Credit unions that conduct their strategic planning sessions in the fall are probably starting to discuss agendas, areas of focus, facilitators, etc.
The key to a successful planning session is focus – an intense focus on a few key areas. Like any senior level meeting, the discussions can go off on tangents and wind up on topics that really have nothing to do with strategic planning at all. If you are spending most of your time talking about non-planning topics, you run the risk of missing some golden opportunities. Now, a good facilitator (ahem….) will know how to gently and respectfully redirect conversations back to where they should be. Even so, it is vital that those attending your strategic planning session understand that there are a few non-negotiable areas/topics that absolutely must be discussed.
Here are 4 such topics:
Review your value proposition – Too often, we get caught up in the minutia of day-to-day operations that we forget to keep our focus on the credit union’s value proposition. It often amazes (and disappoints) me that attendees at strategic planning sessions have absolutely no idea how to define their credit union’s value proposition. Yet, at the same time, they are perfectly willing to set strategic goals for the credit union. How can that be? First, you need to know who you are…then and only then can you be prepared to set direction.
Add to the attendee list – If you are going to discuss strategy, set goals, and recommend performance metrics, then you better have more than your Directors at the planning session. It is crucial that your senior management team be involved in these discussions. They are the ones that are connecting with your members every day. They can provide you with valuable insight as to the pulse of your members, what they want, and should be able to provide suggestions on how to deliver on your value proposition.
Don’t get too bogged down with tactical details – This may sound strange but discussing specifics about marketing promotions, new product details, etc. should not be done at a strategic planning session. The purpose of a planning session is to set strategy, direction, and policy. The Board needs to leave the tactics and action steps up to the management of the credit union. Why then did I just insist that senior management be invited to the planning session? Easy answer – because they will be able to provide advice regarding whether or not the strategies that are being discussed are feasible. Also, because if they are present when the strategies are decided upon, they will hopefully get a jump-start on the tactical side of things. Remember, Southwest Airlines started with a drawing on the back of a cocktail napkin. The most important business decisions and discussions usually occur “offline.”
It’s all about direction – At the end of a successful strategic planning session, you should walk away with a clear picture regarding the direction in which to lead the credit union. You should have discussed your target audience, your credit union’s capabilities, your infrastructure, your ability and readiness to provide your members with the best possible products and services, and a high-level blueprint that management can use to create realistic action plans and performance metrics.
Make the most of your strategic planning sessions this year by asking tough questions, solidifying the direction of your credit union, and making a commitment to meet the challenges of today while keeping your eyes on the opportunities for the future.