The 5 most vital strategic planning priorities for renewed focus & growth in 2022

I’ve led strategic planning sessions with senior leaders at some of the nation’s leading credit unions over the last 30 years, and what I’ve learned in the last two months is that this year is profoundly different for planning. People need to be ready to adapt on so many levels. 

I’ve identified what I believe are the five most vital priorities to consider as you ready your organization’s 2022 strategic planning efforts to ensure your teams are prepared to hit the ground running as economies, businesses, and consumers all emerge from the funk of the last 15 months, and you set a new course for growth, innovation, market distinction and enhanced performance.

Focus #1: Renew your Purpose to Forge Alignment 

It’s hard to underestimate the mental, emotional and social turmoil our teams, members, their families and communities have been through. The fear and impacts of COVID-19; work and school from home; a renewed civil rights movement that awoke the nation; a tumultuous and polarizing election, and never-ending uncertainty of what might be ahead has been devastating. 

Covid-19 has also left many consumers’ confidence in their financial health at an all-time low (excluding you here if you are Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Jamie Dimond). Engaging your staff and members in readying to move forward with renewed optimism, a fresh vision, inspiring storytelling and empathy will go a long way in 2022. These relationship aspects of culture building and organizational development that create alignment and focus early, will be vital to help focus your leaders around strategic plans and projects – more than simple operational projects from past years.

A well-defined, simple and compelling purpose, or discover of your “why,” can unite your team to something larger than life in ways that brand leaders like Tom’s Shoes, REI and Warby Parker have done to build young generations of raving fans ready to change the world. I’ll go out on a limb here to say the credit union industry is rife with very forgettable (and often identical) Mission, Vision and Values. This may be the year to dig deeper and move beyond your Mission Statement and Vision, and on to Purpose.

This is not a project left to internal word smithing at a two-day planning session either. It requires skilled expertise to evaluate your unique strengths, cultural distinctions, and compelling dreams. It can entail defining profoundly motivating long-range BHAGs that call people to unite around a common enemy (e.g. exclusion from lending markets), or an inspiring and far reaching “moon shot.” Our Strum team has developed some of the most compelling and distinct Purpose and Values in the industry, and it’s not by looking at what others in the same industry are doing. For cultural insights into advancing your organizational purpose, read our white paper on the Battle for Brand Leadership.

Focus #2: Be Realistic about your Brand Equity

Finding true market distinction and a competitive position in a category as commoditized as financial services is honestly tough. So how is your brand doing today compared to others in your market? Insightful benchmark research takes the guesswork out, debunks flawed assumptions, and brings planning sessions into a space of curiosity, contextual insights, and clear areas for improvement.

How long has it been since you had the courage and focus to learn the good, bad and ugly of what employees, members, target prospects, local business owners, and communities think about your credit union brand and reputation? How aware of you are they? Do they know they can join? What do they think about your competitors, and which ones are motivated enough to switch?

A strategic and comprehensive assessment of your brand and name equity, member experiences, marketing communications, and cultural drivers can be a catalyst of dynamic planning focus, change, adaptation and improvements. Armed with insights, a renewed brand strategy can help your brand stand apart with distinction, emotion, and relevant positioning to become a game changer at this pivotal moment in time.

For real world examples of how credit unions have driven performance across the board (10% net member growth, 52% decrease in staff turnover, 14% loan growth – it touches every KPI) through strategic branding, these case studies take you behind-the-scenes.  

Focus #3: Know your Members 

There simply has never been a more important point than 2021 to have the right data to know your members lives, needs, pains, and where you can help. Advancing your member analytics baseline, insights, segmentation and personalization capabilities now are the single greatest tech investment need out there, and amazingly most credit unions are years behind. Without this vital analytics data, assumptions are often made about what members really want and need: what new products? What channels are shifting? How have channel behaviors and product usage changed among members since March of 2020?

There are few greater priorities of prioritizing tech spending in 2022, digital cultural adaptation and nimble decision-making advancements, than the ability to build, leverage and simplify your member data analytics for use in adapting strategy and actions. Uncovering key insights around your members and prospects needs and lifestyles; their revolving relationship behaviors; their profitability, pain points and journeys, makes investing in intelligent member-focused data analytics one of the top priorities of 2022 and beyond. It’s time to move on member data analytics in your planning. For greater detail on this topic, here’s a white paper about Harnessing Next-Gen Data. 

Focus #4: Member Experience, Relevance & Value are King

Amazon just crossed the 200 million Prime user mark in the US. That’s a COVID-19 adaptation for millions of consumers. And expectations on your credit union for simpler, faster, easier and more personalized experiences is higher than ever heading into 2022. Your ability to make member experiences richer, better, smarter, and simpler is vital to your future planning.

There’s a reason Chime has exploded into 8 million users, and that SoFi, Ally, and Marcus are expanding banking products while millennials are signing up in droves. There is a place in this ecosystem for credit unions to build distinction, but those that capitalize on personalized, simplified experiences and rich data insights from their members that enrich experiences will be the early, and lasting victors. 

As CU leaders juggle diverse capital decisions (build a $2 million new branch in a single market or invest $2 million for a full rebrand?) and spend to reach their growth segments, strategic investments are multi-year bets that can yield high growth and new member acquisition, or they can be costly mistakes. 

Focus #5: Stop the Bloat of Strategic Initiatives, Focus Only on Top-level Priorities

Managers love sharing the KISS Principle of simplicity, except that doesn’t always extend to strategic planning. Too often, planning sessions layer on excessive major projects while teams are not equipped to manage deadlines, results and ROI.  Teams tend to be most effective when they can manage collaborative, scalable projects that yield measurable results and enterprise-wide impacts.

Laundry lists of important but lofty digital transformation projects without understanding management capacity and speed, or worse, unclear KPIs can be detrimental to lean thinking innovation. What are the most mission critical projects that will enhance your key goals and performance: like increasing member value and retention.

Finding more effective ways to prioritize foundational vs. operational and unlinked projects is an art. Resource assessment and identifying project champions and clearing their plate of old, cumbersome workflows to pursue adaptation that yields enhanced member experiences are one of several acid tests of strategic planning project value. 

Lastly: Different Planning for a Different Moment

Road mapping clear strategic growth plans following a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and preparing for the coming recovery, means you simply can’t do planning as usual. It also raises the question how long (or short) should strategic plans be; and how should existing mid to long-range plans be adapted, refocused, or shelved.

With millions of budget dollars at stake, leaders will battle to pick the highest payoff investments. And some projects are foundational building blocks that must begin first so that teams are ready for adaptation in a dynamically changing world.

Leaders and boards need high level expertise and wise partners to bring fresh planning ideas, results-driven plan frameworks, simplified insights, and innovation principles that are digestible. Too often, planning is bogged down with reams of data, bullet points, and numbers that stifle meaningful discussion, interaction, and fresh thinking. What’s required is a planning style of robust facilitation that stimulates adaptive thinking for multi-year road mapping. Invest wisely in selecting skilled planners and subject matter experts so that your strategic planning can yield innovative thinking, project prioritization, and acceleration going in to 2022. Strategic planning has never required greater focus or more inspired teams. Don’t miss the moment to adapt and thrive in the new environment.

Mark Weber

Mark Weber

Mark Weber is the CEO and Chairman of Strum, a 30-year nationwide leader in financial services, branding, business intelligence analytics and data-driven strategy. With offices in Seattle and Boston, Strum ... Web: Details