“You will always be a failure in marketing, Mark. You need to get out.” Those were the actual words uttered by my first boss at a financial institution. I was serving as a lowly marketing coordinator (so low, I was the one dressing up as the mascot). I was indeed struggling in that job, like spelling the CEO’s name wrong in the newsletter.
At that point in my career I had a choice to make: I was either going to be fired or transferred to the collection department (my version of Purgatory). I was recently married and wanted to stay gainfully employed so I chose collections. For the next four and a half years I served as a collection officer and eventually loan officer. I was quite good at those jobs, was making good money and on track for a management position.
And I was utterly miserable (because I was not doing what I was passionate about). Eventually a job came open at another organization for a lowly marketing coordinator. I took a significant pay cut to try “this marketing thing” again. But my boss at this new organization did not see me as a failure. Rather he poured his life into mine and taught me incredible communication, branding and marketing skills.
Terry Young changed my life. Not because he was a manager—because he was a mentor. If you supervise people, you need to mentor them.
Here are the three I’s of a great mentor:
- Ignite—Great mentors focus on your learning. You need to teach the people you mentor. But you can’t teach what you don’t know. Mentors are lifelong learners themselves. You also need to question the people you mentor. One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is the last book you read?” As a mentor, you should ignite learning in those around you.
- Invest—Great mentors are focused on you. You need to love the people you mentor. Even people unlike yourself. In fact, you can’t lead them until you love them. You also need to serve the people you mentor. In fact, put their needs above your own. Many credit unions and banks say they compete on service. If that’s the case, keep this point in mind: your level of external service to your consumers will never exceed the level of internal service you are giving your team. As a mentor, you should invest time and energy in those around you.
- Inspire—Great mentors focus on improvement. You need to stretch the people you mentor. In other words, challenge and push them. Think of your favorite coach growing up. My guess is they didn’t let you stay stagnant. You also need to emotionally connect with the people you mentor. Michelangelo once said “I saw the angel in the marble and I chiseled until I set it free.” What do you see in your people? As a mentor, you should inspire vision and greatness in those around you.
Leadership matters. In fact, leadership is so important we offer a customized leadership-training program that specializes in taking your supervisors from just being mere managers to magical mentors.
Why? Because no one should feel like a failure in their careers.
The best strategic planning sessions use facilitators. Am I biased on this point? Of course (strategic planning is one of the core services we help clients improve). But as we tell credit unions and banks, we are also going to serve as your frienemy.
A frienemy is someone who is going to love you like a friend, yet challenge you like an enemy. That person who is going to get in your face. That partner who is going to hold you accountable.
As Jim Stengel says in his book Grow, “Remain stuck inside your current business model and your business’s days are numbered.” Too many financial institutions are stuck in doing business the old way because they are using old school facilitators and not new school frienemies.
A good frienemy will:
- Love you and challenge you. Notice that frienemy starts with love. But they are not there just to waive pom-poms. For example, they may acknowledge that your double-digit loan growth is awesome, when in actuality it could be more.
- Push you when necessary. A good frienemy will not let you settle for the status quo. Sometimes the goals we set in strategic planning sessions do not stretch us enough. Consider the using the “BAM” technique: basic, awesome and miracle. Too many facilitators let us set basic goals, while a frienemy will make you stretch.
- Stand up when necessary. Yes, this could even mean standing up to the CEO or board chairman. That is hard stuff—after all, they are the ones signing the check! But the truth is everyone can be wrong: even those in leadership positions. Rather than take the organization in a wrong direction they know won’t work, a frienemy will serve as a guide.
- Tell you what you DON’T want to hear. In other words, they are more concerned about the financial institution than coming back next year. A lot of planning sessions have a lot of “yes” men and women in them. Make sure your facilitator is not one of those people. There is a place for good news. But there is also a place for a reality check.
The next time you seek a strategic planning facilitator, don’t. Rather, seek a strategic planning frienemy.
Branding is not a project. Branding is not one person or department’s job. Branding is not your logo or your look.
Branding is who you are. Branding is your positioning strategy. Branding is how your employees represent your credit union or bank.
In other words, branding touches everything. With that approach in mind, branding requires you to be “all in.” Not one toe in the bath water. Not wading ankle deep into a stream. But rather diving headfirst into the pool.
Many executives and boards give lip service to branding yet too many times their actions don’t support their statements. Here are some quick questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are indeed “all in” when it comes to your most valuable asset: your brand.
(1) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you said “no” to a project, product or event?
A great branding strategy will focus you. With that focus comes laser-like prioritization. Therefore, you will say “no” to certain things. For example, if your target audiences are young people you might say “no” to that senior bingo event you’ve sponsored every year. “All in” with branding means you will stop doing certain things.
(2) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you changed how you do something because of your brand?
As noted above, branding touches everything. That means policies, procedures, products, placement of branches and dozes of other aspects of your financial institution. For example, if your brand vision is serving people who live paycheck to paycheck, yet you only make loans to “A” paper then you’ll probably need to update your loan policies. “All in” with your branding means making changes.
(3) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you conducted brand training for your staff?
No matter what your brand vision, message and tagline are it’s your employees who live your brand every single day. But they can’t live what they don’t know. Rather than give them generic sales and service training you need to spend time educating them about your unique brand and what they can do every single day to live those brand values. “All in” with your branding means educating your staff on your brand.
(4) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you examined your brand gaps?
Every credit union or bank has brand gaps. There can be gaps between your brand and your strategy, gaps between your brand and your operations or even gaps between your brand and your people. For example, your brand messages can emphasize service yet your staff may only provide mediocre service. “All in” with your branding means auditing your marketing for brand gaps.
(5) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you fired someone for not living your brand standards?
We fire people for lots of reasons: breaking policy, failing to get along with co-workers or even stealing. But if you are taking branding seriously, you’ll also terminate people for failing to live your brand values and standards. If you don’t have brand standards in place, you may want to start by creating them and putting those in job descriptions and evaluations. “All in” with your branding means holding your people accountable.
It’s easy to say we take branding seriously. It’s entirely something else to backup those words with solid answers to the questions above. If you aren’t satisfied with how well you are “all in” with your brand, then some actions you can take immediately are creating a brand plan, conducting a marketing audit or giving your employees brand training.
It’s that time of year again: strategic planning sessions are in full bloom. Once September hits, it’s not just football season—it’s planning season. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to begin preparing for your upcoming strategic session. Great planning sessions start with asking great questions.
Here are some fresh questions for the 2016-2017 planning cycle. In fact, you can ask these questions in a pre-session survey of attendees (we do that with many of our planning clients) or during the meeting itself.
Regardless of how you use them, below are five questions you should ask during your strategic planning session (along with why you ask them).
(1) What two things (products, attributes, etc.) are we going to “own?”
The answer to this question leads to a focused strategy. For example, is it unsecured loans and checking accounts? Is it auto loans and mortgages? Once you know what you want to be known for, then you develop action steps around that “ownership” strategy.
(2) If we want accomplish just two strategic initiatives in the next 12-18 months, what are they?
We can’t do everything. So stop trying. Rather than walk away with a giant “To Do” list of 10, 15 or even 20 major tasks reduce your strategy to two broad initiatives.
(3) How are we going to get younger?
Almost every credit union or bank is old. The only way to reduce your aging consumer is to make concentrated efforts to reduce your average age per household. But that is a challenge and hard number to move. So making that reduction will require a significant concentration (and not just mere words on an action plan statement). And while you’re discussing this question, don’t forget to have a serious chat about the age of your board.
(4) If we could change one thing about our institution, what is it?
If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. There are many “elephants in the room” that warrant discussion. No one wants a stagnant organization but unless you change how you do things then it’s extremely easy to revert to complacency. So change a few things.
(5) What current project, product or initiative should we cut?
Steve Jobs once said that the secret of Apple’s success was not in the strategies they did (and said “yes” to) but rather what they didn’t do (said “no” to). The best strategy is not about adding but about cutting.
If you detect a common theme in the questions above it’s the word “focus.” Answering these questions requires you to focus your strategy. It’s not easy, but it starts with asking the right questions.
Those are a few ideas to help you kick-start your strategic planning discussion. What other questions would you add to the list?
Flush with all the work and excitement that goes into strategic planning sessions, sometimes bank and credit union professionals fail to recognize key mistakes beforehand. With a little prior thinking, these mistakes can be avoided during your strategic planning process — resulting in a better experience and a better potential future for your bank or credit union.
Following are a few examples of strategic planning mistakes.
- Taking too big a bite. It doesn’t matter what your asset size — every bank or credit union has finite resources. If you take too big a bite to chew with your strategic plan, you’re setting yourself up to fail early. While there is no “magic number” for strategic planning goals, a good general rule of thumb is to keep them to five or fewer.
- Limiting your time frame. Can you really accomplish all the goals established in your strategic planning session in one year? Odds are (especially if they are goals worth attaining) the answer is no. Therefore, ensure you do not excessively limit your timeframe during your strategic planning session. If possible, look past that first calendar year into 24 or 36 months into the future.
- Failing to inform staff. The typical bank or credit union strategic planning session features members of your executive team, the board of directors and perhaps a facilitator. All of the hard work of the session is sometimes kept under wraps. This is unfortunate, as many of the people responsible for making sure your strategic planning goals are met are staff. Include staff in a post-strategic planning session debriefing so they are aware of what occurred and the important role they play in the plan’s success.
Focusing on the positive outcomes of a strategic planning session is great. However, wise bank and credit union professionals will also take time to consider potential strategic planning blunders. Work now to anticipate these pitfalls before they happen to you.