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?

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