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5 Simple Tweaks to Build a Better Strategic Plan

Posted by Megan Plis Knapp on 7/20/18 3:23 PM
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Only part of a successful strategic plan lies in the plan itself. A good plan, just like a recipe, is important. But any good chef will tell you, choosing the right ingredients is only half the challenge. The rest lies in executing the recipe properly.

So, how can your bank or credit union make a better strategic plan?

Here are some simple tweaks to the ingredients and execution of your strategic planning recipe.

1. Ditch the cookie-cutter template

Is your organization just like the one down the street? No? That’s what’s so special about community banks and credit unions – they’re as unique as the local communities they serve. So, while it can be a great starting point, strategic planning templates are only just the beginning. Your strategic plan should have room to grow and thrive, just like your organization.

In Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning, Ron Ashkenas calls this “escap[ing] from template tyranny.” Sticking to what is suggested in a template can result in stale ideas, poorly-defined business needs, and overcomplicated processes.

Can you use a template? Of course! But you must adapt it to your financial institution’s unique needs.

2. Stick to the agenda

How many meetings have you been a part of that ended on time? Or ended with a concrete plan for execution?

An agenda sounds ridiculous until you realize how many meetings look more like a circus than a professional environment. Without structure, conversations go from productive to chaotic.

When you gather the organization’s most influential people in one room, time is money. Make the most of it by staying on track and maximizing productivity. Your agenda should contain three major components:

  • Blocks of time by minute,
  • one topic of discussion for each time block,
  • and one person who leads discussion during each time block (if not the meeting facilitator).

3. Designate a meeting champion

Who’s going to create that critical agenda?

Who’s going to keep the meeting on track?

Who’s going to make sure your team has specific action items coming out of the meeting?

These are important questions. Every good strategic plan has a leader. It’s so easy for meetings to go off-track like a proverbial freight train. Except, when you get into a strategic planning meeting with representatives of every department, including a mixed bag of outspoken and shy personalities, it’s more like a bullet train going 80 mph through mountainous terrain. Instead of walking into a train wreck, prevent it with this tip: appoint a strategic planning leader.

Just because someone is mediating the meeting, it doesn’t mean their opinion is more important than anyone else’s. In fact, companies often hire a third party to provide an experienced, neutral voice to navigate a potentially charged, high-energy situation.

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4. Set the stage for open communication

A great strategic plan requires some originality and imagination. After all, you’re competing with other banks and credit unions with similar growth targets as you. Sometimes, introducing creativity with a different approach to planning can lead to intense debate. Subsequently, the loudest voice, not the best idea, may win out.

So how do you start introducing creative elements into strategic planning without derailing the process?

By encouraging open communication and creating an environment which supports it! For example, the same HBR article mentioned above encourages asking provocative questions. Nothing extraordinary ever came from the same-old-same-old conversations. As Ashkenas says in the article, strategic planning should spark intense debates and discussions.

If the expectation of open communication is set from the beginning, it will be easier to remind everyone when a meeting becomes heated or if certain voices aren’t being heard.

Additionally, the previous tips will help by:

  • Allowing some deviation from the template even when debating items.
  • Keeping the meeting on topic and on time.
  • Having a dedicated person to champion conversation and ensure all reasonable ideas are heard and considered.

5. Cultivate a culture of strategic planning

The last piece of the recipe is a creating a strategic planning culture. This attitude or philosophy must be incorporated into meetings as well as implementation of the plan. It should become an expectation that the organization operates by objective, not exception.

Here are some questions to start thinking about your strategic planning culture:

  • Is your organization going to encourage active participation in the planning process?
  • How will departmental objectives align with the plan?
  • Are you prepared to judge Individual and Team Performance around execution of the plan?
  • Do you have the tools necessary to monitor execution?

While difficult to establish initially, a strategic planning culture will dramatically increase the likelihood your plan will be a success long term. Once you have the culture nailed down, it’s time to implement meeting techniques and guidelines that let participants feel comfortable engaging.

Interested in hiring an experienced ‘meeting champion’ for your next strategic planning meeting? Contact us to discuss our strategy facilitation services and how they will help you get more out of your strategic planning sessions.

P.S. If you're on LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you!

Tags: strategic thinking, ceo, strategic planning, strategy, community bank strategy, community bank planning software, community bank planning, bank strategic planning software, strategic planning for banks, leadership, Strategic Plan, credit union planning

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