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What’s Wrong and What’s Right with Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking

Imagine you are in an airplane flying coast-to-coast, cruising at 30,000 feet. There are the mountains and valleys, cityscapes with twinkling lights, barren land and farmland – and let us not forget those little circles on the ground (they are center-pivot irrigation systems, by the way). You can see a lot… albeit a bit of a blur.

Furthermore, if you were on the ground in LeBanon, Kan., you might be able to picture in your mind what the landscape looks like in Fresno, Calif., or Norfolk, Va., but you really can’t see it.

What does each approach have in common? There’s a lack of clarity.

I have sat through various strategic planning sessions. Most facilitators talk at you rather than engage with you. Lots of numbers are shared from a “30,000-foot view.” The SWOT analysis tends to oversimplify things. Goals are written down, but then they are shelved to review the following year. As a result, most credit union executives ask themselves, “Why call in a third-party facilitator when we can do that on our own?”

Stop. Timeout.

Strategic thinking is a highly sought-after skill. It’s just few can master it, and even fewer can teach it.

Here’s what you want in a strategic thinker:

The now and the why. – It’s easy to gloss over the past year, but what’s the meaning behind our numbers? Our operations? Our decisions? Our culture? Why do we do the things that we do? A great strategic thinker won’t accept, “It’s the way we’ve always done it,” as the answer. The old saying, “If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going,” certainly rings true. However, I would add, if you don’t know why… what’s the point?

The future and the why. – A strategic planning session is an opportunity to set goals. A great strategic thinker knows the path to the future is established by the vision and value proposition of the organization. No strategy for the future can save a credit union without a clear vision.

The how and the why. – The true value of having a third-part facilitator is guiding others to think strategically. Not simply handing back a summation of what was discussed in the planning meeting, but leading others to act. Strategic thinkers are in the professional development business. A great one will help develop an action plan, provide encouragement, and coach leadership on how to advance the organization.

If you’ve done your own strategic plan, you know it can be difficult to see beyond the day-to-day and remain accountable to the plan. Or perhaps you’ve outsourced your strategic plan before and felt like you took a plunge without a parachute.

When it comes to strategic planning, we’re talking about your people, your members and your desired outcomes. Your members are counting on you as experts to help them in their financial journey; why shouldn’t you do the same for your organization?

You need real-world solutions. Maybe even a wake-up call. Talk to YMC about your next strategic planning session.

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