How strategic planning has changed

“What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you—what used to be a tailwind is now a headwind—you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.”

— Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

The pandemic has changed almost everything. How we shop. How we educate. How we work.

The pandemic has also changed how strategic planning is done at credit unions. Long gone are the lofty five-year visions and built-in growth. The banking industry is just changing way too fast. 

Just as we’ve had to adapt as consumers, we also must adapt as credit union executives and how we develop our strategic plans. The way credit unions do strategic planning has changed forever. Remain with “old school” planning styles and you’ll get “old school” results.  

Here are three ways strategic planning has changed:

Throw out the SWOT & other outdated exercises

You’ve used it every single year: the famous Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats exercise. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that approach, the reality is most particpants already know those answers long before the session. So stop wasting time regurgitating it from year to year. Throw. It. Out! 

Two new and proprietary exercises we routinely use for our clients are the Five Star Credit Union Analysis and Myth of Excellence. 

Every credit union wants to be five stars: like a five star hotel. But what does it really mean? With this exercise you examine your credit union in five key areas: service, staff, operations, branding/marketing and finances. You rate each of them on a scale of one to five and determine where you have strategic gaps.

“Completing the five star credit union analysis enabled us to quickly identify our areas of focus,” said Cindy Beauregard, CEO of Heart of Louisiana CU. “We had positive strategic discussions with executive staff and board about what we needed to do in each area to move our credit union forward. Our credit union is executing our strategic plan much more efficiently now because we used this tool.”

Another effective tool we use with our clients is The Myth of Excellence, based on the book by the same title. This approach helps your credit union position itself strategically in two areas: price, product, service, experience or access. You can’t be excellent in every area. This forces you to focus.

Go remote

Many credit unions were forced to move their strategic planning sessions from in-person to remote last year. That trend may continue for awhile based on board member ages and comfortableness with the current state of the virus. More than likely, some form of remote planning may be in place for quite some time.

Even if the main session is still in-person, some of the pre and post planning process will certainly be conducted in a remote environment. Remote/virtual planning sessions absolutely work. At On the Mark Strategies, we were actually doing remote sessions long before the pandemic hit. In many cases it saves the credit union money and you can accomplish everything you want in a shorter time frame.

“At first, doing a virtual strategic planning session seemed daunting,” said Stefanie Ruper, CEO of Collins Community Credit Union. Would we be able to accomplish what we needed during a Zoom session? Heck, yes! It was just as effective as the traditional way.” 

Determining whether to hold your planning session in person or remote is one decision you need to make. But that is one of many decisions associated with 2021 planning. Punting decisions to “when things return to normal” will not work. For a free resource on improving your planning, be sure to download the free “Four Decisions That Will Make or Break Your 2021 Planning Session.”

Shortening The Planning Cycle

The banking industry is changing at the speed of light. As The Financial Brand noted recently, “Tectonic shifts have radically changed the banking landscape. These disruptions aren’t going away, and will most likely accelerate.”

Back in the “old days” you might have had a 10-year strategic plan. That sounds almost laughable these days. Then it got reduced to five years. Admirable, but not realistic. Today the longest strategic plans we are seeing max out at about three years. Much longer and it’s just wishful thinking.

The ideal strategy now lies probably between 18 and 24 months. While many may think that is more of an operational cycle, the reality is that is now a strategic cycle as well.

Whatever plan length you determine is best for your credit union, we are now suggesting that our clients move to 90 day strategic planning shifts. This is a core component of our Credit Union Growth Accelerator program. This approach includes:

  • A step by step guide to converting your strategic plan into 90-day cycles
  • A mini planning session every 90 days
  • A strategic coaching call every 90 days

Strategic planning use to look like a marathon. Now it is more of a sprint. So that means shortening your cycle.

We routinely say “planning is a process—not a date on a calendar.” And that strategic planning process has changed forever.

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