Focus: Strategy's Secret Weapon

Mark Arnold
Focus: Strategy's Secret Weapon

Strategic initiatives. Action plans. Timelines. Every credit union or community bank in some form or fashion has (or should have) a sense of what their overall focus strategy is when it comes to growth.

We often think that having the best strategy means having the best ideas. Or the having the smartest people. Or having the best financial numbers. Or having the most projects.

When it comes to strategy, however, there is simply one secret weapon:


Nothing else is nearly as important to growing your credit union or community bank as focus. Having worked with hundreds of financial institutions across the country, we’ve quickly come to realize the difference between growth success and growth stagnation is a focus strategy.

Your goal from a strategic planning session shouldn’t just be a plan. It should be focus.

Steve Jobs famously said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

In other words, there are a lot of things you can do with your strategy. The bigger question is what should you do?
The problem with focus is that it’s easy to lose. As Gino Wickman says in his book Traction, “It doesn’t take much for an organization to get off track in the hustle and bustle of the business world.”

Here are a few quick tips to help your strategy focus:

Limit your strategies

If you walked out of your last planning session with a giant list of 10 to 20 To Do items, then your last planning session was a failure. A credit union or community bank should have no more than three to four big strategies. Less is actually more. Try this test: can you write your plan on a small napkin?

Limit your projects

One trap some financial institutions fall into even when they limit their strategies is cramming a number of projects under those strategies. Any big project will require your staff’s bandwidth. Calculate that bandwidth as you calculate your strategy. For example, one financial institution limited their overall strategy to four items, yet each of those strategies entailed multiple large projects. So when it came to year-end, the staff was completely burned out. Going to change your core in the coming years? Then that is your focus strategy. Try this test: can you count your number of projects on one hand?

Overcommunicate your focus strategy

Can your staff tell you what your organization’s top strategies for the year are? Alignment goes right along with focus when it comes to how powerful it is. Telling your staff in one group meeting what your strategy is does not count as alignment (or communication). You have to tell your team your strategy multiple times in multiple ways. You might get tired of repeating yourself but it’s the only way your strategy connects with their day to day job. Try this test: ask every employee what are your top strategies for the year and see how many get them all correct.

Avoid shiny object syndrome

As executives, it’s easy to also fall into the “shiny object syndrome.” Your plan is all set and then something else (even a good idea) pops up and we’re tempted to add it to the strategy or project list. I’ll be honest: I’m certainly guilty of this as well. While you need flexibility in your planning process, you also need to balance that flexibility with your original plan. There was a reason you set the strategies you did. Try this test: ask, if we add this new initiative that looks so cool, which one of our existing projects or strategies are we going to stop doing?

We often tell clients that the best strategic plan is the one that gets implemented. In other words, execution is far more important than the plan itself. Achieving a high execution level starts with focus.

Mark Arnold
Founder and CEO