For most progressive-thinking banks and credit unions, strategic planning is a critical season of the year. A big investment in time, resources, bandwidth and money is made in this critical process. The decisions made (and not made) at your strategic planning session can lead to new heights of success or serious challenges.

An increasing number of banks and credit unions recognize the importance and relevance of partnering with an outside facilitator to assist with their strategic planning process. This facilitator, while obviously offering industry expertise and experience, should also help in a myriad of other ways. Three key attributes a strategic planning facilitator offers should include:

  • He or she pushes your group to deeper levels of thinking. One thing you are definitely not looking for in a strategic planning facilitator is a “yes” person. Anyone can sit at the head of the table and nod their head when you say something that sounds wise. A good strategic planning facilitator will pose open-ended questions that force your leadership team to think at a deeper level. The answers to these questions, while perhaps more difficult to attain, are invariably more valuable than a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • He or she makes your group uncomfortable. Yes, I said uncomfortable. This is an uncomfortable state, however, that leads to better things. Most human beings, including most bank and credit union leadership teams, can easily find themselves in a rut or taking the path of least resistance. After all, what worked well and got us where we are today will surely work tomorrow, right? Not at all. A good strategic planning facilitator will push back against your group, challenge untested or potentially invalid courses of action and mentor you through tough decision-making. If you squirm a bit in your seat during the process, that’s okay. In order to grow, sometimes we have to be a bit uncomfortable.
  • He or she offers outside-the-industry examples. Above we discussed the importance of industry expertise. While time working inside the financial institution arena is critical, a good strategic planning facilitator will also offer your leadership team examples, thoughts, best practices and ideas from retail environments outside the bank and credit union silo. This is important because, as with any industry, those working in financial institutions for long periods of time can become too compartmentalized and lose sight of the bigger retail picture. A good strategic planning facilitator helps broaden your view and avoid this pitfall.

As a bank or credit union leader, you’re counting on getting a lot from your strategic planning session. Your consumers, employees and the future of your financial institution depend on it. When bringing in an outside facilitator, make sure you partner with a person that offers key attributes like those discussed above.