Note: This article first ran in CU Times.
According to the Alliance Professional Group, 70% of strategic plans fail. You read that right: 70%. My guess is the number is at least that high in many credit unions. Think of your last (or current) strategic plan. How many initiatives were partially completed, deferred or flat out stopped before the plan was put on a shelf to collect dust?
Credit unions spend way too much time on worn out exercises (SWOT analysis), tactical decisions (branch locations) and minutia discussions (product rates) in their planning sessions. If you make strategic planning routine, that’s exactly what you’ll get: a routine plan—and more than likely that plan will be part of those 70% that fail.
Sometimes the best outcome of strategic planning is not greater analytic insight. It’s greater resolve.
If credit unions want more effective strategic plans, they must start with better resolve. So before you start the strategic planning process at your credit union, make the following resolutions:
• Resolve to involve all—Effective strategic plans involve every one in your credit union. Not just the board and not just the executive team. Everyone. It’s your loan officers, member service representatives and even tellers who will execute the plan so make sure you get their involvement (and buy-in with the plan). If you are acting like the Wizard of Oz creating a grand scheme behind a curtain then your plan is destined for failure. Stop dictating and start involving.
• Resolve to make hard decisions—We tend to avoid hard decisions. The reality is there are usually elephants in the room no one wants to talk about. But if you want your plan to succeed you better have those hard conversations. Discussions like “what are going to do to stay relevant in the next three years?” “how are we allocating our resources” and “who or what is holding our team back?” But if you just talk about those issues and never come to a resolution then you’ve wasted your time. Stop talking and start deciding.
• Resolve to focus—Let’s be honest: too many strategic plans are not strategic. They are just a tactical regurgitation of your yearly goal to hit a certain net income number. Rather than letting numbers, ratios and peer group analysis guide your discussions, let strategies dictate where you want to go as a credit union. When you are in a planning session make sure the discussions stay on the strategic level and don’t stray to the tactical side of things. Stop looking short-term and start long term focusing.
• Resolve to use help—You can’t do strategic planning by yourself. You need an outsiders’ perspective to guide you through the many pitfalls of building a strategy. Expert plans require expertise. Ultimately, what’s more expensive: a strategic planning facilitator or a failed strategic plan? The best strategic plans do not come in a “do it yourself” kit. Stop doing it yourself and start using experts.
• Resolve to allocate resources—Don’t even bother putting a strategic initiative in the plan if you are not going to commit the dollars to it. For example, many credit unions know they must have a strategic brand plan and value proposition. But then when it comes to devoting resources to accomplish that goal, they take a pass. Or credit unions know they must move to a sales and service culture but are unwilling to spend the training dollars to get there. Stop dreaming and start spending.
Successful plans don’t just happen. You must make your credit union strategic planning process intentional. And much of that intentionality means resolving to build a strategic plan that succeeds rather than fails.