Effectively implementing any strategic plan only happens when your credit union staff truly understands it. They need to realize how it affects their job and understand their part in putting it into effect. They must see how the strategy grows directly from your mission, vision, and values. These provide a contextual framework for what people do every day, and strategy is particularly context dependent. Strategy that is clear to everyone in the organization and responsive to changes in the business environment is critical today. Credit unions are on the front lines of change, as technological, societal, economic, regulatory, and political factors are all causing disruption in the competitive financial marketplace. What’s more, dramatic change such as today’s world pandemic can unsettle the internal workings of an organization. That’s why an organizational culture that is strong, healthy, and resilient is essential in the face of disruptive change. Effective strategic implementation is dependent on your culture.
Smart credit union leaders are borrowing a page from the tech industry in using agile methods of developing strategy. The days are over when detailed strategies are handed down once a year from on high, and the organization was charged to follow without question. Leadership now seeks to make the planning process responsive to evolving challenges of the marketplace, while making sure it is relevant to the staff. Strategy starts with your mission, vision, and values. A mission has power; it is the purpose of your credit union. The vision describes what you want to be, and your values describe shared beliefs that guide how people behave. The mission and vision define your destination, and your strategy is the roadmap to get there. Values are the guideposts along the way. Destinations change far less often than plans, and in today’s climate of disruption, plans must be responsive to change. They must be agile.
A culture of trust and open communication allows an agile approach to strategy. Trust and communication foster alignment between the employee’s personal goals and those of the organization. Leadership shares their view of strategic direction with their people. The employee can then acknowledge that they understand and accept the plan and their role in it. Importantly, the employee also feels safe in honestly telling management how to adjust the plan to make it better, more useful and applicable to them in serving the member. Communication around strategy, then, becomes two-way, not unidirectional. Management views feedback as vital input integral to the strategic process, not criticism to be avoided. This iterative process comes to give the entire organization a consistent view of the landscape, opportunities, and risks. Moreover, it involves, engages, and challenges the staff.
Agility requires clear transparent communication of strategy, a common language, and a common basis of understanding. The message around the strategy must be simple and straightforward, so everyone can internalize it and use it to make decisions. A great test for leaders is to ask: “Can everyone in the organization summarize the strategy in a sentence or two?” Simplicity, clarity, and common language allow leadership and employees to make informed decisions and take initiative, and teams to gain autonomy to act in ways that are aligned around the strategy. Implementing the plan in an ever-changing world means that countless individual decisions must be aligned with it.
It is your culture that allows such a dynamic, flexible, and agile approach to strategy. Your culture is your credit union’s competitive advantage in a time of disruptive change. The culture allows balance between personal autonomy in decision-making and alignment with the organization’s goals. People are engaged and productive when they are clear on their role, feel they are heard, and are empowered to do what is best for the member.