We’re headlong into planning and budgeting season, and after reviewing a few plans, a couple of things have occurred to me about communicating the strategic plan.
Have you ever noticed that no one ever has a new strategic planning document that simply says, “Just keep doing what we’re doing. Things are going great”? And rightly so, I guess. I mean, you don’t hold planning sessions to envision what you’re already doing. But too often credit unions get caught up in the concept of the planning session and the idea that this is the one place where we come up with new, different, and forward thinking. We all want to be innovative and feel like visionaries. And no doubt our industry is dealing with dramatic change and an environment that often feels like quicksand shifting beneath our feet.
My point is that there are often a couple of large gaps between the plan and the people that derail the process.
Gap 1 – Lack of communication. The strategic planning process can be exciting and invigorating … for the board and senior staff. But often it doesn’t make it throughout the organization. It stops trickling down after a couple of layers. Do you share the entire plan with your staff? Not just the bullet points, but the whole plan? I’ve been in organizations where the plan is treated as a Top Secret document, not to be shared too far. And only select bits and pieces ever do get out. I don’t get that. This should be what sparks the staff, and drives them forward towards a vision. If you hold this back, how is the rest of the staff supposed to feel?
Gap 2 – Failure to tie the plan to what it already happening. What if things really are “going great”? Then your plan calls for several new initiatives. What will be the perception as the new initiatives get out? Particularly if there’s an issue with Gap 1, and the communication isn’t thorough and clear.
I have been in organizations where the new initiatives leak out of the planning process and they are treated with the most exaggerated eye-rolls you’ve ever seen. And the response from tenured staff to rookies is: “Heads up for the new initiative du jour. Just smile and nod for a couple of months. They usually forget about it.” It’s hardly the enthusiastic buy in that senior management is hoping for. Why? The staff is neck deep in “what we already do” and the things that get the excitement and attention are the things that are new and unknown.
By trusting the staff and communicating the strategic plan carefully and thoroughly, you have the chance to spread the excitement, to get some proper buy-in, and dramatically increase the odds of success for new initiatives. Carefully tying the strategic plan to ongoing operations in an intentional way keeps priorities balanced.