Strategy - 2In preparing for a recent strategic planning session I was conducing for a new client I had the opportunity to review their prior plans. They actually had two—one strategic and one operational. Each was close to 100 pages (with graphs, charts, data, etc.). When they gave me the three-ring binder they joked that if I was having problems getting rest at night, reading this tome would help me sleep.

The truth is that too many of our strategic plans are way too long. Executives feel we need to provide reams and reams of data to the board so it looks like we have everything under control at our bank or credit union. Boards use a 100-plus plan to keep the regulators at bay. Does anyone really read a plan word for word that is that long? Maybe one or two people at your financial institution—if you’re lucky.

Keep in mind that some of the best strategic plans in business history were short and simple. Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, famously drafted his initial plan on a napkin. Microsoft’s original vision statement was five words: “a computer on every desk.” According to Amazon lore and their employees, one of their company’s original strategies was “get big fast.”

In his book Just Run It, author Dick Cross encourages companies to simplify their plan on a back of a envelope with each fold representing one of four key areas: positions, customers, competencies and needs.

Your credit union or bank needs to simplify its strategic plan. Here are three ways to do so:

  • Cut the fluff—There is way too much “filler” material in your plan. The SWOT, the data graphs, the customer or member profiles don’t necessarily belong in your strategy. While those details are important they are just that: details. Your strategic plan is better when it’s broad.
  • Focus on the three—There is a “power of three” principle that the best organizations use. Rather than having a long list of five, seven or nine priorities only focus on the top three strategic initiatives that will help you reach your growth objectives. Your strategic plan is better when it’s focused.
  • Communicate the essentials—While the executive team and board craft the plan, it’s the front line staff and managers who execute it. So you better make sure they understand it. If it takes more than five minutes to explain your financial institution’s strategy then you’ve probably lost your staff. Your strategic plan is better when it’s easy to communicate.

Sometimes we feel that a super-long and complex strategic plan makes us look smarter. The opposite is actually true. When it does come to length keep the old KISS principle in mind: Keep It Simple, Stupid.