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Ditch the Gut and Focus on the Data in Your CU's Strategic Planning Process
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 6:50 AM

The season for strategic planning is upon us and it can be looked upon as process that should guide your credit union toward your desired future—or it can be an exercise in futility that drains valuable resources, time and efforts.

Unfortunately, Southwest CUNA Management School Chief Evaluator and Senior Faculty Strategist John Vardallas, CAE, CUDE, says too many times credit union strategic planning activity falls short because leaders fail to critically assess the external environment by focusing too much on internal processes, systems and rehashing historical data and old procedures.

“Leaders should be reading the economic and financial environment tea- leaves and to synthesize trends into strategic organizational directions for the credit union,” he says. “Taking an outside-in versus and inside-out (Blue Ocean) thinking approach would serve leadership well. A focus on more Innova-shun and less Tradi-shun would help focus the change process for all involved in moving the credit union forward.”

Credit union leaders (CEO/boards), Vardallas notes, must also utilize strategic thinking in their strategic planning.

“Strategic thinking is trying to define a world that may exist---like trying to see a chess board many moves ahead,” he adds. “Leaders should base their directions and tactical action strategies on accurate information. So ‘ditch the gut’ and focus on the data in your goal setting process.

According to Vardallas, the components of an effective strategic planning process for your credit union include:

  1. Conduct a thorough environmental scan to understand the credit unions current and future financial marketplace environment. This will involve some market research regarding national/local financial services and credit union industry economic and consumer market trends.
    Conducting an analysis of the credit unions strengths, challenges, opportunities, and threats (SCOT) is a very important component of your planning process. A review of member surveys, focus groups product/service usage patterns and feedback are key member service assessment indicators.
  1. Developing or reaffirming the mission/vision and core values of the credit union. Understanding the difference between your credit unions mission (who you are) and vision (where you want to go or become) is crucial for leaders. The core values and philosophy of the credit union need to continue to be aligned with the strategy for growth.
  2. Identifying and prioritizing key strategic initiatives/CU competitive advantages/strategic directions needed. Knowing who your competition is, and what your credit unions competitive advantages are will help you properly develop product and service strategies to position your credit union for prospering in the financial services marketplace.
  3. Developing a tactical action step plan that includes budget/key result areas/ business plan/ timelines/completion dates/outcome measurements/accountabilities and impact on resources (financial, staff, facilities).
  4. Creating an Evaluation Process to ensure how effectively the credit union will meet the measurement criteria. This should be monitored on a regular basis throughout the year at monthly Board/Staff Meetings.
  5. Communicating the Progress to the key stakeholders for direction, motivation and performance assessment. Sharing progress reports keep open communication and the process on track.

Strategic plans should be reviewed at least monthly for progress and then annually updated to stay aligned with the direction of the credit union and to incorporate responses to changes in the financial environment and new member needs.

“An effective strategic plan should also be flexible and have an “elastic component” built into it respond to sudden changes in the environment,” continues Vardallas. “Your Strategic Plan should be used as a guiding map to keeping the credit union on course to achieve results and move it toward fulfilling its mission and vision to the members.”


Helpful Resources:

  • Credit Union Resources offers strategic planning and consulting services. Credit unions can choose the balanced scorecard approach, which is a strategic management system that helps organizations translate their strategies into objectives that drive both behavior and performance. Traditional strategic planning gives credit unions an excellent venue to create a strategy for the future success of the organization. This approach provides the credit union an opportunity to review their mission, values and vision to determine why we are doing what we are doing.
    Volunteer development and board training effectiveness is also available through Credit Union Resources.
  • SCMS, a three-year program that provides an exceptional forum for networking with other credit union professionals; access to top industry experts, and the opportunity to ignite an inner passion and vision for personal and professional growth. It offers an intimidate environment on the campus of Texas Christian University that encourages and inspires. Enrollment is open for the 2014 SCMS Summer Session July 13-23. Prospective students should visit for additional information.