How to Get BIG Results from Your Strategic Planning Session

Drill drilling into a piece of wood

Effective strategic planning events are one of the main differentiators between underperforming credit unions and healthy, growing credit unions. However, making an event effective requires more than simply showing up and putting some dreams on paper.

Before diving into the best practices that growth-minded credit unions follow, let’s make two things clear. First, this is the most important meeting that will be on your calendar all year. Done well, it will set the stage for accomplished goals and explosive growth. Second, there’s a considerable amount of nuance and customization to each strategic planning event. While we follow a successful, time-tested format, the real secret sauce to success can’t be boiled down to ten rigid steps on a checklist.

During a meeting, a skilled strategic planning facilitator will know when to prod, poke, drill down, zoom out, press, or pivot to meet the dynamic needs of the leadership team. A professional facilitator will also ask the right questions ahead of time, questions that allow them to customize the content of the meeting to deliver the maximum actionable value.

With that said, here are some best practices I use to help you get BIG results from your annual credit union strategic planning meeting:

Align expectations. 

 You’ve all done your homework, and you’ve come to the strategic planning event with ideas and expectations. Now, a skilled facilitator will ask each attendee to share their expectations. From there, the facilitator will make sure the group agrees upon the direction in which they are about to embark. By the end of this brief discussion, everyone should have a clear understanding of what success will look like for this meeting. 

Review last year’s results. 

 While you shouldn’t spend too much time dwelling on the past, take a moment to review whether you did what you said you would do in the past year. How well did you execute last year’s plan? What could you do to improve your execution this year? Are there any problems or issues from the past year that will need to be resolved this year? Your answers to these questions will help the facilitator guide the discussion going forward.

Determine high-level outcomes. 

 Now it’s time to start nailing down the specific, measurable outcomes you want to achieve. By dividing the credit union into five or six strategic areas, we focus on developing a vision for what the next level looks like in each area. This exercise will help your team create a list of action items specifically designed to help you achieve next-level results.

Determine specific initiatives. 

 It’s one thing to set a goal. That’s the easy part. The hard part is determining the specific and measurable initiatives that will allow you to accomplish that goal. A skilled facilitator will walk you through a process that could include some intense discussions. Traditionally, these discussions result in clear initiatives that increase the probability that you’ll see significant progress for your credit union.

Drill down and assign ownership. 

  •  Once you have a strong understanding of what the next level looks like and a list of action items for reaching the next level, you will have to break down those action items and identify specific, shorter-term milestones to measure your progress. Our facilitators will help you do that by asking questions such as:
  • What will it take to guarantee it happens?
  • What will stand in the way of making it happen?
  • How will we overcome obstacles that stand in the way?
  • Who owns each action item?
  • When will it be done?

How will we keep score?

Commit to Making BIG Things Happen. 

  •  The strategic planning event should end with a strong, united commitment to the newly developed plan and a clear understanding of “who will do what by when.”

Once you have a great plan in place, don’t forget the most important part. Figure out how you will follow through to guarantee the plan gets executed over the next 12 months. While many facilitators can get you to this point, we separate ourselves by scheduling follow-up meetings 90 days and six months from the strategic planning event. This approach allows us to keep you accountable to your goals and help you overcome unforeseen obstacles that get in the way of success.

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Alex VanHaasteren

Senior Web Developer

Alex is YMC’s Senior Web Developer and, as the title suggests, she is an absolute pro! While she initially started in graphic design – working long and hard to expertly bring concepts to life – she also felt drawn to technology and applying her natural ability to problem solve. Web Development proved the perfect blend of her creative passion and technical savvy.

When Alex is out with friends – including her YMC colleagues – she’s up for Greek cuisine or some good pulled pork BBQ washed down with Diet Coke. Or an Old Fashioned, if the occasion demands. Someday, she hopes to go to Africa on a safari. Hopefully she’ll see a giraffe in the wild, because – as she’s pointed out – its neck is too short to reach the ground!

When she isn’t jamming out to T-Swift, she’s happy to impart some marketing words of wisdom, “Aim to create something unforgettable.” For day-to-day inspiration, she would remind you of two fundamental truths: You decide your happiness, and Ice cream is its own food group—not just a dessert.

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