When strategically planning your financial institution’s future, credit unions and banks often bring in outside facilitators to help them. It is too difficult to navigate potential pitfalls and you never want one person to dominate the meeting. There is just something magical about having an outside perspective help you facilitate your strategic planning process.

However, successful planning is not just having anyone facilitate your session. Successful planning is having the right person that matches your unique situation.

Many times, a potential partner will ask you several exploratory questions to learn more about your institution. It’s best if you turn the tables and ask them some questions as well. However, rather than focusing on traditional inquiries like price and testimonials, you should make some deeper level queries.

Here are four questions you should ask any potential strategic planning facilitator:

  1. What book are you currently reading?—This quickly tells you if they are spending time learning. You want a facilitator who is familiar with current business models and strategies. You can also follow-up by asking what blogs they consistently read. If the stumble on these questions or if they throw out books from 10 years ago, that’s a red flag. A great facilitator is a reader.
  1. What trends are seeing you in financial services?—You want an up-to-date partner that is going to challenge and push you. A strategic planning facilitator (especially for credit unions and banks) should know what is happening in our industry. If they answer that trend question with “less physical branches and more digital” then that’s a red flag because everyone knows that trend and it’s been around for years. A great facilitator knows the trends.
  1. When was there a time when your facilitation process didn’t work & why?—Everyone knows and brags about their successes. That’s easy. But ask the reverse by inquiring about a failing situation. And getting to the deeper level “why” helps understand if they blame others or if they learned from a challenging time. Asking this question also helps see if they are a good match for your current situation. A great facilitator is not perfect.
  2. What is unique about your planning process?—Let’s be honest: conducting strategic planning sessions can get boring at times. Especially if you are doing the same things over and over again (like the SWOT analysis—which you should throw out!). Ideally, you want a facilitator that uses unique and different exercises. For example, we developed the trademarked Five Star Credit Union Analysis. We also always start with some type of strategic planning game or exercise to get participants up and moving. A great facilitator is different.

If you want your strategic planning process to be the best then you have to have the best facilitator. Finding that right match means not just answering their questions but asking your own.