Strategic planning sessions are critical to your financial institution’s success. But all too often what starts as time devoted to examining big picture issues turns into a discussion about the minutia. This is the classic challenge of going from 30,000-foot issues to 5,000 (or lower) foot issues. For example, rather than discussing your five year branching strategy you start talking about the colors in the lobby.

The bottom line is there is a difference between strategies and tactics. While they are both important you need to make sure that when you are “doing strategy” you do strategy. Keep the following differences in mind when it comes to strategy and tactics:

  • Strategy is long-term, tactics are temporary
  • Strategy focuses you, tactics distract you
  • Strategy stays, tactics change
  • Strategy inspires, tactics overwhelm
  • Strategy sets direction, tactics veer
  • Strategy gives vision, tactics give headaches
  • Strategies are big, tactics are small

You can even use the above list as a tool in your planning session. For example, give this of simple bullet points to everyone ahead of time. Or even have it displayed on 3×5 cards at people’s seats. But use it as a visual reminder.

The above list may give the impression that tactics are not important. That is not the case at all. The point is that it’s all too easy for strategic sessions just to become glorified tactical discussions.

One practical step to keep your strategic focus is to hold the tactical discussion and session on a separate day. Then when your veer off the strategy road into an operations lane you can say “let’s discuss that item during our action plan phase.” You can even keep a flip chart with the word “Tactics” on it and when someone raises an operational detail write that item on the flipchart. Capture the idea and come back to it.

If you want a more effective planning session then remember there are differences between strategies and tactics.