Ahh, strategic planning. That fun time of year when every bank and credit union gathers its key leadership team and stakes-out a roadmap for the future. Goals are discussed, dreams are debated and (hopefully) most folks leave the table feeling heard and that at least a portion of their agenda was captured in the plan.

After facilitating hundreds of strategic planning sessions for banks and credit unions, a number of commonalities come to the surface. One of which is the following — growth is not a strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. Growth is important. Growth is largely why we have strategic planning sessions. But growth, in and of itself, is not a strategy. Neither is saying something like “our bank\credit union will reach $X in assets by year-end.” “We want to grow XYZ” as a bullet point in your strategic plan looks good but will likely achieve little when viewed in this skewed light.

Growth, while not a strategy, is a goal.

Your bank or credit union can’t afford to confuse the two. Strategic planning sessions are designed to whittle the ideas down to a top handful to which everyone can agree. You can certainly assign a set amount (things such as loan volume, total number of members/customers, ROA, etc.) as a goal, but again, this is not a strategy. The strategy involves the steps your team must clearly define that help achieve the goal.

A goal, you see it the top of a ladder; strategy is represented by the individual steps. One is worthless without the other.

For example, if your bank or credit union assigns total loan volume to strategy status, you must subsequently delineate a clear and achievable set of actions you will take in order to achieve this goal. In this example, the loan volume (growth) is not a strategy but rather a goal/initiative. Simply slapping this down on paper and feeling good about it later will not help you achieve the goal. This is where your strategy comes into play. How will you achieve this loan volume? With what specific, measurable and achievable resources? Who or whom will drive this initiative? What is the budget you can allot towards this initiative? Do you have the operational capacity to achieve this initiative? Questions like these (and many others) define and drive strategy.

Using an experienced and results-oriented facilitator during your strategic planning session is a great way to help push your bank or credit union to new heights and ensure you’re not simply jotting down numbers and aimless goals in place of true strategy.