Use a Frienemy Not A Facilitator During Strategic Planning

Use a Frienemy Not A Facilitator During Strategic Planning

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.

Are You All In With Your Brand?

Are You All In With Your Brand?

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.

Five Questions to Ask At Your Strategic Planning Session

Five Questions to Ask At Your Strategic Planning Session

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?

Strategic Planning Mistakes

Strategic Planning Mistakes

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.

Offline Brand Maintenance is Still Key

Offline Brand Maintenance is Still Key

Bank and credit union professionals are fond of talking about generating positive buzz for their brands on various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. While it is certainly important to have consumers talking about you (hopefully in good ways!) on social media, one cannot forget the importance of off-line word-of-mouth.

In the dark ages before the Internet and social media (the mid-1990s for younger readers), off-line word-of-mouth reigned supreme. Bank and credit union board members, presidents and marketing professionals regularly checked old-school tools like suggestion boxes and handwritten surveys. However, the advent of the Internet and social media platforms led many to believe the only important buzz to follow was online. A new report, however, discussed in a recent issue of Adweek brings to light the importance of maintaining positive word-of-mouth from your consumers and off-line conversations.

Here are some interesting statistics from the article:

  • Word-of-mouth conversations drive 13% of consumer sales
  • Off-line conversations drive twice the sales impact as online
  • The biggest statistical trend represents consumers talking off-line about what they see online

Bank and credit union professionals can take the following from the statistics:

  • You simply cannot afford to forget about the importance of your brand’s good reputation when discussed amongst consumers off-line.
  • While people may review your bank or credit union’s website and social media presence, their decision on whether or not to do business with you is primarily driven by conversations held off-line (i.e., peer reviews).
  • Maintaining a positive off-line brand presence is possible through regular employee consumer engagement training.

Online consumer discussions, reviews and posts will undoubtedly continue to grow as social media maintains its steady ascent. However, bank and credit union professionals must still keep a watchful eye on the importance of their brand when it is discussed off-line amongst consumers.

Your Brand Needs a Voice

Your Brand Needs a Voice

Think about all the competition your bank or credit union faces. There are all the other banks and credit unions around town, not to mention payday lenders, upstart online banking options and even crowd-sourced lending options. It’s definitely a crowded playing field.

If you’ve already invested time and money in a brand, congratulations, you’re on the right track. However, in order to truly divest itself from the cacophony of other financial services providers vying for consumers’ time, your brand must have its own unique voice.

More importantly, this brand voice must accurately and actively mirror your bank or credit union culture. Culture, the genetic makeup of your financial situation, is best uncovered and polished-off during brand-specific workshop exercises. The road to unearthing your unique culture (and subsequent brand voice) will require deep-thinking, answering difficult questions and taking big steps. But the end result, your unique brand voice, is worth the effort.

For example, let’s say your unique bank or credit union culture revolves around the area you serve. Nymeo Federal Credit Union, serving Frederick County, Maryland, adapted not only a unique name (“Nymeo – A new way to look at money”) but also an internal brand culture voice that reflects their local community. Specifically focusing on the importance of microbreweries to the area’s economy and social scene, Nymeo adopted a brand voice of “microbrewed financial services.” It’s a bold play but works well when your credit union voice accurately depicts your culture (as it does with Nymeo).

Bank and credit union brand voices can come from other areas, such as internal strengths and expertise. For example, your bank or credit union might build a brand voice that focuses on your terrific mobile and digital product/service offerings. Or, your brand voice could play off of your widespread network of brick-and-mortar branch locations. Whatever your brand voice, again, it is vital that it accurately represents who you are. If, for example, your brand voice tries to emphasize the speed which you apply to the loan process when, in reality, consumers gripe about how slow you are in lending, there is a brand gap. Your brand voice, by not truthfully depicting who you are, does damage to your overall brand equity.

Great singers are known by their voices. Mel Torme was known as the “Velvet Fog.” Frank Sinatra was the “Chairman of the Board.” And everyone knows what is in the air when couples decide to put on a little Barry White. What is your bank or credit union’s version of brand voice?

Three Keys to a Better Strategic Planning Session

Three Keys to a Better Strategic Planning Session

It’s hard to believe, but summer is behind us and fall is here. Kids back at school, Friday night football, homecoming, the whole kit-and-caboodle.

Fall is also typically bank and credit union strategic planning session season. All over the country, banks and credit unions, large and small, gather in boardrooms and off-site locations to cuss and discuss the future.

With this season in mind, here are three keys to a better strategic planning session:

  • Think about implementation before you even plan. That’s right — think about implementing your plan before you even really know what it is. Why? Because many banks and credit unions do a great job coming up with a strategic plan but fail miserably when it comes to actually implementing it. They failed to take into account the people, time and other resources required to fulfill the lofty goals of a strategic plan. By thinking about implementation before you plan, you put yourself in the right frame of mind to develop achievable directives and goals rather than “pie-in-the-sky” feel-good drivel.
  • Make strategic planning part of every day. When you think about it, your strategic plan, similar to a brand plan, is something your bank or credit union must live every day. Ideally, the two plans (strategic and brand) are linked. Don’t just put that strategic plan on a shelf. Review it at least monthly (and optimally more often than that) to ensure you are hitting established benchmarks for success. Your strategic plan is a daily guide — not an annual “one and done.”
  • Stay out the weeds. Often, well-intended strategic planning sessions quickly devolve into “gripe fests” about who did or didn’t do this or that, where your bank or credit union messed up or even who’s allowed to eat at their desk when no one else is. Your strategic planning session is not the venue to get down in the weeds and hack out these smaller issues. Strategic planning, successfully done, incorporates big picture, 30,000-foot level thinking. When it comes to strategic planning, having your head in the clouds is definitely a good thing.

As we get deeper into the fall season, as your bank or credit union approaches its annual strategic planning session, keep these three points in mind. They’ll help keep you focused on the future, focused on the daily and focused on the important issues that you face.

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Increasingly, banks and credit unions recognize the importance of regular and deeper-level consumer engagement training for their employees. And rightly so – as competition in financial products and services only deepens, banks and credit unions that thrive are those which focus to a greater extent on keeping their employees highly-trained and in-tune with their brands. Brand training is critical.

However, banks and credit unions sometimes miss the mark when it comes to their employee training format. All too often, they focus employee training programs on specifically how employees should do their jobs while glossing over the vitally important element why employees should do their jobs.

Generally, training to the how of a job is relatively simple. You train to a task (such as teller drawer procedures, compliance paperwork, lending documentation, etc.) over and over to such an extent that it becomes second nature to the employee. This isn’t a bad thing. Obviously, to be successful, employees must know how to do their jobs. However, when it comes to differentiating from the competition and establishing strong brand propositions, banks and credit unions must also teach your employees why they are doing their jobs. Many people can balance a drawer or process loans. What can your bank or credit union do that they can’t? The why answers this question.

The why goes directly back to brand. Why does the teller balance his drawer? Why does the compliance officer review countless documents? Why does the loan specialist meticulously collect information as part of the decision process? The surface-level answer goes directly back to the how of job performance. But the deeper consumer engagement level answer speaks to the why of job performance and brand building.

Training employees why they do their job (as it relates to the brand) gives them a much deeper knowledge and understanding about the importance of their role inside the credit union, regardless of position. It also grows their confidence and empowers them in their positions to make decisions, interact with consumers and grow the brand organically via authentic consumer interactions.

Learning how to do a job is important. A farmer wouldn’t be very successful if he didn’t know, for example, at what depth to plant certain kinds of seeds. However, a deeper level learning as to why you do a job is even more important. The same farmer carries the knowledge that he is feeding his family, the larger community and maybe even the world. The same applies for your bank or credit union. How is good, but why is better. And the why is your brand.

Beware of Others Going Rogue With Your Brand

Beware of Others Going Rogue With Your Brand

As a Star Wars geek, one of the movies I’m looking forward to most this December is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As an all-new adventure it is sure to be a box office success.

However, when it comes to your credit union or bank brand, you never ever want to “go rogue.” You know what that can look like:

  • A branch puts up a homemade sign or poster
  • Someone’s logo wear gets washed with the wrong load and you suddenly have a pink logo
  • The loan department gets desperate to hit their growth goals and they do their own promotion
  • A well-intended vendor shrinks your logo to an unrecognizable blob
  • An entire division feels marketing isn’t doing enough and takes matters into their own hands

Those are not rogue adventures. They are rogue disasters. While you don’t want to serve as a logo or brand Nazi you do have to guard your brand at all costs. Remember, your brand is the most valuable asset you have.

Here are three ways to avoid people, departments and others “going rogue” with your brand:

  • Use brand ambassadors—You can’t do everything yourself. So stop trying. Rather than monitor every single branch, department or area get others on your team by creating brand ambassadors. You can even call them brand champions. But whatever their title, enlist someone from every branch to be responsible for following the brand look and brand behaviors.
  • Conduct brand training—People can’t live what they don’t know. If you have not trained your staff on your unique brand (and most importantly their role in living that brand) then you are sure to have individuals do their own thing. Brand training includes teaching your staff you unique value proposition, your vision, your targets and the role they play. Your brand is only as strong as how your people are living it.
  • Monitor brand standards—Employees can’t meet your expectations unless you hold them accountable. More than likely you have brand gaps in your organization. These are the gaps between what you say your brand is about and what your employees actually do. If your standards are to say hello, shake the consumer’s hand, asking engaging questions and offer a product, how do you know they are doing that? One way to make sure your people are living up to your brand standards is to conduct a marketing audit or mystery shops.

Successful brands are consistent. That means the same brand message and look across all delivery channels, all experiences and all touch points. Bringing that level of consistency to your credit union or brand means eliminating the rogues.

How Convenient Are Your “Convenience” Services?

How Convenient Are Your “Convenience” Services?

Convenience services – those services designed to make your life easier. In banking, that covers mobile apps, debit cards, payment systems, online banking, online chat (when available), and e-mail customer service, among others. To be honest, I expect e-mail customer service to be a mainstay in every industry, but my health insurance company proved to me recently that perhaps my expectations were too high.

I was having an issue with getting a prescription filled because the insurance company required a pre-authorization first. No problem. I respect that all companies have processes to follow, and I was willing to take the necessary steps to get this medication approved. I logged into my online account and sent an e-mail inquiring on what those steps might be.

Two days later, I received a voicemail message from my insurance company replying to my e-mail. What? I sent you an e-mail and you’re responding by phone? I didn’t have time to call them back and sit on hold forever. I didn’t even have time to e-mail them back immediately, so a few days later, I sent another e-mail with the same question. This time, I specifically requested a response by e-mail. A day later, I received another voicemail from my insurance company responding to my e-mail. This message said they were unable to reply to customers by e-mail but would be happy to help me by phone.

The whole point of e-mailing them in the first place was to save time and communicate back and forth with them when I had small windows of time in my day. Sometimes it is late at night before that happens. How much time am I saving if I spend the time to e-mail them, then have to spend more time listening to their voicemail messages and still end up having to call them on the phone? This is not convenience. It’s the opposite of convenience.

How do your financial institution’s convenience services compare? Do you respond to your customers or members the same way they contact you? Does your debit card cause problems for customers or members who make online purchases from merchants in other countries? Do your branches offer instant issue debit cards to customers or members who either lose their cards or have them stolen? Does your mobile app make it harder or easier for people to access their accounts? Can customers or members access their e-statements through your online banking platform or do they have to log into another site first? Do your so-called convenience services actually make life easier and more convenient for your customers or members?

These (and many others) are the questions all financial institutions should be asking. In a day and age when digital is taking convenience services to a whole new level, those not measuring up will be deal breakers for consumers. If you expect them to choose your financial institution instead of your competition, you absolutely must ensure that doing business with your financial institution is the easiest and most convenient option.