Should you do strategic planning during a core conversion?

Do the words “core conversion” send a shiver down your spine? You’re not alone. The number of core conversions happening at credit unions of all sizes has increased significantly as our industry tackles fintech and works to provide members with more robust digital tools.

Because a core conversion touches every area of your credit union, it can be overwhelming to think about anything else. New ideas understandably take a backseat during the 18 months (give or take) of the conversion process.

As many credit unions begin preparing for strategic planning season, the question then becomes: what happens to strategic planning during a core conversion? Should you have a session at all?

The answer: yes, it will just look different.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re getting ready to have your first child. Your world is about to completely change. This child will impact every area of your life. And for the first several months it will require an overwhelming amount of your attention. However, do you stop paying bills just because the baby was born? Do you stop going to family gatherings or holiday celebrations? No. The rhythms of life continue, they just look a little different.

Strategic planning during a core conversion is the same way. It still exists, it just looks a little different.

From my experience, the most successful credit unions have a strategic planning process already baked into the rhythms of their operations. Maybe you meet with your executives and board every September. Maybe you gather your top leaders every 90 days to work “on” the credit union instead of “in” the credit union (an accountability model we call the 90-day planning cycle).

Regardless of what your strategic planning cycle looks like, it should be an ongoing process, not a date on a calendar. And if it’s an ongoing process, then it continues no matter what else is going on at the credit union.

Here are four things to consider about your strategic plan if you are in the middle of a core conversion:

  1. Shorten the time

Is your strategic planning session typically a two-day off-site affair? A one-day event with a celebratory dinner to close? During a conversion, cut your planning time in half. Your team is doing a massive amount of work to pull off the conversion successfully. Let the planning session be a reprieve from that work, not an added burden on top of it.

  1. Examine industry trends

Even the best credit union leaders often focus only on what’s right in front of them during a core conversion. This is a mistake, and a costly one. Use your strategic planning session as an opportunity to step out of weeds and look at trends affecting the industry. Your core conversion will eventually finish, and when it does you need to be ready to lead your team. You can’t do that without keen awareness of bigger-picture trends.

  1. Consider a smaller group

Who is typically in the room for your strategic planning sessions? The board and supervisory committee? Your entire management group? These are all fantastic voices to have at the table, but during a core conversion year it may be too many people. Invite only those who will help the team focus without getting bogged down by the details of the ongoing conversion.

  1. Don’t write a new plan

One of the worst things you can do during a big project is start another big project. A new strategic plan inherently adds new expectations to your team, expectations they probably don’t need to focus on right now. Wait until after the core conversion to write a new plan. Use the time this year to simply discuss industry trends, check the status of your current plan and make modifications as needed.

It may be difficult to remember, but don’t forget that the decision to change core providers was a strategic one. Whether the strategic goal was to increase member retention, improve your technology or simply provide a better member experience, your core conversion is part of a much larger long-term growth plan. When you’re in the weeds of the execution process, it is always wise to remind your team of that plan.

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