Strategic Planning for Maximum Impact

Often Strategic Planning is a big deal that is conducted for a day or more. Usually, it includes a “state of the balance sheet” presentation, an update on all the improvements from the prior year, an overview of the state of the industry, a review of the Mission, Vision, and Values, and then a facilitated conversation about where the credit union wants to be in the next three years. Once the facilitated discussion is done, the list of wants is narrowed down to the “critical few”, these few are formalized, and everyone returns to work. Does this sound familiar?

Although the process identified above is necessary and reasonable, it also seems to lack some key elements. Therefore, the first of the elements to consider adding is an Organizational Audit. This audit includes the following steps:

  • A cultural audit – Why is this element important? A cultural audit is a way for the leadership and board to validate if the credit union is living by the principles of its mission, visions, and values. This “gut check” is vital for the board to properly govern the credit union and the leadership to manage these essential principles properly.
  • A leadership audit – One of the challenges of any credit union is to create an alignment throughout the organization that assures consistency in leadership and performance evaluations. This second “gut check” will often reveal leadership style inconsistencies that can disrupt cross-functional work and career path alignment.
  • A strategic audit – This element’s purpose is to understand how all areas of the credit union are aligned and how they view and understand what the key strategies have been. This third “gut check” will help identify where misunderstanding and misalignment to the credit union objectives may be out of sync.

This “gut check” auditing will allow the leadership and the board to clearly understand the starting point as they take on a new or amended set of objectives.

All this work needs to be completed before the onset of the strategic planning event because you can’t know where you want to go until you know exactly where you are today.

The second missing piece of the identified strategic planning process is assigning the critical objectives to a strategic leader; ideally, one leader per objective. This person is held accountable for the work necessary to achieve the goal and to be the objective’s voice as decisions are made about budgets and resources. Most strategic objectives have multiple intermediate steps or projects that must be done to attain the goal. Someone with authority needs to make sure these steps are being completed on time. The strategic leader needs to collaborate with the leadership and management of all necessary business units to accomplish the objective. Almost always, a strategic objective requires cross-functional, organization-wide effort and projects.

The third piece is an agreement by the strategic team, including the board, on how and when each objective will be measured and reported. This agreement reinforces this fact, what gets measured gets gone.

The fourth piece is the creation of a business plan for each strategic objective. This step is how the strategic objective will become operationalized within the organization. This step will take some time to develop because it requires collaboration between others in the organization. Typically, this step requires 60 to 90 days to complete. Although it is usually a three-year plan, the first year will be more detailed with specific projects and milestones, and the second through the third year will become less precise. This fourth step becomes the basis for a follow-up strategic planning session. This session is a business plan reveal, and each strategic owner communicates the business plan to the strategic team and maybe the board. This step helps all business units understand the challenges and opportunities in front of them and fosters strategic alignment across the organization.

As a board member or strategic leader, following this process will go a long way in assuring the credit union becomes all it can be in the next three years. Call or email me if you have questions.


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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