We’re about halfway through the year now. How is that slice of awesomeness you called your strategic plan working? You know, the plan that was going to change everything about your credit union or bank. The one that was going to ensure you hit your loan and growth numbers. The one that was the strategic plan to end all plans.
We spend tons of time conducting strategic planning sessions at our financial institutions. Yet many of our plans die and don’t get implemented. But it’s not too late. You still have several months to make a course correction and get your plan back on its path to greatness.
Here are a few problems (or reasons) why your strategic plan is failing (and more importantly, what you can do about it):
Problem: Your plan was stupid—That’s harsh but it may be true. An unrealistic plan, one that didn’t consider trends or a plan focused on the wrong issues will all lead to failure. Think of JCPenney: their new retail plan failed badly because it was simply the wrong strategy.
Solution: Start fresh—Plans are just that: plans. Rather than keep working on an unwise strategy it might be best to admit your mistakes. Don’t wait until the upcoming planning cycle. Start now. Just like your computer, sometimes the best move is to simply hit the restart button.
Problem: Your executive team was not on the same page— It’s okay to cuss and discuss during a planning session. In fact, healthy debate is a good thing. However, if your team is not united your plan is destined for failure. Too often the real disagreement is subtle: hallway whispers, “off the record” conversations and personality conflicts.
Solution: Hash out your differences—The best way to deal with those problems is directly. Get in a room, lock the door and don’t leave until everyone agrees on the strategy and is willing to keep their differences inside the room.
Problem: Your staff laughed at your plan—Your staff may know more about what’s working in your financial institution than you do. Strategic planning is not just for the board and management team. While they may have the greatest input it’s your staff that executes it.
Solution: Involve your staff and ask for their feedback—Get your employees involved in the planning process from the beginning. Ask their opinions, conduct focus groups and solicit their ideas. And when your strategic plan is finalized, get their honest feedback. Ask them what’s wrong with the plan and what you missed. If you ask for this type of feedback make sure you will truly listen to their comments.
Problem: Your resolve waivered—True strategic planning sometimes comes in the budgeting phase. You may have great ideas and strategies but if you don’t commit the dollars to the plan then don’t expect the plan to work.
Solution: Allocate proper resources—Sometimes the best outcome from strategic planning isn’t necessarily greater insight but greater resolve. Review your budget and put the dollars into your top priorities. One exercise is to look at the percentages you’ve allocated by major area and see if they align with your strategic priorities. For example, some banks and credit unions make improving their brand a top strategy but then the marketing budget only increases one or two percentage points from the previous year. That shows you lacked true resolve when it came to your plan.
Problem: Your circumstances trumped you—You control many of the problems listed above. However, there are times when issues beyond your control arise. Key employees leave, the economy in your area suffers, or one of your major partners suffers layoffs.
Solution: Adjust your plan—Strategic plans should be written in pencil and not ink. Falling prey to your circumstances is a trap, however. Make sure those outside circumstances aren’t just excuses. And as you build your strategy, you should also build contingencies for unexpected events.
The smartest, most thoughtful and wisest plan can still fail. Knowing the pitfalls above—and their solutions—enables your strategy for success.