Three Questions to Get Your Strategic Planning Meetings Back on Track

Jeff Rendel is President of Rising Above Enterprises and a certified speaking professional who works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy. Here he shares tips for regaining control of strategic planning meetings.

We’ve all been there: The strategic planning session that opened with the intent of staying high-level found itself deep in the weeds. While it’s important to occasionally examine the minute details of various issues in strategic meetings, maintaining the focus on “what” needs to be accomplished versus “how” it will be achieved is imperative.

A Board is tasked with balancing risk and return, ensuring members’ needs are met, and providing strategic guidance to the CEO. Often, the level of detail in Board conversations correlates with the life cycle of a credit union or a line of business. For a credit union just getting started (a few charters are approved each year), its Board would be fairly involved in operational discussions as the credit union acquires members, generates revenue, and builds capital. Since most credit unions are mature and established in the industry, a Board’s dialogue might focus around new lines of business, different markets to serve, or increased concentration in a grouping of loans.

If a conversation with your Board feels like it’s getting too operational, redirect the discussion back to strategy. Staying mired in the details can create an unneeded setting that lessens the value provided from the Board and CEO. Below are some questions to help steer the conversation back on course.

  • “What’s our general focus and objective?” How to market to potential members near a new branch can get very meticulous very quickly if left unchecked. Where a yearly marketing plan was once the norm, marketing is now very flexible and fluctuates with the use of analytics, business intelligence, and digital outreach. In this case, the general objective is to increase membership tied to a new branch. This pivot back to the overall objective keeps a Board focused on the real reason for a new branch (adding and serving members), rather than the hands-on methods of accomplishing the goal.
  • “Are we taking too much risk? Are we being too conservative?” Entering a new line of business (commercial lending), a vastly different market (a metropolitan area hundreds of miles from your established footprint), or increasing concentration in a product that caused losses in the past (high loan-to-value residential lending) can be cause for concern. While a Board might agree that the new direction is necessary, it may need to examine several scenarios to understand different outcomes. A Board may ask for more attentiveness during execution, or it may determine well-managed risk allows for greater growth and business development. Regardless, it’s imperative to clarify your Board’s comfort with new risks.
  • “What gauges of progress are most beneficial?”In most cases, Boards just need to see signs of progress, especially with new ventures or adjustments in current business plans. In the examples above, a Board may want to receive updates on new members from new branches, net yield from commercial lending, market awareness and market share in a new city, and past real estate delinquency comparisons — all as new or expanded endeavors mature. Providing this kind of information to a Board allows it to provisionally be more involved, recognizing that successful results will allow it to focus on new areas of growth and risk to the credit union.

Keeping a strategic meeting’s focus on what must be done, not how it is done, will result in the best outcomes for all participants. Consider asking these questions the next time the conversation veers toward an operations update rather than a discussion about the next phase of growth for your credit union. You will accomplish more at your meeting and ensure that the roles of all parties are best utilized for the benefit of your credit union’s members.

Hear from Rendel in the recent CU Learning TRAXX session, Strategic Reboot: Adapting Your Plan in an Ever- Changing Worldwhere he discusses changing market segments, the new workplace environment, increased use of new technologies, and a sustainable value proposition that helps the community and the planet. This session is available to stream on-demand.