Banks and credit unions that engage in strategic planning are committing time and valuable resources towards planning for the future. Your leadership team will likely spend hours at the table hammering out the details of your strategic plan for the next several years.

One of the most important ground rules about strategic planning (and a compelling reason to use an outside facilitator to help conduct the session) is keeping the discussion at a strategic rather than a tactical level. Your strategic planning session must be geared towards discussing, understanding and deciding on a course of action that concentrates on strategic initiatives — big-picture items.

It’s all too easy for a strategic planning discussion to jump the rails and plunge into the high weeds of tactical discussions. By tactical, we mean the daily tasks and jobs, the nuts and bolts of operations at your bank or credit union, that keep things moving. These are certainly important and, if not in place, can sabotage larger strategic initiatives. However, your time at the strategic planning table simply cannot be spent debating and discussing tactical issues.

For example, let’s say your bank or credit union decides an important strategic initiative for the next several years involves branding. Branding is a huge concept that touches every single element of your financial institution. The visual appearance of your brand is certainly a part of this. If you’re not careful, your leadership team could fly off the rails and start a discussion of dress code and how a revised dress code could fit the new brand.

Dress code is important. Dress code matters. Dress code impacts the brand. But, friends, dress code is absolutely the last thing you want to talk about during a strategic planning session. It’s an agonizing, tactical-specific discussion that almost always degenerates to a microscopic level of analysis that it makes a thesis dissertation look simple in comparison. This type of discussion does not empower your strategic planning session. Quite the opposite — it can cripple it.

Dress code is just one example of the dangers of your strategic planning session sinking into the murky waters of tactical items. There are many, many others. The important takeaway here is that in order for your bank or credit union strategic plan to be successful, it must keep its focus on the strategic rather than the tactical.