The Snake Oil that May be Gumming up your Credit Union Strategic Planning

You’re faced with a new challenge at your credit union. You see the obstacle, but you can’t identify the right solution. You start doing some digging. You find some podcasts, blogs and white papers on the topic, and the answers seem to conflict with each other from the various experts. They all seem confident, so who should you listen to?

All of them.

Before I share that, here’s something relevant I’ve learned as a leader: Keep an open mind and keep a healthy mix of confidence and inquiry. As a credit union leader, you must have a healthy level of confidence in your choices, but also be open to being wrong.

When onboarding a new strategic marketing client or facilitating a credit union strategic planning session and I encounter strong pushback, my response is usually something like this:

“I’ve seen so much evidence that [whatever it is I’ve stated] is true, but I always want to be open to learning something new. If [what the client says and believes] is true, it seems like it would be an exception, and it would really surprise me. Tell me more.”

I demonstrate my confidence in my knowledge of the subject and the data and trends I’ve seen hold true, while also expressing my openness to learning something new.

Recent revelations will run counter to some deeply held beliefs we have been using as a crutch for a long time. I visualize my deeply held beliefs as this slow-growing collection of truths with high walls around it. I also regularly and intentionally open the door to new insights, which requires me to rethink the beliefs already inside those walls.

Back to the original question: Who should you listen to?”


What could they have to offer when they don’t know the particulars of your situation? They aren’t walking in your shoes. True, but when you pause to reflect, you’ll probably find something of value. That rare applicable insight is a golden opportunity.


Within this community, you’ll find the comfort of others who have been there and done that. Beware the danger, however, that freely given advice is usually worth just what you pay for it. You’ll find a mix of fantastic advice and fresh ideas, but also pretty lousy ideas that are like poison ivy you can’t get out of the credit union flower garden. Admit it. You’ve sat at a conference and heard a very successful peer talk about what they’ve done to get great results, and you lean into the ear of the person next to you and whisper, “That’s crazy. I would never do that.”


There are legitimate experts, and then there are snake oil salesmen. Learn to distinguish the two.

If the sales pitch is as pushy as street hustlers in New Orleans (if you know, you know), then danger could be ahead. There’s a bright smile and an immediate promise of results before even understanding the situation and diagnosing the actual problem.

My credit union strategic marketing and credit union strategic planning clients know the most important rule of our engagement is to “ask a freaking question” and gain perspective before talking about solutions. The most valuable experts will also kindly but unabashedly have tough conversations. They know clients pay for advice, not compliments.

Continue listening, reading and watching. Continue learning, growing and asking questions. Keep your mind open to allow your beliefs and ideas to be challenged. Continue asking “freaking questions” to gain perspective to find the proper solution to your actual problems.

Prepared to Start Asking the Freaking Questions?

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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