All-Aboard! How to Get Maximum Participation During Planning Sessions

Mark Arnold

Strategic planning is a great time to get input from all your credit union or community bank’s leaders. After all, you want as many ideas as possible when deciding on your institution’s future direction. But sometimes, all you get are crickets instead.

So, what’s wrong? And even more importantly, how do you fix it?

Let’s go over some reasons why people don’t participate in planning sessions and how to engage them.

Deal With the HIPPO

First thing’s first: what’s a HIPPO?

Besides being a large-toothed animal, a HIPPO is the "Highest Paid Person’s Opinion." Or maybe they aren’t paid (after all, your Board Chair is a volunteer). If that’s the case, you can think of it more as the "Highest Positioned Person’s Opinion."

But whether they’re paid or not, the HIPPO’s opinion could be dangerous to group participation. An especially confident CEO or Board Chair could give off the impression that it’s their way or the highway.

I should clarify that the HIPPO doesn’t necessarily want to dominate the room. Their opinion may simply take over by virtue of their high position.

In fact, a lot of you reading right now may be CEOs or Board Chairs. Take a moment at the beginning of the planning session to acknowledge your opinion is not the only important opinion. Encourage others to share their views and create a collaborative environment.

Make Strategic Planning Fun

Let’s be honest: strategic planning sessions are long and mentally tiring. People’s engagement naturally wanes the longer the session goes on, and it gets even worse if the session is boring.

Making a session "all work and no play" increases the boredom factor, which makes your planning session just another business meeting. Your credit union or community bank’s future is a serious matter, but it’s not a fun-free zone.

Here are some ways to keep people engaged:

  • Cater a special lunch
  • Play games and watch funny videos
  • Have a change in scenery (reserve a hotel or getaway space)

Ditch the Clueless Facilitators

A facilitator who doesn’t understand the industry can severely harm participation. That’s because attendees need to trust the facilitator in order to share their institution’s deepest challenges and goals. A lost-in-the-woods session leader won’t instill the necessary confidence into participants.

It’s also possible the facilitator simply lacks facilitation skills. He or she doesn’t know how to drive conversation, ask the right questions or move the group from one topic to the next.

Find a facilitator who both knows the industry and engages participants. Let them lay the foundation of trust and expertise needed to pull opinions out of attendees and drive your team toward an achievable strategic plan.

If you’re looking for a facilitator with the perfect mix of knowledge and skill, On The Mark Strategies strategic planning facilitators can help. Our facilitators have years of experience as credit union executives, so they know what it means to steer a group toward an effective plan.

Mark Arnold
Founder and CEO
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