Be sure you have planned your actions, examined your assumptions and had a conversation about potential obstacles.
Partnering with credit unions on strategic planning, we see various kinds of plans, initiatives, focuses, projects, goals, visions, missions, concentrations and implications. These terms can all mean different things, and everyone has their own spin on what is included in each. While for the sake of the argument, we can agree that all of these concepts are related, however, all too often three key items are missing when credit unions do strategic planning (no matter what they call it). When these three elements are missing, credit unions face unnecessary confusion about priorities—and then teams miss out on the opportunity to become more strategically aligned and optimize execution efforts.
1. Plan of Action
The most common, and I’d say the most useful, missing variable is what we call a “plan of action.” A POA is a documented timeline of identified actions that support a particular strategy. It provides clarity about the chronological sequence required for the strategy to gain traction. It presents a documented strategy’s associated actions and goals in a way that people can more usefully digest, respond to and retain. It provides people a way to visualize the agreed-upon actions that will happen in the future—that is, how the strategy is expected to land on the ground. The absence of a POA is a clear-cut formula for sowing confusion about priorities and for increasing the likelihood that resources will be misallocated.
You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “That’s not us. We have our plan mapped out. We’re clear on where we are going.” Although some of your priorities are likely charted, too often “priorities” means “goals,” which is different from “specific actions.” Our experience tells us there is a great deal of opportunity for boards and executive teams, and the executive team with the mid-level talent, to discuss the sequence of resource allocations as they reflect stated priorities. Trust me, there is more to do here.
2. Premises & Assumptions
The second variable most commonly missing in strategy development conversations is what we call “premises & assumptions.” The citation of the foundational parameters that are baked into the forthcoming strategies brings to the reader’s radar that, in some areas, “we have to assume X, Y, and Z because we just don’t know and won’t until 1, 2, 3.”
All too often, the strategies that teams come up with are laced with blinding assumptions that unnecessarily narrow the scope of actions and--therefore--possibilities. Going through the planning rigor of identifying assumptions in play (i.e., “What are we assuming here? What unmentioned premises will our strategy be based upon?”) helps build a more dense mental model of the seen/unseen and realized/unrealized variables present in the landscape.
A vivid mental model of these possibilities enables more informed and committed action once the landscape shifts. A poignant yet simple example is, “The Federal Reserve will hold rates near zero for at least three more years.” This is now a well-known premise. However, if we have learned anything in 2020 (perhaps not as much as we could), it is that our reality can be turned upside down at a moment’s notice. So be careful which assumptions you hold as absolute truths.
3. Obstacles & Roadblocks
A final often-missing variable in strategy development conversations are “obstacles and roadblocks.” The intent of this component is to highlight the surmountable and insurmountable variables that may impede or obstruct progress. You’ve heard it before: “We can’t do that because of (fill in the blank).” There’s usually someone else in the meeting that, at the very least, disagrees with that assertion and has an alternative view.
The appropriate next question might be, “Well, is that a roadblock, totally impeding the advancement of our priority? Or is it an obstacle that is surmountable and we might have to take a different track?” Identification of the roadblocks and obstacles facilitates a proactive discussion of how to address and navigate these potential stopping points—if time is taken for this important conversation.
As a side note, when we facilitate a session, there is always at least one individual who is great at identifying these elements. This person is quick to point out all the reasons why this thing they’re developing is going to be difficult. If you don’t know who that is on your team…it’s likely you!
Fold these three components into your regular strategy development and deployment conversations. Our assumption is that you will uncover a few items that will help focus and guide the execution of your specific strategies.