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The 5 Phases of Strategic Planning
Friday, July 21, 2017 6:40 AM

Karen Houston-Johnson, Vice President, Credit Union Resources

One of your board’s primary responsibilities is to set direction for the organization through strategic planning. A strategic plan or framework serves as a roadmap and a tool for assessing the credit union’s progress. Working side by side with the leadership team, the board should play an active and essential role in developing, approving, and supporting your organization’s strategic plan.

The nature of strategic planning is changing in response to the turbulence caused by the recent Great Recession and the challenges of planning in a constantly changing environment. However, regardless of the type of planning process your organization follows, all strategic planning often unfolds in a series of five phases, with each phase building on the one that came before. When beginning a new phase of strategic planning, it is important to keep a few key questions in mind.

Phase 1: Planning to Plan
The planning to plan phase focuses on what the strategic planning process will look like and who will be involved.  The CEO is responsible for preparing the staff and Board.  Begin by addressing the following questions:

  • Is our organization ready for strategic planning?
  • What is our history of planning?
  • How will we facilitate the process?  Will we engage an outside facilitator?
  • Who will we include in the planning process?
  • What kind of human and financial resources do we need?

Phase 2: Understanding the Context
To fully understand the context in which your credit union exists and to evaluate the various forces that affect its present and future, it is important to gather, produce, and absorb information about your credit union’s external and internal environments.

In scanning the external environment, determine opportunities as well as threats or obstacles. Use the following questions to help guide discussions:

  • What opportunities and threats does the credit union face?
  • What do external stakeholders (members, partners, community) need or expect from the organization?
  • How well does the credit union perform relative to your competitors?
  • How might changing demographics and other economic, social, and political trends affect the credit union, your membership base, or the communities you serve?

Historical data about your credit union’s past provides valuable information on the internal forces that shape its future. The historical summary might include a description of major milestones, events, or changes and the impact those have had on your credit union.

  • Have we had a change in leadership, personnel, or mission recently?  What does this tell us about our credit union?
  • Has our overall purpose changed since the credit union was chartered?  Why?
  • How effective are our resources?  Why or why not?
  • Are our members satisfied?
  • What are the needs and expectations of our members now and in the future?  Are we meeting them?

Phase 3: Agreeing on Purpose and Direction
Once you understand the context in which the credit union operates, it is time to address questions regarding the vision and mission. The third phase should address the foundational agreement, such as:

  • Why does our credit union exist—our mission?
  • What will be the ultimate result of our work? 
  • What are the core values that drive our decisions and operation?
  • Has our vision of what we want to accomplish long-term changed?

Phase 4: Moving from Vision to Action
Set plan priorities. After agreement on the mission, core values, and vision, the next phase is to agree on five to seven important key areas of focus in order to achieve the vision. What concrete steps can we take to move closer toward our vision statement?

Assess the infrastructure. With the priorities defined and agreed to, the next step is to ensure that your credit union is organized to do the work today that will support the vision priorities you have identified for tomorrow. Questions to address might include:

  • What are the functions in the organization (financial perspective, member perspective, operational perspective, and learning and growth perspective), and how do they relate to each other?
  • How well will our current infrastructure enable us to achieve our priorities?
  • Are there any functions missing or products/services needed?
  • Do we have functions or products/services we no longer need?

Phase 5: Monitoring Progress
Strategic planning does not end when the plan has been written and distributed. A well-formed framework or plan will guide decision making and help ensure that all activities and programs are aligned with the credit union’s mission and vision. Ongoing monitoring and revision are two very important aspects of effective strategic planning. The organization should ask itself:

  • How are we incorporating priorities, goals, and actions of the strategic plan into department, division, and individual work plans and budget?
  • Do we have appropriate measurements in place to help regularly review performance and progress?
  • Are we referring back to the strategic plan in less formal ways, such as during staff meetings, committee meetings, and individual performance reviews?

What is most important is that your strategic planning be done and that the framework or plan reflects a shared board and staff vision of the credit union’s role, values, and priorities.

If you need assistance with strategic planning, leadership and board development, or management and board succession planning, OnBalance is here to help you with these important initiatives, as well as strategic planning and succession planning.

To learn more about all of the products and services we offer, please visit us at or contact Karen Houston-Johnson at, Howard Bufe at, or Dean Borland at