Strategic Planning and the Pandemic

Here is what we know.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. This situation has forced each of us to rethink and reimage how we do business. There is a tendency to hunker down and attack the urgent needs of members, staff, and the credit union. We get done what is critical at the expense of what is essential. 

This crisis is not a time to shelve your strategic plans. Instead, it is the time to reengage your strategic objectives, which are still valid, which need delaying and which need abandoning. I am under no delusions that this is easy, but successful CEOs and Boards will drill down into their strategic plan and make essential decisions. 

This conversation needs to be, not from a place of fear, but a position of optimism. Most of us have been through disruption before We’ve survived, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, the bird flue, 9/11, and the economic meltdown of 2008. We know this will eventually pass, and our staff has been up to the task when faced with these events. Now is not a time for leadership to get into the weeds. We owe our members and staff a direction for the organization beyond the pandemic. 

That is why now is an excellent time to identify what we missed when we designed the strategic plan. 

The first step is to identify the following:

  1. What have you had to change to serve your members? 
  2. What have you changed in how your staff works?
  3. How have your communications with members changed?
  4. How are you now managing performance and productivity?
  5. What are you doing well, and what needs improvement?

Once you get an understanding of the current state, you then need to move on to the next step:

  1. What are your members missing from your service?
  2. What products or services do your members need that you can’t quickly provide?
  3. What should you be doing to communicate with your members properly?
  4. What tools or applications do you need to close this communications gap?
  5. What is missing in your internal communications?
  6. What tools or applications do you need to close this gap?
  7. What do your managers need to manage their staff correctly?
  8. What access to processes do you need to manage performance, productivity, and timeliness of execution by staff?

With this background information, the CEO and Board are in a position to take the next step; decide on the strategic needs of the credit union. This step is essential to surviving this disruptive event with a sustainable business outcome. The beauty of building your strategic vision during a time of stress is, two-fold:

  1. The disruption forces you to focus on the “need to do” versus the “nice to do” objectives. This focus will drive better decisions.
  2. The pandemic also eliminates some of the complications that arise when we seek too much consensus. I’m not saying that agreement is a bad thing; I’m just suggesting that we can often get bogged down with consensus when we feel we have the luxury of time and with less risk.

Once the Board and leadership have identified the new objectives and the strategic priorities, it is time to execute on not just the urgent things, but also the critical things. Each strategic objective needs an operational plan of execution. To operationalize a strategic goal requires the following steps:

  1. Assign an owner of the objective. This owner needs to have the authority and the control to advocate for the resources and budget necessary to complete the mission. 
  2. The objective owner receives a due date to prepare a business plan detailing the attainment of this goal. This business plan needs to include measurable and reportable milestones fand an agreement on reporting progress to the Board. 

The final step of strategic planning is communication. The communication is to help the staff understand not only what needs to be done get through today but to understand how the credit union is going to leverage this new reality for the future. The staff needs to have confidence that this pandemic will eventually end, and when we come out of this, we will be stronger and better able to serve our members, staff, and the community better. The entire credit union needs to believe in a better future for all. This message of hope and the need for their effort and commitment needs to be frequent and consistent.

The call to action to do urgent work is evident during this pandemic, but don’t get bogged down with just doing this critical work. Make time for your leadership team and the Board to use this event as an opportunity to pivot your credit union for an improved future.


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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