Break Free from Fear-Based Strategic Planning

When I encounter resistance during a strategic planning session with a credit union, I know it’s time to pause, regroup, and gain perspective. Resistance rarely happens because the board and leadership team don’t care; it’s surfaces because fear is making them freeze. In most of these sessions, we introduce ideas that are so different from anything the credit union has done before that the leaders have a hard time imagining how they will even attempt something so audacious.

Fear-based paralysis is real, and it’s the reason most strategic plans fail. When we give into the fear of the unknown, we fail to move beyond our comfort zone because we don’t have a reference point for what we’re trying to accomplish. As funny as it sounds, we refuse to try something new simply because we’ve never done it before. News flash: In strategic planning sessions, we don’t have a plan yet because we’re locked in a room trying to create a plan.

Unfortunately, fear causes us to miss what strategic planning is all about. Instead of crafting a purposeful plan for accomplishing bold new objectives, our sessions stop cold as soon as a new idea is presented. We get hung up on tactics and processes and never actually get around to developing a strategy that should drive the entire planning process.

When our YMC team conducts strategic planning sessions with boards and leadership teams, we spend a lot of time gathering information on the credit union’s past performance and challenges. This research helps us gain a quality perspective before we start discussing tactics. With the proper perspective in place, we are better able to set goals and metrics that will lead the credit union to its next level of growth. We discuss strategies that will help the organization accomplish those goals—and then, we dig a little deeper.

Before we discuss the specific tactics that will help the credit union team accomplish their strategic goals, we spend some time talking about anything that could keep them from achieving success. Maybe it’s leadership style. Perhaps it’s lack of accountability. Whatever the obstacles may be, we get them out in the open and have tough conversations that address them head-on. But rather than dwelling on the challenges, we help the leaders determine how they can fix those issues and avoid future problems.

Once we’ve identified potential challenges and come up with practical solutions, big goals and new ideas seem much less scary and far more achievable. Suddenly, thanks to a fresh perspective, the board and leadership team feel confident that success is closer than it appears. When a credit union’s goals, strategy, and tactics align with its vision, growth begins to happen. Small wins turn into bigger wins, and before you know it, conversations that used to spark fear seem like small potatoes.

If you’re ready to think and dream big for the sake of your credit union’s future, it’s time to take a different approach to strategic planning. Commit to having candid conversations with your team, the kind that eliminate fear and inspire confidence that growth can happen. This strategy may sound different from anything you’ve done in the past, but as we’ve seen with client after client—the results speak for themselves. Ready to try something different this year? Email me:

From strat plans to rebrands, YMC President and CEO, Bo, is passionate about helping financial institutions come up with a winning formula. If you’re ready to go beyond the SWOT, you can email him at

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