Plansmith Blog

Planning for Change: A Lesson from Charles Darwin

Posted by Bill Peck on 9/14/18 12:33 PM

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

- (Not) Charles Darwin

It’s true.

Although this is a pretty great quote, Darwin never actually said it. It was an attempt by Dr. Leon C. Megginson, Louisiana State University Professor of Management and Marketing, to capture the essence of Darwin’s seminal “On the Origin of Species” for a 1963 speech to the Southwestern Social Science Association. The text of the speech was subsequently published in the Association’s quarterly journal, and the rest is quote-misattribution history.

But aside from distilling Darwin’s 20 years’ worth of toil, research and resulting 500-page masterpiece into an easily digestible bite-sized nugget, Dr. Megginson’s quote has stood the test of time for good reason: it makes intuitive sense. The organism that can best adapt to changes in its environment is going to survive. Period.

This is pretty commonsense stuff. But it does raise a question that’s pertinent for bank and credit union executives, “does our organization have what it takes to effectively adapt to change?” In other words, like the Galapagos Tortoise, can we modify our protective shell to better suit this rugged and foreboding environment? Or, will we suffer the fate of Gigantopithecus, the giant ape that went extinct over 100,000 years ago, due to its stubborn refusal to modify its diet as massive climate change (aka the Pleistocene ice age) methodically wiped out its food source?

In most cases the answer is yes. Probably.

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First, let’s agree on one thing… the speed with which massive, industry-rocking change can turn businesses upside down today is unprecedented. In fact, we’ve upped the rhetorical ante so that we no longer refer merely to just “change,” we’re now dealing with “disruptive change.” Government regulation, social media, demographic shifts and technological breakthroughs are some easily identifiable disruptors and can change the game for businesses quickly and (usually) permanently. The sooner this concept is acknowledged and baked into our plans for the future, the better.

Against this backdrop, then, it is critical for organizations to have a tool that will allow them the ability to adapt and change as they negotiate threats to their survival. At Plansmith, we believe that tool is the strategic plan, and when thoughtfully constructed by an engaged and forward-thinking management team, a well-executed strategic plan can mean the difference between thriving and merely existing.

But, it’s not enough to just have a strategic plan. Lots of organizations have strategic plans and some even know where they are. The real power of a good strategic plan is that it provides a forum for key decisionmakers to plan for obvious threats and opportunities, as well as the less obvious, disrupting forces that may be lurking around the corner. For example, it’s clearly important to address customer/member acquisition, or loan growth, or non-interest expense reduction in a strategic plan, that just makes sense. But are you hearing “blockchain” more frequently? Or, when you attend industry conferences, are there more conversations about beacon technology or artificial intelligence than there used to be? Sure, these types of things may not matter to your institution today or tomorrow, but discussing these potential disruptors and considering your approach to them in the strategic plan is a worthwhile exercise.

Lastly, even the most meticulously prepared strategic plans are of marginal value unless they are revisited regularly according to a defined schedule. Progress must be evaluated throughout the year, and necessary follow-ups conducted by the appropriate members of the Strategic Planning Committee or their designates. Periodic review and follow up is truly the last mile of the strategic planning process. Unfortunately, it is also the aspect that is most commonly neglected. Those organizations that commit themselves to regular review of their strategic plans are significantly better positioned to manage inevitable setbacks, and capitalize on unexpected opportunities, than those that don’t.

As our friend Charles Darwin wisely observed,

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

(He really did say that.)

If you're ready to learn how Plansmith can help your organization plan for change, email us or call us at 800-323-3281.

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Topics: Strategic Plan, strategic planning for banks, credit union planning, bank strategic planning software, community bank planning