Why Your Strategic Plan Is Failing

Why Your Strategic Plan Is Failing

We’re about halfway through the year now. How is that slice of awesomeness you called your strategic plan working? You know, the plan that was going to change everything about your credit union or bank. The one that was going to ensure you hit your loan and growth numbers. The one that was the strategic plan to end all plans.Strategic Plan

We spend tons of time conducting strategic planning sessions at our financial institutions. Yet many of our plans die and don’t get implemented. But it’s not too late. You still have several months to make a course correction and get your plan back on its path to greatness.

Here are a few problems (or reasons) why your strategic plan is failing (and more importantly, what you can do about it):

Problem: Your plan was stupid—That’s harsh but it may be true. An unrealistic plan, one that didn’t consider trends or a plan focused on the wrong issues will all lead to failure. Think of J.C. Penney: their new retail plan failed badly because it was simply the wrong strategy.

Solution: Start fresh—Plans are just that: plans. Rather than keep working on an unwise strategy it might be best to admit your mistakes. Don’t wait until the upcoming planning cycle. Start now. Just like your computer, sometimes the best move is to simply hit the restart button.

Problem: Your executive team was not on the same page— It’s okay to cuss and discuss during a planning session. In fact, healthy debate is a good thing. However, if your team is not united your plan is destined for failure. Too often the real disagreement is subtle: hallway whispers, “off the record” conversations and personality conflicts.

Solution: Hash out your differences—The best way to deal with those problems is directly. Get in a room, lock the door and don’t leave until everyone agrees on the strategy and is willing to keep their differences inside the room.

Problem: Your staff laughed at your plan—Your staff may know more about what’s working in your financial institution than you do. Strategic planning is not just for the board and management team. While they may have the greatest input it’s your staff that executes it.

Solution: Involve your staff and ask for their feedback—Get your employees involved in the planning process from the beginning. Ask their opinions, conduct focus groups and solicit their ideas. And when your strategic plan is finalized, get their honest feedback. Ask them what’s wrong with the plan and what you missed. If you ask for this type of feedback make sure you will truly listen to their comments. 

Problem: Your resolve waivered—True strategic planning sometimes comes in the budgeting phase. You may have great ideas and strategies but if you don’t commit the dollars to the plan then don’t expect the plan to work.

Solution: Allocate proper resources—As noted in a post about strategy and the fat
, sometimes the best outcome from strategic planning isn’t necessarily greater insight but greater resolve. Review your budget and put the dollars into your top priorities. One exercise is to look at the percentages you’ve allocated by major area and see if they align with your strategic priorities. For example, some banks and credit unions make improving their brand a top strategy but then the marketing budget only increases one or two percentage points from the previous year. That shows you lacked true resolve when it came to your plan.

Problem: Your circumstances trumped you—You control many of the problems listed above. However, there are times when issues beyond your control arise. Key employees leave, the economy in your area suffers, or one of your major partners suffers layoffs.

Solution: Adjust your plan—Strategic plans should be written in pencil and not ink. Falling prey to your circumstances is a trap, however. Make sure those outside circumstances aren’t just excuses. And as you build your strategy, you should also build contingencies for unexpected events.

The smartest, most thoughtful and wisest plan can still fail. Knowing the pitfalls above—and
their solutions—enables your strategy for success.

Your Most Important Assets Aren’t Assets

Your Most Important Assets Aren’t Assets

Financial institutions have all kinds of assets. Fixed assets. Branches. Loans. Investments. You get the idea. Most of the assets are things.Happy Employees

The reality is that the most important assets at credit unions or banks aren’t classified as assets. Here are a  few to consider:


(1)  Your people—Too many times we view people as an expense on the balance sheet. That’s a terrible mindset. People are not an expense: they are the most important asset you have. If you see your staff as a necessary expense, then don’t expect your bank or credit union to grow (and trust me, they know if you view them that way). One the best strategic decisions you can make is to stop investing in fixed assets (branches) and pour your resources into your people. For example, send them to a conference, provide ongoing training, provide a webinar, buy them books, etc. When it comes to your assets, investing in people will yield a positive return.

(2)  Your brand—If the budget is tight, the first thing we cut is marketing. While that might help you improve your quarterly numbers, drastically reducing your marketing expenses will lead to a long-term death. Your branding expenses must be wise (you absolutely need to calculate ROI); however don’t fall into the trap of reducing them to just hit a number. As Ray Davis says in Leading for Growth, “In terms of growth and margin, brand is really what it comes down to in the end.”

(3)  Your culture—Healthy companies have healthy cultures. What are the values at your bank or credit union? If you (or your employees) don’t know what they are then don’t expect growth to occur. Culture is sometimes a vague word and hard to define. So we ignore it. And investing time and resources into developing a world-class or winning culture is hard to do. We’d rather spend our resources on something more tangible. But the reality is you are only as strong as your culture.

Real asset growth will come from investing in the right assets: your people, your brand and your culture.

Vehicle Service Reminders and Discounts Enhances Loan Value

Vehicle Service Reminders and Discounts Enhances Loan Value

On the Mark Strategies recently visited with Ed Bourgeois, President and CEO of MyEZ Car Care Auto Service and Travel Network. MyEZ Car Care is a way for credit unions and banks to add value to their auto loans; making it less a transaction and more of a value added experience.Mezcc-logo

OTM: What does MyEZ Car Care do for consumers?

Bourgeois: I remembered clearly from years working in banking and lending that many people, even with brand new cars, didn’t take time to maintain their vehicles. By that I mean regular oil changes, tire rotations, vehicle performance check-ups; pretty much all the things recommended that people do to maintain and prolong the lives of their vehicles. As lienholders, we look at vehicles as collateral and of course have an interest in their upkeep. As consumers, people care about their cars as well but may lack the time, organization or commitment to keep regular records and stick to maintenance schedules. That’s where MyEZ Car Care comes in.

OTM: In what ways can MyEZ Car Care help consumers, including bank and credit union customers with car loans, do that?

Bourgeois: MyEZ Car Care makes it simple. With tools like electronic glove box desktop and mobile app, consumers can easily keep track of their vehicle maintenance appointments and jot them down. They can also review real-time consumer recalls on vehicles should that happen. It’s a great way to stay in-tune with your vehicle.

OTM: What are some other advantages to using MyEZ Car Care?

Bourgeois: When consumers use MyEZ Car Care, they have access to our large and growing network of service providers, including discounts on auto repair, service and maintenance as well as travel discounts at hotels, rental cars and vacation destinations. Consumers can save big by essentially getting fleet pricing using these discount options available only through MyEZ Car Care.

OTM: How does this help credit unions, specifically?

Bourgeois: We’ve worked hard to co-brand everything about MyEZ Car Care for our credit union partners. The credit union logo will appear on all materials, including the discount card. This helps with credit union top of mind and brand awareness efforts. MyEZ Car Care offers credit unions a terrific co-branded program that helps their members save money and safeguards vehicle collateral to a greater extent that before. We have over 40,000 current users and look forward to growing our relationships with credit unions and their memberships.

For more information about MyEZ Car Care visit their website at www.myezcarcare.com.

Do Your Employees Own the Place?

Do Your Employees Own the Place?

A new Greek restaurant opened recently in our neighborhood. As a huge fan a gyros, my lovely wife and I decided to try it. We were one of their first customers on opening week. Our first experience there was amazing: the owner greeted us warmly, talked at length about mutual acquaintances and provided amazing service. She even gave us a complimentary bottle of dressing to take home.Restaurant waiter - 1

So it wasn’t long before we returned. Our second trip was just as wonderful: amazing food combined with excellent service. We were about to be regulars. Until our third time there.

What happened on that visit? The owners weren’t at the restaurant. Instead, their routine employees were running the joint. While the food was still great the service was less than stellar. It was clear their employees were not as invested as the owner.

Is it that way at your credit union or bank? Do your employees act like they own the place? As executives we want our employees to care. To care about that next loan like we do. To care about serving the consumer as much as possible. To care about their branch as much as a manager.

My guess is the things that keep us up at night and thinking in the shower (our net income, our growth, our brand, our service, etc.) the average employee is not all that concerned about.

So how do we get employees to own the place? Here are three suggestions:

(1)  Link overall credit union or bank performance to pay—Everyone cares about their income. If you don’t have a profit sharing or bonus plan in place that ties pay to

Everything Communicates

Everything Communicates

Everything in your credit union or bank is communicating. While marketing pieces are important, they are just a tiny blip on your branding radar. As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, once famously said, “everything matters.” Communication - 1

But not only does everything matter, everything communicates. There are thousands of details
every day that are sending messages to consumers about your financial institution. Here are five:

(1) Your voice mail. Your voice mail is not a message center. It’s a branding opportunity. Turn your voice mail into a sales tool by weaving in a brand tagline or message. Or do something totally unique with it. Clever messages stand out in a hyper-competitive market. Most voice mail messages are boring, which communicates that your financial institution is boring.

(2) Your online digital experience. Communication doesn’t just happen in person or at a
branch. In fact, more and more communication is happening online and in the digital channels. So ask yourself this question: how easy is it to do business online with your credit union or bank? The answer to the user experience (UX) question says a great deal about your financial institution. Your online channel quickly communicates that you are easy to work with or you are a dinosaur.

(3) Your greeting. Three seconds. That’s all you have to make that first impression. When someone walks into your branch or your office, how do you make them feel? The initial greeting should be warm, casual and authentic. Don’t put on the fake charm or smile (people will see right through you). A warm greeting goes a long way in communicating you have a warm brand.

(4) Your dress code. How do your employees look? While dress code (business, business casual, casual, etc.) is important, let’s dig a little deeper. How do your employees really look—from a personal grooming standpoint? Is their hair messy and their clothes faded? People form first impressions immediately (that’s why they are called first impressions). Before your employees utter a word the consumer in front of them has already sized them up—most likely by what they are wearing.

(5) Your bathrooms. It’s called the bathroom smell test—and it’s done as a routine part of marketing audits. How your bathrooms smell and look sends a strong (one way or the other) message about your credit union or bank. A brand expert once famously walked the Toys R
CEO into the female restroom at one of his stores and asked, “would your wife feel comfortable going to the bathroom in here?” The point was made.

Like it or not, everything communicates.