The Turbulent Sales Pitch, The Absent Plan, The Unhappy Squirrel

On a recent flight from San Diego to Phoenix we were approaching the city in the Valley of the Sun, where it rarely rains. So, naturally there were thunderstorms just northwest of Phoenix and with the ride starting to get rough the captain announced that he wanted all service suspended, flight attendants seated, and everyone buckled up. As we began descending we started bouncing around pretty good when I noticed one flight attendant unbuckling her seatbelt and trying to steady herself against the fuselage wall as she reached for the microphone. Like others, I dreaded the announcement that was surely coming: "Put your head between your knees." "Call your loved ones." "Smoke 'em if you got 'em."

I was wrong on all three counts, for I had forgotten the power of the personal incentive, especially for someone in a job who has likely taken a pay cut in recent years and sure isn't going to see a Christmas bonus. As I watched out the lefthand-side window at the thunderhead flashing and roiling to the north, she held grasped the wall with one hand and the microphone with the other long enough to announce that the seatbacks all held applications for the US Airways Bank of America Visa Signature Card.

* Each week the Credit Union Journal includes on our website at www.cujournal.com a reader poll. The questions are typically short and topical, and offer readers a chance to share some insights that help provide our editorial staff with guidance on what the credit union community is thinking about a certain issues. Some weeks we have fun with the poll question, but most weeks the questions are serious in nature. On occasion, it's difficult to tell what to make of the results. Recently, the Journal asked, "How is your 2008 strategic planning going?" Thirty-six percent of respondents clicked on, "We're still working on our plan and market forces may still reshape it." Thirty-one percent of respondents answered, "We're comfortable, our planning is complete." But a full one-third of respondents chose this answer: "Plan! What plan?"

Perhaps some were just trying to be funny. Perhaps others were members of senior management unhappy with the plan being put in place by their CEO or the board. And perhaps a great number really have no plan at all.

"I'd like to think many were joking, or at least I'm hoping they were," said John Gregoire when told of 33% of folks who, apparently, forgot to plan for a plan. Gregoire, principal with the Pro-Con Group in Madison, Wis., does extensive facilitation of planning meetings with credit unions ranging in assets from $200 million to $4 billion. That factor, asset size, may play a role in what the poll found, noted Gregoire, who pointed out that the majority of credit unions in the U.S. have less than $20 million in assets, and many of those CEOs and managers are swamped by the day to day. Who's got time to think about 2008?

But that doesn't mean all of the larger credit unions have their planning act together, either.

"I do get calls from $300 and $400 million credit unions that have reserved rooms at a five-star hotel for strategic planning session in a week and they want to know if I can facilitate it," Gregoire shared, adding that even getting a facilitator well ahead of time and creating a solid strategic plan is not in and of itself the answer. "My experience has been that the real problem isn't planning, but not executing the plan."

Gregoire noted that at some smaller credit unions, the budget for the approaching year is, by default, the plan. But he also noted that at some credit unions with which he has worked they are careful not to let the budget become the plan, as that often leads to the mistaken notion that managing expenses means you're well-managed. "You might be under budget, but losing money," Gregoire said.

He added that many credit unions prefer revenue targets, which can be a better indicator of growth.

* During the recent Harland Connections Conference I heard one speaker, seeking to make his point a bit more clear and then, as an after-thought, throwing in a bit of understatement, offer an observation that will be a candidate for 2007 Quotes of the Year.

Rocky Clancy of J.D. Power & Associates was seeking to explain that success for most enterprises is the result of excellence in many, many smaller endeavors, rather than one big strategic or tactical victory. "It's not about shooting a bear, it's about shooting a whole bunch of squirrels and stringing a coat together from that," he said. "It's a tedious process-particularly for the squirrel."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.