How To Adjust Your Strategic Plan With the Four S’s

Mark Arnold
How To Adjust Your Strategic Plan With the Four S’s

Your strategic plan created last fall is more than likely in a trashcan somewhere. Thank you, COVID-19.

Strategic plans are one of the many casualties left in the pandemic’s wake. While situations have certainly changed, the need for a strategic plan has not.

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The Harvard Business Review recently noted, “Ad hoc responses won’t work; organizations must lay the groundwork for their recoveries now.”

But how do credit unions and community banks practically do that? One of the best techniques you can do is pull out your plan, review every major strategic initiative and categorize your efforts into one of four buckets:

  • Stop
  • Slow down
  • Speed up
  • Stay the course


While listed first, this is not necessarily the first option we’d recommend you consider. Hitting the pause (or in this case stop) button rarely leads to growth. When it comes to choosing what to stop, one principle to remember is that you don’t want to cut growth projects. There very well could be non-growth strategies you had in place that you should stop. For example, if one of your 2020 plans involved building a new headquarters and now the majority of your support staff are working from home, you may want to hit (not tap) the brakes on it. It’s possible you may need to stop part of your plan.


When there is a wreck in NASCAR the caution flag is raised and cars that were once going 200 miles per hour (mph) suddenly slow down to about 45 or 50 miles per hour. More than likely your 2020 strategic plan included lots of 200 mph initiatives. But the recession caution flag is now flying. Rather than coming to a complete stop, it may just be time to decrease to a slower speed on some of those projects. For example, if you were planning on surveying your members or customers now may not be the best time of year to do so (consumers have too many other pressing issues they’re dealing with). However, later in the year when you can analyze how they felt you handled the pandemic may be the perfect time to solicit feedback. It’s possible you may need to slow down part of your plan.


Believe it or not, there are indeed many projects you want to actually accelerate during the current pandemic. Several items related to technology and remote access are no longer on the back burner: they are front and center. For example, interactive teller machines, video banking and remote working environment initiatives are a THIS quarter thing rather than a year-end push. It’s possible you may need to speed up part of your plan.


The old proverb “slow and steady wins the race” is indeed sound wisdom (even during a pandemic). If you just cut, cut and cut you’ll keep bleeding, bleeding and bleeding. As you review your plan, it’s entirely possible that several parts of it are still relevant and applicable. For example, if you were planning on rebranding your credit union now is the perfect time to continue that project because it's your brand that is going to lead you out of an economic downturn. It’s possible you may need to stay the course with your plan.

As we tell our strategic planning clients regularly, strategic planning is process, not a date on the calendar.

It’s hard to think about long term strategies when you’re in the midst of an immediate crisis like COVID-19. However, we must move from being in the crisis to thinking beyond the crisis. The first step to a solid long-term game is analyzing your current plan and determining what you should stop, slow down, speed up or stay the course.

Mark Arnold
Founder and CEO