5 Steps for Connecting Strategy and Leadership Development

woman adding salt to dough
Christopher Stevenson, CAE, CIE Photo
SVP/Chief Learning Officer

2 minutes

Just like a bread baker adds salt to flour, strategic planners need to incorporate learning for best results.

This post originally ran on CUToday in March.

In their planning for 2016 and beyond, many CUs are not supporting their strategy with their leadership development efforts. Failing to do so risks not having the right people ready to lead your growing, changing credit union today, tomorrow and in the future.

Looking at strategy without looking at leadership development is like making bread without the salt. You’ll still get a loaf. But it won’t have quite the right consistency nor the full flavor you’d want if you were going to serve it to guests. Connecting strategy with leadership development will be worth the effort for your staff, your credit union and—in the long run—your members.

Does connecting strategy and leadership development sound difficult? It does require going beyond just meeting regulators’ demands for succession planning and having an internal candidate ready to become the next CEO. Successfully connecting strategy with leadership development means building bench strength by looking deep into the credit union and identifying already-emerging and potential leaders who can not only fulfill the CU’s needs of today, but also its needs a year, five years and even 10 years from now. Making the connection also requires investing in education and training for the right people, so they are ready to step in and lead when you need them.

Here are five steps I’d recommend taking to connect strategy and leadership development.

  1. Identify your champion. While human resources will surely be involved, the champion for this effort should be the CEO. Ideally, his or her enthusiasm for this effort will come to be shared by every manager and supervisor at the credit union.
  2. Identify your vision. Know the answer to such key questions as: “What are the key objectives of our strategic plan?” and “Where does my credit union want to be five and 10 years from now?”
  3. Identify the key characteristics, talents and skills your CU’s employees will need to achieve the visionand to lead your credit union once it gets to that next level. As an example, today’s credit union leaders know the digital channel is growing, but they can’t know exactly how. Future leaders will not only need to be fully versed in digital channels, but will also have to manage uncertainty and emerging technologies.
  4. Identify people within your credit union today (and as you hire) who have those key characteristics, talents and skills—or the potential to acquire them. Make sure you consider people of all generations, not just your most experienced staffers. Also make sure your list of people with potential runs deep. Your starting point is employees with high potential now, but you have to factor in that good people sometimes leave for another opportunity or don’t work out as well as you hoped. You have to have backups to your backups.
  5. Identify development opportunities that are a good match for people with potential to lead your credit union to future success. Just like gardeners use fertilizer to get the most from what they sow, you want to give your people opportunities to learn and reach their fullest potential. That way, your members will reap the benefits.

Budgets for staff learning can be among the first things cut when times are tight. To help deal with this, I recommend that credit unions have separate plans for “staff training” and “leadership development.” While “staff training” may have to go in a particular year, “leadership development” should be saved at all costs. It supports strategy and getting your credit union where it’s going in the long run.

Christopher Stevenson, CIE, is SVP/chief learning officer of CUES.

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