You have no doubt heard the saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Why is it, then, that so many financial institutions fall into this trap? To be fair, it isn’t just banks or credit unions. Many businesses fall into this trap. The longer you do that, the harder it is to dig yourself out.
The same can be said of strategic planning. How many times do you review the same data, come to the same conclusions and make the same goals that don’t get met? That’s insanity. It’s insane to spend all that time and effort to accomplish so little or even worse, move backward.
Strategic planning is meant to stretch your thinking. If done correctly, it is designed to make your leadership team think outside the box, dream big and push your financial institution to step outside its comfort zone. That doesn’t mean making decisions on a whim. You still have to be responsible stewards of your customers’ or members’ money. It means doing some things differently.
Stop doing what doesn’t’ work
You definitely have to review your financial institution’s performance from the previous year. What are you doing with that information once it is reviewed? You should be using that information to decide not only what you should continue doing but also what you should stop doing. If performance was poor, go back several years to see if that is a trend. If it’s costing your financial institution money and producing negative results, you either need to stop doing it or figure out how to do it better. Don’t keep doing it the same way. Remember, that’s insanity.
Use new research and/or tools
When we conduct planning sessions for clients, we incorporate research and tools not just from the financial institution we’re working with but outside sources, as well. Some of those tools include environmental scans, our own industry scan, SWOT and Five Star Credit Unions, among others. Research you might consider includes Net Promoter Score, member surveys, focus groups and any business data that can help you make responsible decisions on where to build branches, how to expand your field of membership or customer base and the like.
This is an element missing from so many strategic planning sessions. If you never dream big…if you never envision the seemingly impossible, you may never get there. Earmark a small amount of time on your agenda and give everyone in the planning session an opportunity to answer the question, “If we could do anything we wanted to do as a financial institution, what would it be?” Sometimes a dream isn’t as far from reality as it appears once you start examining what needs to be done to get there.
Doing what you’ve always done is sure to get you the result you’ve always gotten. Do something different during your next strategic planning session. Use new tools. Look at research in new ways. Dream big. You might be surprised at how far that gets you.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.