Einstein, Musk, and Bezos on strategic planning

Even in topics beyond physics, Einstein was brilliant. Among his many observations was the absurdity (Einstein called it insanity) of doing the same thing again and again, yet expecting different results.

As we begin to organize our strategic planning sessions over the next few months, how many of us are planning to do the same thing – the same thing we’ve done year after year – yet looking for different results?  How many of us are expecting to tackle the increasing threats from fintechs, address the growing regulatory burden, find avenues to new members, increase member service, drive down expenses and increase the top line…all by using the same approach we’ve used in our planning process year after year?

Are we heading toward a planning season in which we can spend several days offsite rehashing our plans from previous years? Are we heading toward a strategic plan that gets placed on our bookshelf (next to all the other past plans) only to collect dust? Are we heading toward a strategic plan that gets disseminated only through the management levels, and not to our team members who are on the frontlines facing our members every day?  

If we want to shake things up a bit, here are a few strategies and tactics to consider:

  • Reason from first principles – Elon Musk (game-changer in the fields of payments, electric cars, space exploration and solar energy) disrupts entire industries by reasoning from first principles.  He takes nothing for granted; this is in direct contrast to traditional manner of incremental development.  We can apply this same principle in credit union planning – work to solve our members’ core problems, wants and needs, instead of just considering incremental enhancements to existing products and services.  Don’t allow any pre-conceived notions to exist – force participants to support their concepts or explanations from first principles.
  • Include junior representatives – Some “fresh blood” in the room can enliven the conversation and force us to stretch our thinking.  Consider inviting one or two rising stars to participate in the planning sessions.  This will expose them to a side of the credit union they wouldn’t typically see, and they can provide a unique perspective as a newbie and in their position which likely entails more frequent interaction with members.
  • Empty chair – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is known for bringing an empty chair to meetings; participants are told that chair is occupied by the most important person – the customer (member, in our case).  While I’m sure we all have our members’ best interests in mind, assuming they are in the room and hear our every word will keep us acutely tuned to our members’ needs.  
  • Flip the schedule – While quite simple, flipping our planning schedule can shift our thinking.  If management typically meets first prior to the joint Board/management session, consider flipping the order.
  • Draw a line – After the plan is drafted, challenge each Metric, Initiative, and Strategy for its relevancy to our Mission. If we can’t articulate exactly how each ties to our credit union Mission, we should reconsider whether it’s place in our strategic plan is justified.  Those items that don’t belong will distract us from our Mission, and absorb precious attention and resources.
  • Spread the word – After we finish the plan, make sure we spread the message throughout the organization. We may even have one of the rising stars present portions to staff – again, providing them exposure and our employees the message from a fresh face.

If we step into this year’s planning season with exactly the same approach as prior years, expect the same results. But if we want something new, try something different.  I think we’ll find that Einstein knew what he was talking about!

For additional information on how Rochdale Paragon can assist with your planning efforts, please contact Jeff Owen at jowen@rochdaleparagon.com or at 913-890-8011

Joe Karlin

Joe Karlin

Joe Karlin serves the capital market needs of credit unions. This includes efforts related to member business loans, student lending, and consumer lending. Joe brings experience in various structures for ... Web: www.rochdaleparagon.com Details

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