The crocuses have popped, the daffodils will be next, and the days grow ever longer. It’s springtime, and as the hearts of young people all over the world turn to love, mine turns to strategy.
At Callahan & Associates, spring is strategy season — the best time of the year to determine which investments will keep your credit union relevant and impactful for the next generation of stakeholders.
Strategy is fundamentally different from the operational business planning conducted at fall “strategic planning” retreats. Business planning is about resource allocation, execution, and performance. It should be concrete, actionable, and formal. Even if the annual plan is part of a three- or five-year arc, it’s still basically operational.
Strategy is your North Star. It’s conceptual rather than concrete. Grounded in mission and values, strategy is about who your credit union serves, why it exists, and the future it aspires to. Strategy provides a structure for assessing threats and evaluating opportunities, then serves as a guide for business planning. Good strategy helps teams identify and evaluate strategic and tactical options, it drives the assessment of the costs and trade-offs of major investments, developmental priorities, and different competitive positioning.
During fall planning, leaders need to focus on performance and near-term priorities, on how the credit union is doing today and how it is going to move forward into tomorrow. Strategy is about aspirational outcomes and why they matter in an uncertain future environment. This takes time, effort, and focus that aren’t available during a fall weekend with the board. That’s why Callahan & Associates believes in addressing strategic issues in the spring.
If launching a second annual session devoted to strategy sounds daunting, here are four fundamental elements we urge credit union leaders to cover.
Do You Have 90 Minutes To Talk Strategy?
Credit unions face unprecedented challenges, and strategic planning has never been more important. For leadership teams and boards, stepping back from the day-to-day to focus on the future is critical for long-term sustainability. Start your strategic conversation with a 90-minute virtual strategic briefing session from Callahan & Associates.
No. 1: Review the credit union’s purpose.
Most credit unions have a statement of why they exist. Some call it their purpose, some their mission, and some their vision. At Callahan, we call it purpose. The label you use for “why” doesn’t matter; what matters is its clarity and actionability.
Is your strategy built on the four cornerstones of purpose? Do all your stakeholders understand your purpose? Would they explain it the same way? Is your purpose specific to the stakeholders you serve? Is it embedded in your business plan, so you have positive impact even as you run the business? Do you measure and track your success?
It’s not enough to have a mission statement; to deliver results, a credit union’s purpose must meet four specific conditions. Learn more in “The Power Of Purpose Is In The Details.”
No. 2: Check your timeframe.
Are you looking far enough ahead? Futurists say strategy should have a 10- to- 30-year scope. We recommend at least five to 10 years and see progressive credit unions thinking about 2030, 2035, and beyond.
Does this feel too far out? It’s not! The most dangerous myth circulating in our industry is that credit unions can’t think long-term when the future is unknowable. This is myopic and self-defeating. In these uncertain times, strategy is more important than ever. The less you know about the future, the more important it is to know yourself and the impact you aspire to have — that’s the essence of strategy.
No. 3: Review your assumptions.
Regardless of timeframe, every plan is built on explicit and implicit assumptions. Business planning is the application of these assumptions, so most plans spell them out, but that doesn’t guarantee they are reasonable.
Spring is the time to make sure all your assumptions are still accurate. It’s the time to challenge them and be willing to engage in constructive disagreement with your leadership team and board. Asking critical questions of one another about your assumptions is the only way to make them better.
No. 4: Confirm roles and responsibilities.
Who is responsible for what? Why? Is everyone on board with their responsibilities?
Everyone involved must understand what needs to happen, why it needs to happen, how it needs to happen, and why getting all of this right matters. This this is a key success factor for every well-run business plan, and it’s as true for purpose as anything else.
These are four elements, but this isn’t an exhaustive list. During spring strategy sessions, you also want to review how your credit union’s purpose aligns with its culture, validate how you define success, consider products and services, competitors, performance metrics, and more — you get the picture. And over the next few weeks, we’ll dive deeper. There’s a lot to do!