What is the use of generating a slew of great ideas at a strategic planning session if they're never implemented?

To ensure that the hard work and brainstorming that goes on during strategic planning season doesn't go to waste, experts offered several tips on how to follow up.

Tony Ferris, managing partner for the Rochdale Group, a credit union consultancy in Overland Park, Kan., said the answer should be "easy," but he lamented that CUs do not do a great job as an industry of ensuring implementation.

"Define expectations, measure, and have tolerance measures, accountability, and incentives," Ferris advised. "It is amazing how many credit unions have incentives that do not follow the strategies defined by boards and management. You have to have expectations beforehand."

Jeff Carpenter, VP of member relations and strategic development for CUNA, said the first step is to have realistic goals as to the number of topics to focus on during the sessions.

"If you try to tackle 55 things, nothing gets done. Three to five is a good number, but whatever is realistic," Carpenter said. "I know of a credit union that regularly implements 30 new ideas out of their strategic planning. I don't know how they do it," he added with a laugh.

Carpenter said the second step is being "dedicated to the follow-up." He said each subsequent board meeting should focus on the ideas raised at strategic planning session, and make follow-up ingrained in management culture.

"Three, make the plan part of individual performance – so people know where they fit in to the strategic plan of the credit union," Carpenter said.

'Loaded' Question

Sam Kilmer, senior director for Cornerstone Advisors, Scottsdale, Ariz., said asking how CUs should proceed to make sure what gets planned for actually gets implemented is a "loaded question."

"This is the problem" with attempts at strategic planning at many credit unions, he noted. "The key is discovering a way to instill management accountability. What numbers keep management accountable to themselves and their boards? Come up with key indicators of success to make sure progress is taking place. Reports should use plain language and be concise."

Kilmer said planning meetings should be followed up with semi-annual or quarterly progress reports. "Get the team motivated to get behind the plan. Get everyone involved and get their views on the table."

Dr. Brandi Stankovic, partner at Las Vegas-based CU consultancy Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates, said implementation follows naturally if credit unions gathered feedback from members prior to the planning sessions — either directly from the membership or by asking the frontline staff what types of questions they regularly receive.

"That feedback is taken to the board sessions, and later the executives can go back to the managers to discuss tactical goals that are in line with the strategic direction. When the managers then take those goals to the staff, everything will make sense," Stankovic said.

Allen Gilbert, account vice president for the Financial Institution Group, SWBC in San Antonio, also suggested determining what members want from their credit unions. He said member surveys bring value. Surveys can be e-mailed, done by phone or text message, or even paper forms to fill out and send back.

"Focus groups also are a good source," he said, stating CUs should have focus groups of members and of front-line staff that work with members every day. "If a member closes out an account, do an exit interview to find out why he or she is leaving," he advised.

Gilbert said some credit unions develop key areas of focus to ensure great ideas do not go wasted. In most cases this involves a quantified, three-year strategic goal and each Key Area of Focus has supporting goals with a 12-month to 18-month completion window.

"All of the supporting goals contribute to the success of the overarching Key Area of Focus goal," Gilbert explained, adding each supporting goal is supported by individual objectives. "Each objective is assigned to a specific staff member and that person takes ownership for the entire year and reports at a minimum quarterly on their progress."

To further the success of implementation, Gilbert said CUs should put together a Strategic Plan document that came from the planning session."Prepare a mid-year update that is presented at a board meeting that provides a status on each planned item. Provide a year-end update that does the same."

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