April 2, 2023

A Strengths Focus in Human-Centered Strategy

Strategic planning work should begin with a focus on strengths. The perspective reinforces the positive mindset crucial to maximizing the ability of the team to realize an ideal future state of a human-centered organization.

As a thought leader, author, educator, and consultant on humanist manufacturing, I write a weekly article that benefits leaders who want to improve their organizations using elements of my Humanist Manufacturing framework.

Furthering the Conversation

The use of the SOAR framework to develop a human-centered strategy continues. First, we looked at building a case and barriers to integrating humanism into strategy.  We then explored the SOAR framework focusing on institutional strengths and the positive impacts of the organization.  Last week was an introduction to Appreciative Inquiry as the foundation of the SOAR framework.  We will now look at the initial steps to apply the SOAR framework to a human-centered strategy that begins with Strengths.

Business could be the most powerful force for good in the world, if leaders would embrace the awesome responsibility of leadership. Caring for people and giving them meaning, purpose and fulfillment through their work is not in disharmony with creating value. – Bob Chapman
Saying No to a Profit First Strategy

A long-held tradition is a single bottom-line focus on maximizing company profits. However, intelligent leaders are beginning to realize this is a more difficult path to organizational success.  Bob Chapman has shattered the conventional mold of leadership, where he has chosen the path of "caring for people like family." Chapman is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and co-author of Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your PEOPLE Like Family.  He is also one of the manufacturing exemplars I profiled in my book Humanist Manufacturing: A Humanitarian Approach to High-Impact Manufacturing Operations. Chapman's success is significant evidence of the rationale for recommending a human-centered strategy.  

Beginning with Strengths

As I worked on how to integrate these humanist commitments into a manufacturing framework, I first developed the following definition:

Humanist manufacturing focuses on the importance of integrated growth moving toward self-actualization and transcendence for a production operation's internal and external stakeholders.  The objective is establishing an environment focused on strengths that promote upward spirals toward optimal individual and organizational performance.  The work occurs in a positive whole system setting that compels the natural human tendency of innate good to motivate the organization's members to generate positive environmental and social impacts.  Ultimately, it further has the additional beneficial outcome of all stakeholders of its ecosystem doing well financially.

While a work in progress, it was a starting point to improve the humanist manufacturing framework further.

Beginning the SOAR Process

SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results) focuses on institutional strengths.  SOAR is a strategic planning framework with the following:

• A process that focuses on strengths

• Seeks to understand the whole system by including the voices of the relevant stakeholders

The focus on strengths means that the SOAR conversations can:

• Center on what an organization is doing right

• What skills could be enhanced

• What is compelling to those who have a 'stake' in the organization's success

SOAR uses a positive lens to understand the whole system by including all relevant stakeholders as internal and external voices of the organization.  

Developing an Understanding of Strengths

Beginning the planning work with a focus on strengths reinforces the positive perspective crucial to maximizing the ability of the team to realize an ideal future state of a human-centered organization.  The organization's current state can sometimes make this difficult if it lives in a deficit-based approach.  The intelligent person tasked with leading the planning process effort will have done some homework that will provide an opportunity to help tease out existing strengths.  The following questions are an excellent guide to begin these conversations from a human-centered perspective:


• What are we most proud of as an organization? How does that reflect our most significant strength?

• What makes us unique? What can we be best at in our world?

• What is our proudest achievement related to our employees in the last year or two?

• What does that tell us about our ability to use our strengths to get human-centered results?

• How do our strengths fit with the needs of our workforce?

• What strengths exist in our work toward becoming a human-centered organization for our clients, customers, industry, and other potential stakeholders?

My experience is that it is good to break up those in the meeting into smaller groups to begin answering these questions. The answers to the Strengths questions will be the base for the next phase of assessing the Opportunities in the next phase of the SOAR framework.

Pixabay on Pexels
Key Takeaway

Strategic planning work should begin with a focus on strengths.  The perspective reinforces the positive mindset crucial to maximizing the ability of the team to realize an ideal future state of a human-centered organization.  

First Step

Individuals wanting to learn more can begin by viewing Chapman's TEDxScottAFB presentation. Then, those wishing to learn more can read the above-referenced book, and those ready to take action can contact the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute.

My Gratitude

I am grateful for Bob Chapman, a company owner that has learned the benefit of caring for his employees. However, in a country where only one-third of the American workforce is engaged, it continues to baffle me why others are not following the lead of Chapman.  When there is a growing employment gap in the manufacturing industry, one solution is to create an extraordinary environment of caring for our employees.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will review sample questions we ask in the Opportunities phase of the SOAR framework essential to the transition to humanist manufacturing.  

Additional Information  

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.

I encourage you to read my book Humanist Manufacturing: A Humanitarian Approach to Excellence in High-Impact Plant Operations.  The paperback and eBook versions are now available at Amazon and many other booksellers.  You can also view the Humanist Manufacturing Book Launch to gain additional insight into the Humanist Manufacturing framework.

I invite you to join the Humanist Manufacturing Group on LinkedIn if you want to interact with others interested in the topic.

If you like what you have read, I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Contact me if you need help with the manufacturing support services of consulting, coaching, Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer, or training/reskilling at 734-664-9076.

See my virtual TEDx videos at Reinventing the Prison Industrial Complex and Humanist Manufacturing.

You can sign up for my newsletter or email me at Contact Me.

Cover Image Credit: Victor Freitas on Pexels

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