Your Strategic Plan on the Back of an Envelope

Your Strategic Plan on the Back of an Envelope

Credit unions and banks get caught up in the length of their strategic plan. Should it be 10 pages or 50 pages? Should it contain PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide of data? Should it be in a thick three ring binder or summarized on a 3×5 notecard?Just Run It - 1

According to Dick Cross, author of Just Run It, your strategic plan should fit into four categories on the back of an envelope. Cross says, “Each of the triangles formed by the folds represented one of four dimensions that describe all businesses.” The four key areas of your strategic plan are:

(1)    Customers

(2)    Needs

(3)    Positioning

(4)    Competencies

We could probably spend one blog each on the above the categories. However, for simplicity’s sake, let’s see what Cross says in his book about each of those areas and how we can apply them to our strategic plan.

 “The most important thing about your customers today has a lot more to do with how they think versus where they live, their incomes, whether they own or rent their homes, how many children they have, their ages, and their ethnicities. Begin your ‘Back of the Envelope’ exercise by categorizing customers according to how they think.”

  • Credit union and bank strategic plan application:
    Scrap all that customer and member data you’re bringing to your strategic
    planning session. Instead make a list of what is important to your target
    audience. Keep going until you get to what it is your financial institution
    offers. Stand in your members’ or customers’ shoes for awhile.

“What do your target customers need that is within your zone of influence? How can you satisfy them better than any of your competitors? And how can you differentiate
yourself in their minds so compellingly that they will consider no other choice?”

  • Credit union and bank strategic plan application:
    Make two additional lists on a flipchart during your planning session. On one,
    list your target audience’s fears that you might be able to do something about.
    On the other, list the opportunities you have to make them feel better about

“How does your business need to be ‘seen’ by outsiders? How will it become ‘known?’.”

  • Credit union and bank strategic plan application:
    Bring some of your marketing material to the strategic planning session or pull
    up your website during the session. Are the messages focused on facts, features
    and prices of your products and services? The best positioning statements today
    do not focus on your products and services but rather on who you are. How are
    you positioned in the marketplace?

“What skills does it actually take to deliver the goods, to do the things you’d like to

  • Credit union and bank strategic plan application:
    This is where the process can get hard and may even require you to start at the
    top again. In this phase, have an honest assessment about your people,
    technology, systems, products and pricing.

There is far more to Just Run It than Cross’ back of the envelope theory. He also offers a great deal of insight into the vision > strategy > execution model. If you are seeking to improve your strategic planning process, consider reading Just Run It.

Your Employees Need the Selling Mindset

Your Employees Need the Selling Mindset

Sales. The mere mention of the word sends some people—including many of your staff—into convulsions. Some of our employees fear sales. Some of them view sales reluctantly. And some of our staff even hate sales.

Why? Because many of our employees don’t have the selling mindset. Sales has a bad rap. We need to remove that negative attitude associated with sales and replace it with the selling mindset.Sales - 1

According to Dan Sullivan, president of Strategic Coach, Inc., “selling is  getting someone engaged in a future that is good for them.” Notice that selling is NOT:

  • The employee versus the customer/member
  • Feature dumping
  • Making a product pitch
  • Offering someone something they don’t want or need

Ultimately, selling should provide three things:

  • Education—Your employees are not salespersons; they are educators/teachers
  • Benefit—Everything your employees offer should have a tangible benefit for the consumer
  • Value—Your employees need to clearly articulate why someone should do business with them

If your employees view sales from the lenses of education, benefit and sales, that changes their mindset. We might need to replace sales training with engagement training.

As Success Magazine says, “What would the world look like if someone didn't sell or market? Where would the jobs be with no selling? Where would the entrepreneurs be? Where would the small businesses be?”

The reality is your credit union, bank or company cannot survive without sales. And everyone in your organization is in sales!

However, the question is not “are your employees in sales?” The question is “do your employees have the selling mindset?”

Q and A With Strategic Planning Expert Tim Harrington

Q and A With Strategic Planning Expert Tim Harrington

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tim Harrington, founder and president of TEAM Resources. Tim is a strategic planning expert and author of Eisenhower On Enlightened Leadership. Tim has worked with banks and credit unions since 1988 and his unique approach to strategic planning and training helps financial institutions achieve their growth goals. We focused our discussion on the strategic planning process for financial institutions. Below are Tim’s insights into all things planning.
Q & A - 1

What makes a good strategic plan?                                                                

Limited focus. You can’t plan for everything but you need to plan for the most important things. Your strategic plan has to be built around where you are establishing market advantage; where you are going to be better than everyone else at something. Then how you tie the organization into advantage. Staying focused on the significant few big things is what makes a good strategic plan. 

What is the best question to ask at your strategic planning session?                

What do you do better than anybody else? If credit unions don’t know, I can guarantee you
their members don’t know. When asking that question, I  often get a lot of “nothing—we don’t do anything better than anyone else.” If “nothing” is the answer, then then you need to spend time on developing what you “want” to be the best at. What could you establish as the best at what you do? It may be something new or it may something you are already good at but not great.

When you boil it down, there are only five things you can really be the best at:

  • Physical convenience (tech convenience does not create and advantage; everyone matches
    tech so fast; physical convenience is hard to match)
  • Best price provider
  • Highest quality service provider
  • Best marketer and brander
  • Most innovative products  & services (which is hard to do)

Each one can give you market advantage. Most credit unions will usually say service quality
but they can’t prove it or measure it. Many fail at service by not establishing member engagement. What good is your best service if you don’t ask for more of it?

What are three strategic issues credit unions must address in the coming year?

  • How they are going to make up for declining non-interest income?
  • How they are going to deal with the narrowing spread and make it up?
  • At what point are they going to eliminate tellers?

How do you avoid your strategic plan becoming tactical?

You have to ask the group “does that sound strategic or tactical.” You have to hold the group accountable; a good facilitator helps with that.

What are three tips you can give credit unions to improve their strategic planning process?

  • Be prepared to think outside your limitations—so many of us talk ourselves out of things
    (we can’t do this). Why can others do something but you can’t? The planning process only works if you are willing to expand your horizons. Nothing is impossible. It may not be practical but nothing is impossible.
  • Have a tactical discussion at a separate time—deal with strategic issues first and
    then do tactical at a later date. Keep the strategic planning discussions on big picture issues.
  • Hire a facilitator—either of us will do a great job!

Tim concluded our conversation about strategic planning with the following words of

“The whole point of strategic planning is to raise your head as high above the water as
possible to see as far into the horizon as you can. You have to see what is coming.”

The User Experience: This Credit Union Gets It

The User Experience: This Credit Union Gets It

A colleague of mine recently had an experience with a billion dollar financial institution which is too unbelievable to not share. She decided to take the plunge into mobile banking, so she downloaded the app according to the instructions on the website. She was unable to login. After carefully reading the instructions again, then searching other web pages for more information, she used a link on the mobile banking web page to e-mail mobile support. Six days later, (Yes, six days!) she received a response with new instructions that still didn’t work. More e-mails were exchanged and she finally got access to the mobile site, but had to login in from her computer first. This is the abbreviated version of the story, but you have enough details to know this billion dollar financial institution clearly got it wrong.Member Service - 1

My hope in sharing this story is that everyone who reads is will stop for a minute and truly ponder what doing business with your financial institution is like for your members. How does it make people feel when they walk into a branch, surf the website, apply for a loan or try any number of services available to them? The answers to these questions are what define your financial institution’s user experience (UX for short).

The user experience is everything – in-person contact with your employees, online services, the products you offer and even the look and feel of your facilities. It not only defines your brand – it actually trumps it. If your products and services don’t make people feel a certain way, they will never believe your brand promise.

InTouch Credit Union ($800 million) (Plano, TX) gets it and has taken great measures to enhance the user experience for its members. Business is just different there. Each member is greeted at the door by a personal financial assistant. Instead of teller lines, InTouch has towers or stations where members handle all of their business in one place – loans, deposits, withdrawals, new accounts, etc.

“Our concierge business model is all about providing one stop shopping for our members,” said Tim McCoy, vice president of marketing and ecommerce for InTouch Credit Union.  

It doesn’t stop in the branches. InTouch is a big proponent of single sign on for its on services.
When members logon to home banking, they also have access to other services like e-statements, Encompass (personal financial management tool) and popmoney (lets people send money to anyone).

This credit union even uses tools like Google Analytics to improve the web surfing and other digital experiences for its members. And, these are just the basics.  

You can read the in-depth story about InTouch Credit Union in the July issue of my e-newsletter.  You’ll also find tips for enhancing the user experience at your own financial institution.

How To Keep Your Strategic Plan Strategic & Not Tactical

How To Keep Your Strategic Plan Strategic & Not Tactical

This time of year often means football season, hurricane season and strategic planning season. If you haven’t already started the strategic planning process more than likely you soon will be.Strategic Planning - 3

As you consider preparing for your strategic plan, it’s important to be aware of a trap many credit unions and banks fall into: making your strategic plan tactical and not strategic. We see this over and over again at many financial instructions: the “strategic” plan is nothing more than an operational to do list.

It’s an easy trap for executives. We want to jump right into the practical. The problem is when we get too tactical, the end strategy isn’t really strategic at all.

Here are some ways to ensure your strategic plan stays strategic:

  • Have a separate session for the tactical—The reality is there are only so many hours in the day. You can’t have an honest debate and discussion on big picture issues (your vision, your targets, your values, etc.) and then in the same day discuss implementation tactics. Everyone’s brain is fried and it’s simply too much to do in one setting. Many successful credit unions are now moving to an approach where one day (or time) is spent with the board and executives on a strategic direction and then another day is spent with executives on the implementation. 
  • Make active use of the “tactical” flipchart—It’s amazing how quickly a strategic planning session can turn into a tactical discussion of how to get things done. After all, many executives are driven and goal oriented. We want to know how we’re going to grow our
    financial institution. How are we going to get things done?  Rather than spending precious time answering implementation questions and details, display a flipchart in the room with the word “Tactical” at the top. Then when comments or discussions veer into that tactical realm (and they will), capture that idea on the tactical flipchart (for recording purposes) and then move on. Say it with me again: then move on.
  • Ask strategic only questions—Much of the outcome from strategic planning sessions
    stems from the questions you ask. If you ask tactical questions, you’ll get tactical answers. So rather than spend your time on those issues, make sure you ask big picture questions. For a list of good strategic questions to ask at your planning session, click here.
  • Hire an outside facilitator—Okay, I’m biased on this point. But it is so true. A gifted facilitator will know and note when something that is said is tactical in nature. Then he or she will steer the conversation back to the strategic. Trying to guide the conversation yourself without an outside facilitator is difficult to do.

Tactics are important—but they have their place. And that place is not in the strategic planning
discussion. The more strategic your plan is, the more effective it is.  Taking the above steps will help keep your strategic planning session just that—strategic.