Are your people part of your long-term strategy?

It’s that time of year again: strategic planning season! Boards and management teams are busy analyzing, discussing and strategizing for the next three to five – hopefully even ten – years. Discussions revolving around technology, fields of membership, branches, mergers, financials, relevancy, technology, competition, and products and services abound. Detailed analyses are occurring around asset and loan growth as credit unions strive to quantify the earnings needed to support new technology, to understand increased regulatory burdens, and satisfy members’ ever-evolving needs and desires.

As exciting as strategic planning season is, the challenges seem to grow more daunting each year as both member and regulatory expectations grow, competition becomes more fierce and opportunities to generate income become more strained. In all these discussions, however, the key to conquering so many of these challenges ­– our people – so often goes undiscussed.

It seems to me that there is a general expectation that if we can build the plan, our people will just fall in line. Our people and their acceptance of and involvement in our plan is the last thing that crosses our mind. It’s not that we don’t care about our people, or even that we fail to recognize that they are critical in executing our carefully prepared plan. It’s that we take it for granted that they will execute the plan. They have historically performed when called upon, and we take for granted that they will continue to meet our needs and demands, whatever they may be.

What I think gets missed is that our people have their own strategic plans. Even if it’s not formal, documented, or even fully understood, most people have some thought as to what they want to do, how they want to spend their time, where they want to go with their careers and lives, and what it takes for them to excel. If we are unable to achieve some sense of alignment between our plan and theirs, or if they don’t understand where the two intersect, we risk undermining our plan from the beginning. Our long-term plans depend entirely on our ability to engage our people and get their buy-in; what is most important to us needs to be important to them.

Over the past two months, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several credit unions that have made the decision to include their staff in the strategic planning process. While the management and board set the general direction and objectives for the organization, they also value the input of their staff enough to solicit their ideas and opinions as well.

I read a quote recently that went something like this… Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion.  The question that entered my mind is what are we doing to articulate the intersection of strategy and stuff that our staff love to do.  Simply stated, I think it involves defining a higher purpose than just performing financial transactions. Maybe you’ve heard the story about an exchange between President Kennedy and a janitor during the early days of NASA. On a visit to Cape Canaveral, President Kennedy supposedly asked a man with a broom what he did, to which the janitor replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” How well do we engage our employees around our higher purpose? What would your people answer if the same question?

Study after study has shown that a workforce motivated by a strong sense of higher purpose is essential to engagement. One survey found that working for an organization with a clearly defined purpose is second only to pay and benefits in importance to employees, ranking ahead of promotion opportunities, job responsibilities, and even work culture. Two-thirds of the respondents said that a higher purpose would motivate them to go the extra mile in their jobs. Another study showed that almost half of today’s workforce would take a 15% pay cut to work for an organization with an inspiring purpose.

Whether you are moving into or wrapping up your strategic planning process, don’t forget to include your people. Ensure that you are defining your vision – your higher purpose – and that you effectively communicate it to your staff. Put in the time definitively linking your strategy with your higher purpose, and the staff will understand the why behind your goals and objectives.

Jeff Owen

Jeff Owen

Jeff has over 12 years of experience in the financial services arena. Prior to Rochdale, Jeff worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and was part of the ... Web: Details