Four Questions To Ask Your Next Strategic Planning Facilitator

Four Questions To Ask Your Next Strategic Planning Facilitator

When strategically planning your financial institution’s future, credit unions and banks often bring in outside facilitators to help them. It is too difficult to navigate potential pitfalls and you never want one person to dominate the meeting. There is just something magical about having an outside perspective help you facilitate your strategic planning process.

However, successful planning is not just having anyone facilitate your session. Successful planning is having the right person that matches your unique situation.

Many times, a potential partner will ask you several exploratory questions to learn more about your institution. It’s best if you turn the tables and ask them some questions as well. However, rather than focusing on traditional inquiries like price and testimonials, you should make some deeper level queries.

Here are four questions you should ask any potential strategic planning facilitator:

  1. What book are you currently reading?—This quickly tells you if they are spending time learning. You want a facilitator who is familiar with current business models and strategies. You can also follow-up by asking what blogs they consistently read. If the stumble on these questions or if they throw out books from 10 years ago, that’s a red flag. A great facilitator is a reader.
  1. What trends are seeing you in financial services?—You want an up-to-date partner that is going to challenge and push you. A strategic planning facilitator (especially for credit unions and banks) should know what is happening in our industry. If they answer that trend question with “less physical branches and more digital” then that’s a red flag because everyone knows that trend and it’s been around for years. A great facilitator knows the trends.
  1. When was there a time when your facilitation process didn’t work & why?—Everyone knows and brags about their successes. That’s easy. But ask the reverse by inquiring about a failing situation. And getting to the deeper level “why” helps understand if they blame others or if they learned from a challenging time. Asking this question also helps see if they are a good match for your current situation. A great facilitator is not perfect.
  2. What is unique about your planning process?—Let’s be honest: conducting strategic planning sessions can get boring at times. Especially if you are doing the same things over and over again (like the SWOT analysis—which you should throw out!). Ideally, you want a facilitator that uses unique and different exercises. For example, we developed the trademarked Five Star Credit Union Analysis. We also always start with some type of strategic planning game or exercise to get participants up and moving. A great facilitator is different.

If you want your strategic planning process to be the best then you have to have the best facilitator. Finding that right match means not just answering their questions but asking your own.

Your Brand is Only as Strong as its Weakest Link

Your Brand is Only as Strong as its Weakest Link

by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” I never understood this saying until recently. As far as I was concerned, the strong members of your group could compensate for the weaker ones, as long as the weak members were outnumbered. It doesn’t work that way.

My son’s soccer team recently merged with another team because neither had enough players to make a roster. The two halves of the teams live in different cities, hold separate practices and train with different coaches who have different coaching philosophies. Our half of the team took first place four consecutive seasons. The other team was always toward the bottom of the pack. Combined, we’re at the bottom of the pack.

Financial institutions most likely relate to this, because they usually have teams of employees at different branch locations with managers who manage differently. Do any of those managers exercise business practices that contradict your brand? Those are your weak links, or brand gaps. Even if it’s only one manager at one location, that branch weakens the overall strength of your brand.

Following are a few suggestions to strengthen or repair your weak links:

Brand training

Staff buy-in is critical to your brand’s success. That starts with brand training. We conduct brand training for every branding client we work with, because it’s so important. Brand training explains what branding is, how it impacts your credit union and how employees must live the brand in their jobs daily. It gets everyone on the same page and excited about your brand promise to customers or members. Repeat it regularly and be sure every new employee experiences it. If you have to take the training to certain locations and deliver it multiple times, do it. Your brand depends on it.

Brand Leadership

Every executive at your financial institution must lead the brand. They must be living examples of the culture and values that define your brand. If your brand is friendly, say hi to employees on the elevator or in the hallway. Learn their names. Smile. Employees tend to imitate whatever behaviors your executives exhibit – positive or negative.

Brand Enforcement

Your brand is not just your logo or your dress code or the framed values hanging on the wall. Those are all pieces of your brand, which encompasses everything about your financial institution. It is a way of life for your employees on the job, and it needs to be enforced. The marketing department often polices how your logo is used and what branches look like, but every manager is responsible for monitoring his or her employees. You want all employees to get on board with your brand, and hopefully with adequate training and leadership (and sometimes discipline) they will. Those who refuse are no longer a fit for your organization. They are your weak links and should seek employment elsewhere.

Banking is a competitive industry in which differentiation is already a challenge. You cannot afford weak links. That doesn’t mean every employee is perfect all the time. It means they embrace the brand, try every day to live the brand and help your customers or members grow to love your brand.

Great Leaders Appreciate Their Employees

Great Leaders Appreciate Their Employees

This is the first post in a series about qualities that define great leaders and how you can live those qualities in the workplace.

by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies

A friend of mine was reminiscing recently about a former “boss” of hers who always made her staff feel appreciated. It was obvious by my friend’s facial expressions and the tone of her voice that she had a great deal of respect and gratitude for this supervisor, even so many years later.

“She would leave little Post-it notes on our desks that said ‘good job’ or ‘thank you’ for doing something that was already part of our job,” my friend said. “Then all year long, she would keep a record about those things and recognize us at the end of the year. I never felt more appreciated than I did when I worked with her.”

Appreciation in the workplace matters. For many people, appreciation is a basic human need. Your employees spend more time at work than they do with their families Monday through Friday. They want to feel like their time away from home makes a difference.

Appreciation also impacts your bottom line. The Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine and Global News (among others) all report that a “bad boss” is the number one reason why employees quit their jobs. According to a report published by Bersin by Deloitte, companies lose an average of $100,000 for every employee who leaves. Interim reduction in labor costs, lost productivity, cost per-hire and the first year of orientation and training all factor into that cost. You also have to consider potential loss in client relationships and the cost of the knowledge walking out your door. That’s significant for something within the company’s control.

Appreciation and recognition do not have to cost a lot of money or take a great deal of time. Here are some easy and inexpensive ways to make your employees feel appreciated.

Say Thank You

It doesn’t get much easier than this. When an employee reaches a work goal or does something notable, say thank you or congratulations. Write them a note and leave it on their desk. Recognize them in a team meeting or team e-mail. Fill their cubicle with balloons. Make sure to do it in a timely manner before the moment has passed.

Feed Them

When your team reaches a goal, order pizza and celebrate their accomplishments. Surprise them with morning donuts or breakfast tacos. Buy (or make) a congratulations cake. In addition to recognizing them, you are a creating good memories by giving your team a chance to gather and celebrate.

Reward Them

Keep a stash of small gift cards ($5 to $10) to places your employees enjoy eating or shopping and reward them periodically for meeting a goal or going above and beyond. Or, give them special tokens they can save up for larger rewards, like a half day off work. Who doesn’t love receiving a gift?

Appreciation matters. Great leaders appreciate their employees.

How to Avoid a United Airlines Size Brand Scandal

How to Avoid a United Airlines Size Brand Scandal

By now, people around the world have either seen or heard about the recent viral video of authorities dragging a passenger off a United Airlines flight. The passenger wasn’t being unruly (until authorities began man handling him). He wasn’t breaking the law. He was the victim of a computer algorithm that “randomly” selected him to leave the plane. The airline needed four seats to fly crew members to a destination where they had to work the next day. Only three passengers volunteered their seats. United needed one more. They chose to handle it by pulling a passenger off the flight kicking and screaming (literally). Needless to say, it was handled badly, and United is already paying for it.

How can your financial institution avoid a brand scandal of this magnitude?

Plan better

A financial institution’s failure to plan adequately is not the customer’s problem. It shouldn’t be anyway. United not having enough seats for its scheduled employees is about the equivalent of a financial institution not having enough money to accommodate withdrawals. It should never happen. Whatever contingencies you have in place for such a time should focus on inconveniencing the financial institution – not the customer or member.

Understand the situation before you comment on it

United CEO Oscar Munoz did the right thing by publicly apologizing the following day for the way the airline handled the situation. Where he failed was writing a letter telling employees the exact opposite. He applauded them for following procedures and handling a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.

Clearly, Mr. Munoz did not understand why the passenger was belligerent until after he saw the viral video. And newsflash to Mr. Munoz: Nothing in writing is guaranteed to remain confidential, especially when you send it to thousands of employees who may not agree with your stance. While the CEO changed his attitude after the video went viral, it was too late. His credibility was already in question and so was the airline’s integrity.

Always apologize when your financial institution makes a mistake. Do not, however, put in writing words that will come back to haunt you because you failed to understand the full scope of the scandal before you spoke.

Train and empower employees to make better decisions

I don’t know the value of the voucher offered to the three passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats, but I’m willing to bet a fourth person would have come forward for the right price. The same holds true for your customers or members. Offer a valuable solution when a problem arises, even if you have to be creative or lose a little bit of money.

Even $1,000 or more would have cost the airline less than it stands to lose from this scandal. Stock prices dropped relatively quickly, and United typically doesn’t have the cheapest rates to begin with. Customers won’t have a hard time choosing another airline that doesn’t bully its passengers.

Most likely, United will recover from this scandal eventually. The question is, how much will it lose in the meantime for a situation that could have been avoided with better planning, communication and decision making?

Strategic Planning Lessons from Baseball

Strategic Planning Lessons from Baseball

It’s early spring, which means trees are leafing-out, birds are singing and baseball has returned to the land. Regardless of your favorite team, there are plenty of lessons that the great game of baseball lends to life and business, including strategic planning.

You must never stop evolving. Baseball teams evolve regularly, pulling up players from the minor leagues, putting players on the disabled list, making trades and changing positions. It’s a fluid game and requires great adaptability. Your bank or credit union strategic plan must be approached in the same way. If you are simply rubber-stamping the same plan (or a version thereof) every year, you’ve stopped evolving and are in danger of losing the game.

Relationships matter. Much like a bank or credit union CEO, a baseball team is captained by its manager. However, that manager rarely makes decisions independent of his support staff. A good manager will listen to what hitting and pitching coaches are saying and how big-picture decisions can impact the rest of the team, both at a game-by-game level and over the course of the season. Similarly, every decision made at your strategic planning session will, in some way, impact every department. It doesn’t matter if it is viewed primarily as a “marketing decision,” “operational decision,” or “IT decision,” its ramifications will impact every employee in every department, some level. Keep this in mind when developing your strategic plan.

Put players where they can succeed. A baseball team wouldn’t win many games if it forced its star pitcher to play catcher. This simply isn’t capitalizing on his inherent strengths and is a waste of both talent and resources. Your bank or credit union, through its strategic plan, must also recognize the same thing applies to your employees. Every staff member has a unique set of skills and talents that can lead to a better financial institution for your consumers. Allow your strategic plan the flexibility to recognize this and plug in the right employee in the right role.

Just as an umpire roars “play ball!” to start a game, your bank or credit union strategic plan is the kick-off to the next several years of development. By learning that you must always evolve, relationships matter and how to position employees where they can best succeed, you increase your chances of capitalizing on that development.

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