By this point you should be well into your 2012 Strategic Plan. Perhaps you have a list of bullet points or paragraphs from that 2011 Strategic Planning meeting that were sifted out of that day or two you spent with board members and senior managers throwing out ideas while someone else wrote them on white poster sheets that were taped to the wall until the walls themselves could no longer be found.
And perhaps you're a CEO with just such a list in your drawer right now that has you wondering why every board member has to have at least one of their pet projects watered and fed, and you're realizing that even though it's still only February there's no way you're going to be able to water and feed that whole crop this year.
The fundamental problem, according to one person who has sat in on plenty of those planning sessions, is many credit unions lack focus in their planning and, specifically, are missing the ability to agree to "Just Say No."
The 'Didn't Do' List
"One thing I've seen many times is that people from credit unions go to great pains to find a place to have a planning session, hire a great speaker, plan the meals, and fill the walls with things they want to do," observed Dr. Michael Hudson. "And when they leave their plan is a long list of things on a flip chart. And then what happens next year? They pull out that list and check off what they did and didn't do, and the 'Didn't Do' side is always longer, because we put too much on the plate. These boards and management teams didn't ask the most fundamental question: 'What are we not going to do.' It's really tough to decide what we're not going to do."
Hudson didn't say it in the remarks he was giving to CUES' CEO/Chairman Exchange in Bonita Springs, Fla., but that's where a facilitator can really play the role of diplomat, because you're not just saying no to an idea, you're saying no to the person who proposed it and who believes it's the greatest brainstorm since squeeze-bottle ketchup.
"The point here is we have to decide what we're not going to give our energies to, what we're not going to give resources to," said Hudson, who heads up Credit Union Strategy in Rehoboth Beach, Del. "If we decide what we're not going to do, then we have to focus on what we are also doing and what we're going to give up on.
"The second question you've got to answer is, 'If we weren't already doing this, would we start?'," he continued. "Can you think of something that you are doing today that if it were brought to you today there is no way you would do it?"
Having a "Not To Do List" makes for discomfort for several reasons, acknowledged Hudson, including external pressures-the belief that members expect everything from their credit union-and internal pressures-projects are often "owned" by someone inside the shop, and if the project is axed, what do you do with the owner?
What Will You Do Well?
"The reality of truly successful business is they decide what they are not going to do, and decide what they are going to do well," said Hudson. "As board chairs, are there things you should decide you're going to say 'no' to right now?"
Every planning session includes a good discussion of asset/liability management. But few ever realize, Hudson reminded, that it's also imperative to recognize that the strategic planning process itself must remain an asset and not become a liability. It's that old plan your plan thing.
So pull out that list of yours again, and begin identifying all your "No's."
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.