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The Remedy Blog

10 Ways to Level Up Credit Union Strategic Planning

| by Karen Lowerr | 0

Planning Phase

For most credit unions or community banks, strategic planning is a once-a-year process. This boardroom meeting would typically include a few staff members (CEO, CFO and COO) and full board of directors with a third-party consultant moderator presenting a lot of financial figures and talking about growth in 1, 3 and 5 years increments. Recently, I facilitated a strategic planning session for a credit union board of directors. In this blog, I will share my lessons learned and some quick ways to level up and grow the business.

The learnings come in two distinctive categories of the session – the planning and the execution phases. I spent about 4-6 weeks prior to the session getting to know the credit union, attended another vendor’s demonstration at the credit union, met with the President of credit union twice, and prepared the presentation weeks in advance. The execution of the strategic planning session was coupled with a board meeting, so it was a long meeting of 4+ hours for those members in attendance.

The lessons learned can be broken down to two categories with some quick tips for the planning phase. The approach that we decided on was to use the KISS model and to also focus on only one year (full calendar year of 2021). The credit union is going through a core banking platform migration in 2021 which will take up about 6-9 months’ time and their senior staff will not have extra time in their days for new campaigns or tasks.

Below are five ways to level up and succeed in the planning phase:

  • Choose the appropriate time frame for strategic planning session. I wanted to go three or five years out with planning and content; however, the group was so intrinsically focused on a core migration in 2021 and what was currently happening that the staff and some of the member of the board could not even think about three years out. Traditionally, three to five year STRAP plan are what is discussed in this type of planning session.
  • Interview as many stakeholders prior to the meeting. As the moderator, do not go into the strategic planning session unprepared. I had multiple meetings with the staff and specific board members to understand the financial situation of credit union and try to understand all their viewpoints.
  • Prepare a list of topics that are off the table. The President did not want to plan for M&A strategy during the meeting. I had a list with me and knew my limits. It’s the professional thing to do by respecting all parties. Also, I had a list of successes with me so I could facilitate and steer the conversation as needed.
  • Define the focus of the meeting. I went rogue from what the other consultants had done in the past – it was a different session. I did not bring a stack of papers with all the 2020-year end financials and didn’t event talk about the ROI percentages. This session was to humanize the credit union staff members, have the President talk about the financials, talk at a high-level, and really have the board members discuss ways to succeed in the post COVID economy with the upcoming core migration.
  • Play to the strengths. Whatever situation you are walking into as the moderator, remember to play to the strengths of the group, praise progress, be positive and do not favor one opinion over another. Being agnostic or unbiased is the best way to moderate the conversation. I used the sandwich method – positive/negative/positive when presenting material.

Execution Phase

Now, on to the actual planning session where the important conversations happen. The facilitation of the meeting is called the execution phase. These five ways to succeed below are from when I was facilitating the conversation:

  • What comes first – the chicken or the egg? What comes first in planning – the next year’s fiscal budget or the strategy plan? Like many others, the CU had been preparing the budget for the next year in the fall. The strategic planning session was in February after the budget was approved at a previous board meeting. The fiscal year is the same as the calendar year for the CU. This timing creates a vicious cycle that is hard to break. One board member suggested the strategic planning session happen prior to the budget and work on them simultaneously in the fall months. I hope to be back together with the board this fall to plan 1, 3 and 5 years out.
  • Leave the session with full buy-in. It was clear when I walked in that there were many personal agendas in the room. They may have viewed this session as check-marking a box to complete this task. If you can break down the personal agendas or work on concessions for all the different opinions present and truly leave the room with a plan that fulfills the vision of the organization, and how each board member plays a role in the plan, you have accomplished a lot.
  • Use the white board and document all ideas. I wrote stuff on the white board and facilitated the conversation, but I received feedback that they wanted even more notes/lists/jotting of ideas. Strategic planning is best place for innovative ideas, huge 3M Post-It sheets and selecting a scribe to capture all ideas.
  • Understand that CU boards are volunteer positions. Some members of the board had corporate or educational experiences with various levels of previous strategic planning sessions. Understanding their passion for the CU, that they are not being paid to be there, and how much they personally have vested in the CU is important to know.
  • Allow enough time for SMART goals. The strategic planning session was on Saturday morning after a two-hour meeting, so by the end of the session with the most important topic of the SMART goals to be decided on, some of the board wanted to wrap up the session; however, we needed more time on the most important topic of the day. Make sure you have a good cadence to get through all content including important goals that will drive the next year’s growth initiatives.

The 10 ways to level up above include five comments on planning phase and five items in the execution phase. The lists above are lessons learned, things for me to understand as I navigate this industry and also basic business fundamentals that would help anyone facilitating these types of events. Consider a consultant for this type of planning as it takes the emotion out of an inside presenter offering strategy to a group of volunteers…sometimes that is better handled with outside assistance by Remedy Consulting.

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