Strategy - 1Note: This piece originally appeared in CU Insight and CB Insight

We’re in the fourth quarter of the year. The end of October and the start of November tend to mean one thing on the credit union and banking calendar: planning season. While some financial institutions are moving their strategic planning sessions away from this time of year, the vast majority still conduct this important function now.

Many people attend their credit union or bank strategic planning sessions. Top-level executives, board of directors and sometimes supervisory committee members all come to the meeting. In a recent session I conducted, one credit union also included a few front line employees so their perspective was included.

Every person attending your strategic planning session is important. Everyone wants a “seat at the table.” The CEO, CFO, COO, board chairman, volunteer, marketing and lending vice presidents, etc. are all critical They all bring unique perspectives to the mix.

But is the most important person represented?

By that I mean the member or customer. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, famously kept one chair open during Amazon meetings “for the customer.”

One of the best things you can do at your next strategic planning session is leave one chair open for the consumer. It’s a great physical reminder about why we are even in business: for them. At a recent strategic planning session I conducted for one of my clients we left that empty chair there. I was amazed at the number of times during lively discussions about various strategic issues that board members and executives would point to that chair. That seat served as a powerful visual tool.

Here are some examples about how the empty chair works when it comes to discussions you might have during your planning session:

  • Technology—How do consumers want to access their financial information? Do your members or customers want more tech tools such as mobile deposit capture, live chat support, a more robust mobile responsive site, etc.? Look to the empty chair for the answer.
  • Experience—What is it like for consumers to conduct business at your credit union or bank? Is it easy to get a loan and how long does it take? When they walk into your branches, what is the service atmosphere like? Look to the empty chair for the answer.
  • Branding—If your members or customers could only describe your credit union or bank in six words or less, what would they say? What personal stories would consumers tell about you? Look to the empty chair for the answer.
  • Priorities—What do consumers want MOST from you right now? You can’t possibly complete every strategic initiative you want to do in 2015. So what is most important to your target audiences? Look to the empty chair for the answer.

Make sure that you don’t place your empty chair off to the side of the room. Keep it in front so everyone sees it or make sure it’s somewhere at the actual tables and desks you are using.

As executives, you know more than consumers about key strategic issues affecting you financial institution. However, your target audiences are still the engine that drives your ultimate success. So at your next planning session make sure everyone has a seat, including the consumer.