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Why a Strategic Plan is Important
Wednesday, February 18, 2015 6:45 AM

Simply put, a strategic plan is the formalized road map that describes how your credit union is going to execute their chosen strategy. It is the master of all other plans.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

This often-heard quote from Alan Lakein, the popular author on time management, is a reminder that many of the day-to-day operational struggles we face in organizational life have their seeds sown in the past, when we failed to think ahead.

There was a time when strategic planning was done only by the biggest companies. Now it is a highly recommended best practice, and leaders must be looking ahead, anticipating change, and developing a strategy to proactively and successfully navigate the turbulence created by change.

A strategic plan spells out where you’re going over the next year or more and how you’re going to get there. It is a management tool that serves the purpose of helping a credit union do a better job, because it focuses the energy, resources, and time of everyone in the same direction.

If you’re thinking, “Hey, I’ve got this great book on business plans, so I’ll just use that to form my strategic plan,” be aware that strategic plans and business plans aren’t the same concepts.

A strategic plan is a management tool that does the following:

  • Communicates your strategy to staff;
  • Prioritizes your financial needs;
  • Provides focus and direction to move from plan to action; and
  • Helps build your competitive advantage.

A business plan, on the other hand, is a planning tool for new businesses or other projects you are starting. A business plan:

  • Helps define the purpose of your business;
  • Helps plan human resources and operational needs;
  • Is critical if you’re seeking funding;
  • Assesses business opportunities; and
  • Provides structure to ideas.

As critical as strategic planning is to the success of your credit union, they are useless unless followed by action. An additional side benefit of strategic planning is the action plan that stems from identifying your strategies.

True, you cannot predict the future. You probably don’t have a crystal ball in your desk drawer. Every day has the opportunity for its own “we didn’t see that coming” event. The absence of strategic planning, or poor strategic plans, usually leads to “days you’d rather forget” operational nightmares—some of which can last months. The importance of planning in reducing these “days you'd rather forget” cannot be overemphasized.

While it may seem daunting at first, the good news is there are solutions to most any of the challenges leaders face when creating a vision, company values, and a strategic plan. Strategy can be simple. If you lack experience, there are no shortages in methodology or resources on this topic—you have only to reach out and find help.

How Credit Union Resources Can Help

Many credit unions large and small have board and staff members with strategic planning experience. What they often lack are objectivity, discipline, and time. An outside party can provide invaluable assistance in designing a strategic planning process that involves all key stakeholders in a cost-effective way.  They can also obtain sensitive information confidentially and share it in a useful fashion. Their role is to facilitate a process whereby the credit unions’ leadership makes the critical decisions.

Other productive roles include providing “expert advice” based on their work with other credit unions; facilitating consensus with differing points of view; keeping planning on track and on schedule; and helping to organize contradictory thoughts and approaches into a sound, single strategic plan document.

In OnBalance, we are here to help you with Strategic Planning. To learn more about all of the products and services we offer visit us at or contact Karen Houston-Johnson at, Howard Bufe at, or Dean Borland at