I recently finished reading Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. It is a fascinating book about how doing less actually helps you accomplish more. In sum, it takes discipline to focus your professional and personal life.

After introducing his concept, McKeown divides his book into three sections: explore, eliminate and execute. Applying that approach for credit unions and banks you can quickly see there are the same three “Es” for strategic planning. Here the three areas along with a potential trap to avoid with each:

  • Explore—Examine what you could do at your financial institution. This phase should take place well before your actual planning session. Make sure you are getting input from your staff, your target audiences and your board. But don’t stop there. Spend time reviewing industry trends. In other words this is all about data and feedback. Include surveys, focus groups, demographic data, etc.
    • Trap—Gathering so much data (even “big data”) that you have too much information. You can quickly fall into “paralysis by analysis.” While data is awesome, it can actually slow down strategic thinking. Make sure you are not bogging down in data.
  • Eliminate—Examine what you should do at your financial institution. This phase should take place during your actual planning session. This step is perhaps the hardest of the three. We are really good during planning sessions developing tasks, action plans, priorities, etc. But executives and boards struggle when asked the question “What should we stop doing?” The truth is your plan’s ultimate success is determined here: with a clear and sharp focus.
    • Trap—Walking away from your strategic planning session with a giant list of 5, 7 or even 10 strategic priorities. The best credit unions and banks focus. You don’t have to do everything at your financial institution: you have to do the right things.
  • Execute—Examine what you are doing at your financial institution. This phase should take place the minute your strategic planning session ends. We often think as soon as the plan is put together in a fancy three-ring binder that we’re done. Nothing is further from the truth. In actuality, it’s just getting started. Execution requires your entire team (executives, management and front line staff). Make sure you communicate the plan consistently and frequently.
    • Trap—Avoiding accountability. What measures did you put in place to ensure your top strategic initiatives are on track? Successful execution means successful monitoring (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly). Make sure you are reviewing your plan regularly.

If you explore your strategic options, eliminate the ones that are not the most important and execute the plan with follow-up, your credit union’s or bank’s strategic plan will have this “E” attribute: excellent.