Does your strategic plan aim to fail?

After years of training and completing several marathons, it is safe to say I love running. Pushing my body to its limits, the daily training regimen and the thrill of race day are amongst the top passions of my life. That’s why I get up early every morning and pound that pavement — to succeed and achieve. (Plus the free t-shirt at the finish line)

Now, imagine a world in which we aimed not for success but failure (maybe that’s why the sport of race walking or power walking has always driven me a little bit crazy — it’s like you’re telling your body “go as fast as you can, just not really” or as sportscaster Bob Costas put it, like a competition to see who can whisper the loudest).

Unfortunately, too many credit unions take this approach with their strategic plan. They go into it with the best of intentions (and we all know the destination of the road with which that is paved). After investing considerable time, talent and money on strategic planning, credit unions straddle it with a variety of unrealistic expectations and hobble it with insufficient resources.

If your credit union would rather empower its strategic plan, consider the following missteps that can debilitate it from the start.

  • Resisting change. Your credit union is embarking upon a strategic planning session for a reason – to plot a new course. It is therefore necessary that you learn to let go of the things and processes you’ve done previously. This doesn’t mean you abandon all past success — rather, it means you use your strategic plan to build upon them. If you invest all that time in a strategic planning session and then jump right back into the old rut, you’ve completely wasted everyone’s time.The solution? Embrace the change of your strategic plan. Breaking with old plans, traditions and processes is painful, but pain is often a necessary part of evolution and change. Something wasn’t working in the way your credit union was doing things, which at least in part prompted the strategic planning session. Once you have new direction from your session, let the past go and run with the future.
  • Lacking balanced data. For a strategic planning session to have a chance of success, people must come to the table with the right amount of the right data. It is this data (about yourself, your budget, your competitors in the broader financial services marketplace) that will, in many ways, help you chart your course during your strategic planning session.The solution? Think ahead and bring the right data to the table. You must also be careful to avoid “death by data.” By this I mean — data is terrific, but only in the right amounts. Anybody can pull statistical data and fill page after page of reports with numbers that really only serve to divert and confuse. Tremendous amounts of data are not the key — rather, it must be the right type of data. Before strategic planning sessions, this might include things such as a summary of your membership, MCIF figures, the CUNA Environmental Scan, pre-session survey results, etc. Data in and of itself is not enough. You must strive for balance.
  • Ignoring shelf life. Milk has a shelf life. Eggs have a shelf life. Contrary to popular belief, even Twinkies have a shelf life (a somewhat creepy 45 days). Guess what? Your strategic plan has a shelf life, too. It’s only good for a certain amount of time. All too often, credit unions take their carefully-crafted strategic plan, slap themselves on the back and stick it on a shelf somewhere. Then what do they do with it? Nothing. Which begs the question — what was the point and purpose of the entire strategic planning process!?The solution? Actually put your strategic plan in place. If you’re not going to use your plan, you should just save the money and not have a planning session at all. For it to be of any use at all, your strategic plan must be seen as a living document, viewed, reviewed and revised continually. Put follow-up measures and people in place before you leave the session.

Considering how much emphasis credit unions place on strategic plans, it’s a little bit painful to see just how many put a ball-and-chain on them. This shackle can take many forms, from resisting change, to lacking balanced data, to ignoring shelf life. However, by considering ways to avoid these hindrances to strategic plans, credit unions take a more proactive role in ensuring their success.

Remember: your strategic plan is far more like running a marathon than participating in race walking. And I’m sorry — I just can’t keep from saying this: race walking is goofy.

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details