Five Reasons Your Strategic Plan Could Flop

Mark Arnold, CCUE, On the Mark Strategies

We put a lot into strategic planning these days. We analyze, proselytize and legitimize them. In short, we agonize over the entire process. Questions like “Who should participate?” “Should we hire a facilitator?” and “Do we order donuts or bagels for the obligatory continental breakfast?” plague planners’ minds for months leading to the event.

Yet, despite all our best efforts (and tasty breakfast treats) sometimes the credit union strategic planning process fails. We pour our hearts, souls and room temperature orange juice (ok, we’ll lay off the breakfast wisecracks) into generating initiatives that fail at an alarmingly high rate.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if we could go into a strategic planning session with a little knowledge of things that could derail the entire process? Below please see five sad (but avoidable) reasons why credit union strategic plans fail (and things you can do to help prevent that).

  1. Lack of commitment and budget dollars. This is a basic. If your strategic planning process lacks the backing of key people (and the dollars to implement all the neat new ideas you come up with) it’s sunk before it leaves port. Ensure, beforehand, that senior management is onboard and prepared to commit funds to the best ideas that come from it. Don’t put an initiative in the plan if you don’t put the dollars behind it.
  2. Discipline. It’s wonderful to have your board, management and staff ready to roll with the new strategic plan. But do they have the necessary discipline to see ideas to fruition? To make the rubber meet the road?  Think about it this way: you may be totally ready and excited about your New Year’s Resolutions. Most of us are. But what happens to most New Year’s Resolutions? January 2nd happens. The same thing applies to companies and organizations (including your credit union). Unless you’re ready—really ready—to make this thing happen, all the best intentions will fly out the window.
  3. Staying focused. Strategic plans tend to follow one, three and five-year models. One year is hard enough when most of us have a hard time remembering what we had for dinner last night. You can easily see why a strategic plan can fail when we don’t stay motivated over the long-haul. Try to establish road-markers and rewards along the way as you check progress versus goals. Some might see this as the “carrot on a stick” approach. I prefer to think of it as funneling power into your credit union’s flux capacitor. To get back to the future, we need plenty of steam.
  4. Follow-up and measurement. If your favorite football team is 0-8 halfway through the season, odds are someone is going to shake the branches. For your credit union strategic plan to succeed, you must keep tabs on its progress and ask for input along the way. If something isn’t working right, or not working at all, don’t be afraid to make changes and alter course along the way. While the journey of 1,000 miles may start with a single step, odds are those single steps won’t be a straight line from points A to B. Be prepared to take detours.
  5. Bad luck with past strategic plans. If your credit union has a history with strategic plans, it’s possible that some elements, if not the entire plan, failed at some point. Rest assured, your staff will remember these failures. It’s difficult to get people hyped about your super-cool new strategic plan when they’re snickering in the back row about how badly the last one (or two) bombed-out. You may find their lack of faith disturbing, but history shows otherwise, at least from their perspective. Be mindful of this if previous plans have met less than glorious ends and be prepared to address past shortcomings honestly, while building authentic excitement for this go-round.

There you have it. Five common reasons credit union strategic plans fail. Before you gear-up for the next big planning session, consider these potential perilous pitfalls and their simple solutions.

And please remember: the better breakfast you provide means the better meeting you will have!

Mark Arnold, CCUE, is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner. He is also president of On the Mark Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in branding and strategic planning. Some of the services Mark provides include strategic planning, brand planning, leadership/management training, marketing planning and staff training. His web address is and his blog is You can also contact him at 214-538-4147 or

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