Leadership Matters: A Strategic Planning Framework for the Future

colorful electric light bulb exploding
By Jeff Skipper

5 minutes

Revising your strategy is not enough—think bigger and blow it up!

Disruption, isolation, doomscrolling … several such words have leaped in popularity lately. My favorite: unprecedented, which was recently named the People’s Choice Word of the Year. We are living in unprecedented times, but as Hans Vestberg said, “The pace of change will never be this slow again.” Vestberg was quoted in 2016, but his words are just as applicable today.

With all that is happening in artificial intelligence, crypto and open banking, it can seem like the Wild West in the financial services industry, or at least in your office. Simply revising your existing strategy will not cut it if you want your credit union to survive and grow. How does one chart a course with so much unknown and liable to change again in the next 12 months? We need to think bigger.

Here’s where to begin.

1. Spend Time With Your Members and Your Prospects

This doesn’t seem like much of a start for radically new strategies, because you’ve learned that people often don’t know what they want from their financial institution. This is true, but spending time with people offers important clues to what they might need in the future.

And I don’t mean send them a survey. Buy them a coffee. Run small groups. Don’t ask them what they like or don’t like about your offerings. Ask them what they like about what other companies do for them. Ask what has blown them away lately. What are they watching or reading?

I’ve never had a leader tell me they regretted spending more time with members and prospects.

2. Do Some Mental Off-Roading

When it comes to strategy, you can head in any direction you want. There are no rules. Doing a bit of mental off-roading is what every organization needs, as technology enables us to go wherever we want. There are very few boundaries, and member expectations are constantly shifting. We can’t anticipate—or better yet, create and serve—needs without exploring possibilities. The constants are few. Instead, we can count on:

  • rapid innovation that bridges industries. (If Apple can do it, why can’t you?)
  • demand for instant satisfaction. (If Amazon can deliver it tomorrow, why can’t you?)
  • competition from around the world. (If they can do it in Switzerland, why can’t you?)
  • deeper insights enabled by AI. (If Facebook can figure out I need an air fryer, why can’t you?)

My strategy workshops always begin with the question, “What’s happening in the world that might matter to you and your members?” Consider not just technology but value sets, hot topics, environmental shifts, demographics, political agendas, fashion, changes in language, medicine, families and relationships. Where are other organizations succeeding and failing, inside and outside your industry? Everything could matter to your strategy.

This is the broad environment in which you must stand out and succeed. With your team, identify what is most important in relation to the services you offer, or might consider offering. This is the backdrop on which you will determine your path forward.

3. Hone Your Purpose

Before deciding what to do, we must ask, “Who do you want to be?” Purpose drives strategy. Purpose is defined in relation to your employees, members and community.

When I’m guiding organizations through strategic change, the first step is always to connect change to purpose. We need buy-in. When we can demonstrate how a shift will better someone else’s life, it gives our people purpose, enabling them to push through the pain of change to achieve something better for others.

4. Choose Your Direction

With purpose, customer insight and a view to our broader environment, now we can choose our direction—our strategic goals. I recommend using a time horizon of just one or two years. Anything beyond that is guessing.

Brainstorm initiatives that will fulfill your purpose. Suspend judgement. Aim for a big list. I love digital whiteboards for these exercises, but sticky notes on a wall work just as well.

Because resources are limited, you much choose where to invest time, money, people and other assets. Evaluate the risk-to-reward ratio. Where is the low-hanging fruit? What will give the biggest payback or put you ahead of the competition? What innovative idea will motivate your team to greater levels of performance?

There are many ways to prioritize. Choose your criteria carefully in accordance with your purpose.

5. Make it Measurable

How will you know when you’ve arrived? What does success look like along the way? Too many organizations set strategy with no concrete way to measure progress. Often this is a way for executives to avoid criticism. Without measures, anyone can declare success at any time. It’s subjective.

To keep your team motivated, you need indicators that the journey is worthwhile. Use a variety of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure you can adjust your tactics as needed to stay on target.

6. Sell It With a Story

You’ve got goals, but to help people quickly understand what they need to do, tell a story. Stories motivate employees more than any tagline or statement. They are more powerful than statistics. One of the most beneficial elements of my work is to develop the strategic narrative, helping executives illustrate strategy with a story that demonstrates how lives will be changed. A bit of emotion makes your strategy sticky.

7. Make It Happen!

Now you have the strategic framework—the guardrails within which the organization will run. Engage team members at all levels to define the tactics that will turn those goals into reality. The more involvement, the greater the commitment to see it done.

And if you’re not doing so already, run this complete exercise at least once or twice a year. You will get faster at it. Don’t let success cement your direction when what is really needed is more change.

These are unprecedented times. Your strategy should be, too.

Jeff Skipper is an international expert in accelerating change. For more than 25 years, clients such as IBM, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation. Jeff holds a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.

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