of a tool known as SOAR. (Learn more about SOAR at It is a positive approach to Strategic Planning that creates tremendous energy and great results in most all environments. SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.

Peter Drucker said, “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.” If you are a student of LEAN, you understand that you get what you focus on and if you are a student of the Bible, you know to build your house on the rock rather than on the sand. In all three of these references, we are told that building on strengths provides superior outcomes over concentrating on overcoming weaknesses. SOAR takes advantage of this wisdom because it is a why based approach that creates a common vision by including the implementers in the process. When everyone understands the vision and takes responsibility for action, obstacles can be overcome and real progress can be reviewed and measured. When we know where we are and where we want to go, obstacles will not stop us as we will find ways to our goal. Obstacles that can be overcome include rapidly changing environments that are beyond our control like those mentioned in the first paragraph.

Having observed and used SOAR myself, I am convinced that it offers a better solution to bringing focus to a goal in an organization facing uncertainty than any other option I have seen. Try it this fall when you start planning for 2009.

© Copyright Bob Cannon/The Cannon Advantage, 2008. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Bob Cannon turns managers into leaders who enhance performance and profitability in their organizations. Check out other interesting articles available in the Taking Aim newsletter available at . Bob can be reached at (216) 408-9495.

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