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How Do You “Do” Strategy? A 3-Step Guide for Credit Union Leadership

By Jeffrey Paille, on February 3rd, 2024

Often, the biggest question posed by credit union leaders is regarding what topics a credit union should strategize about. Or what the future will hold in terms of interest rates, inflation, etc. However, before you get into specific strategic topics, and before there is an attempt to execute a strategy, you need to think about how you “do” strategy.

To get started, there are three factors that are seen more often in high performing credit unions and not as often in credit unions that are perhaps not as high performing. Furthermore, these characteristics tend to indicate higher performance regardless of what the credit union’s strategic objectives or initiatives are. They include:

1. Relentless Execution. High performing credit unions likely have both of the basic strategy components; a nicely put together strategy document and quantitative metrics against which progress is measured. But the reason they are high performing is that they consistently embrace the strategy as an integral part of everyday operations.

Most often, successful strategy is one or two “big” decisions followed by relentless day-to-day execution. It’s almost more of an attitude. Think: “We’re doing this. Everyday. All the time.”

There is a strong temptation to “do” strategy and put the nice document on a shelf for occasional admiration. Check it off the list and be “done.” Giving in to this temptation dooms your organization to continue doing what it’s been doing, the way they’ve been doing it, and renders the strategic thought worthless as it will not convert to strategic action.

High performing credit unions emphasize the need to change behavior. This includes consistent communication about what you’re trying to do and why. It includes pointing out what behavior is expected and calling out when that behavior is not happening.

This is not easy. This is why high performing credit unions look different than the rest of the bunch. Which group is your credit union in?

2. Agility. High performing credit unions are organized in a manner that allows them to gather information effectively, evaluate that information, consider stakeholder input, make decisions, and execute.

Think about March 2020. Like just about every organization of any kind, your credit union probably made decisions to change procedures and practices incredibly quickly. You had no choice at that time. You just did it. Now that we’re nearly four years removed from that disruption, do you decide and execute with a sense of urgency and importance, or are you more casual about it?

High performing credit unions have embraced the idea that decision-making, even for big decisions, doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Some credit unions used to make strategic decisions with multiple Board meeting presentations and discussions over a series of months. Some of those credit unions have moved to a quicker process designed around Committee work and fewer Board discussions. This hasn’t diminished the role of the Board. If anything, Board members who participate in the committee work are more engaged than they were before.

The pace of change is simply too fast in the current environment to allow your credit union’s tradition or some pre-set Board meeting schedule to force you to wait to make a strategic move.

3. Focus on People. A lot of strategy discussions, and strategy documents, have a lot of content in the form of facts and figures. Even more often, they have numbers and graphs focused on predicting the future. What’s going to happen with interest rates? Is there going to be a recession? etc.

High performing credit unions think about those things too, but they roll out a strategy that focuses on the people. Most often, the people in this context are the credit union’s employees. What impact does this strategy have on employees? To the extent employees must change their behavior, is credit union leadership preparing all personnel for that change? Are you communicating the “why” effectively? Are you making it matter to the individuals who will actually execute the strategy?

This must go well beyond handing out a sharp-looking strategy document or making an announcement at a staff meeting. And it must be consistently part of every communication with all personnel, not just the leadership team. High performing credit unions celebrate the strategy as something that makes the credit union a great place to be. They include elements specifically related to the strategy in every person’s performance objectives and goals, and evaluate people in all roles against those expectations.

There are a lot of specific strategic topics with which credit unions must deal in the current environment. But regardless of your credit union’s specific strategy elements, how you formulate and roll out the strategy is what ultimately determines that strategy’s success. There is a huge opportunity to move your credit union forward in a high performing manner.

If you need further guidance or have any questions on this topic, we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to discuss your specific situation.

This material has been prepared for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Should you require any such advice, please contact us directly. The information contained herein does not create, and your review or use of the information does not constitute, an accountant-client relationship.

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