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.
Fake news is certainly “in the news” these days. Whether it’s a false Facebook story, a weird conspiracy theory or even political punditry, fake stories seem to abound. According to Wikipedia, fake news websites “deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation purporting to be real news—often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect….fake news sites seek to mislead.”
While “fake news” is certainly causing its fair share of problems, fake strategy is even worse.
What exactly is fake strategy? It’s falling into the trap of believing something is strategic when in fact it is just the same tactics you’ve done in the past.
How can you avoid fake strategy? Here are three tests you can give any strategic initiative to help determine if it is an authentic solution:
Is the strategy generic or unique?—If you can put another financial institution’s logo over yours on your strategic plan and no one would know the difference, then your plan is just like everyone else’s. And that’s a problem. Every single credit union or bank this year is doing strategic planning (or they better be!). Terms like “grow loans,” “increase services per household” and “improve operational efficiency” are going to be used. But what is truly different about your plan? What are you going to do strategically that no one else is? Don’t fall for the generic strategy trap.
Does the strategy solve problems or create them?—Strategy is about solutions. You know your credit union or bank have them: “issues.” Things that just won’t go away. What are top three challenges your financial institution is currently facing? They could be a lack of innovative technology, an unengaged staff, underperforming branches, or a myriad of other items. But if your executive team is not directly facing those items then you have an avoidance mindset (which is a problem in and of itself). Don’t’ fall for the “everything is fine” strategy trap.
Is the strategy thinking huge or setting the bar too low?—We all want successful strategic plans. So when it comes to the time in a strategic planning session where goals and objectives are set it’s easy to make sure our numbers are attainable. But if you aim for average or moderate growth, that’s exactly what you’ll hit. And who wants to be average? There should be an element of aggressiveness to your strategy and your numbers. Push. Dare. Stretch. Don’t fall for the “easy numbers” strategy trap.
A real strategy rather than a fake one involves uniqueness, solutions and stretching. In your next planning session, make sure your strategy has those elements. Otherwise, you might have fallen for a fake strategy.
If you’re like most other banks and credit unions, you invest a great deal of time, energy and resources in your strategic planning session. And this makes sense. After all, you are committing your financial institution to a particular course of action over a specified time frame (typically, 3 to 5 years).
You have the strategic planning meeting, everyone contributes his or her own ideas and thoughts, maybe a little “cussing and discussing” goes on (not necessarily a bad thing) and, bingo — you have a strategic plan. But how can you tell after the actual session when your strategic plan is in trouble?
Consider the three following “trouble indicators” for your strategic plan.
One — after completion, your strategic plan sits on the shelf for several months. Initial action on your strategic plan after the planning session is critical. This is prime time momentum that you risk losing if everyone goes back to his or her daily routine after the session. Work hard to ensure your team recommits itself to the strategic plan on a regular basis and doesn’t lose the enthusiasm of the session itself.
Two – subsequent strategic planning review meetings are highlighted by the words “we’re still working on that,” “we’re still gathering information” or “this item is still TBD.” You obviously cannot complete all your strategic initiatives in the first quarter (or even year) after your planning session. But delaying for the sake of delaying is deadly for your plan. Use your strategic planning review meetings to highlight concrete achievements made towards your state’s strategic goals.
Three — turnover that impacts key drivers of your strategic plan. Turnover is going to happen, and there’s not too much we can generally do about it. But if you notice the turnover affects key drivers of your strategic plan (in other words, the primary people responsible for pushing it forward) it’s time to take a look at revising the plan. You may need to assign new people to certain strategic planning initiatives or consider shifting the timeframe if a change in personnel leaves the plan shorthanded.
Banks and credit unions enter the strategic planning process with the best intentions. However, the well-known old adage tells us where best intentions generally lead. By taking a look at a few simple strategic planning “trouble indicators,” you can begin to approach a strategic plan from a different angle that empowers it to overcome potential future challenges.
“And the Oscar goes to……” Was it Moonlight or La La Land? For a few minutes, no one really knew. There was confusion and to some degree quite a bit of chaos. Hopefully those two words (confusion ad chaos) do not describe your strategic planning sessions!
All Jimmy Kimmell joking aside we can learn quite a bit about strategic planning from what happened (good and bad) during this year’s big Oscar show.
Here are four lessons along with practical applications (because learning without application is meaningless) credit unions and banks can learn:
Application: Conduct member surveys and focus groups with your members prior to the session; also, ask for and receive feedback from all levels of the organization (not just executives).
Plan for contingencies—Of course, the most memorable event of the night was when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read the wrong winner for “Best Movie” category. That is a moment that will down in Oscar history. Perhaps they could have prepared or maybe done a better job adlibbing. But nothing like that had ever happened before: and that’s just the point. There are going to be things that come up after your planning session that you didn’t think would ever happen. So be ready for them.
Application: No matter what goals you set during your planning session, spend time answering these question, “What can go wrong?” and “What type of contingency plans do we have?”
Don’t let your red carpet strategic planning event turn into chaos and confusion. If you want to make your strategic planning session extraordinary then start with something fun, reflect on the past, involve the “every man,” and plan for contingencies.