Did your strategic planning process answer these 7 questions?
The power to question is the basis of all human progress. ~ Indira Gandhi
It’s that time of year again. Fall colors are appearing, temperatures are dipping, and credit union strategic planning season is coming to an end.
For me that means less time in airports, more time in my own bed, and fewer sketchy meals on the run. It also means that I have some time to reflect a bit on my recent experiences with clients and consider how to increase the impact of future engagements.
That means it’s time to answer some key questions—which is exactly what you should be doing in your strategic planning process. Here are the 7 questions I answer every year to set my business direction for the next year (and beyond)…
Step One: Answer These 3 Questions to Assess Progress and Impact
It starts with a simple 3-Question Debrief:
- What Worked? The objective of this question is to surface specific examples, not general observations. Try to identify specific things that went well in the process and think through them to understand why it worked well and what it means for the future.
- What Didn’t Work? Here the objective is to be brutally candid and honest about what didn’t go the way it was supposed to or what didn’t produce the desired result. Probe the process a bit and seek to understand why it didn’t work so that your mind starts thinking about how to adjust it to make it work next time.
- What’s Next? Here you want to use the information from the first two questions to identify improvements that you will make in the future. Be specific and evaluate the options that you come up with and sort through them to define the changes you will actually make.
By the way, I highly recommend using this process on a regular basis to debrief every project and process, and as a starter for your next planning session. It’s a great way to teach people to think through things and look for solutions.
Step Two: Answer This Question to Confirm Your Direction
Getting everyone on the same page and creating a shared commitment to where you are going in the future is the underlying premise of strategic planning. Answering this questions will help you do that:
- Why does our credit union exist and where are we heading? Even though there are actually two questions here, they align to support a critical discussion regarding the strategic direction for your credit union. The key is to go deeper than the surface responses—the ones that every credit union (and many other financial service businesses would identify)—to reveal the real underlying WHY? that connects to your members and the unique things about your business. Ask WHY? several times, and keep pressing the issue until you have a clear answer. Then use that answer and your shared understanding of the credit union to map the future destination that fulfills that why.
Step Three: Answer These 3 Questions to Define Your Focus
It is all too easy to commit to doing more than you actually can accomplish; and based on my experience working with credit unions across the past 16 years this is a common problem for many. Here are three questions that can help you define your focus:
- What are we not going to do? This is, in my opinion, the single most important strategic question to answer. But too often it is ignored because of the assumption that ‘we need to do it all.’ That makes about as much sense as assuming that everyone is your customer. You simply cannot be all things to all people and you cannot do everything and do anything really well.
- What should we stop doing? Though this is a difficult question to ask, particularly of people who excel in execution, it needs to be answered seriously. The low hanging fruit will provide the first action steps, but going deeper will reveal opportunities to free up resources (time, money, and people) to do the important work that will drive success. Making the list, prioritizing it and taking action are the keys!
- If we weren’t already doing “______” would we start? Legacy issues often derail serious discussion regarding this question, but it is a powerful question. Every business that has been around more than a month is doing some things that it would not start doing today. Having the fortitude to work through this and make commitments to stop doing things you wouldn’t start doing is a powerful driver of focus.