‘Be responsive to strategic plans’
From left: Meredith Vaughan, Frank Chinn, and James Sackett.

‘Be responsive to strategic plans’

Educating the board is key to strategy, panelists say.

October 23, 2019

The most important document board members review isn't the monthly board packet, it’s the credit union’s strategic plan.

“We see board books as retroactive of what happened instead of what could be,” says Meredith Vaughan, director at $5.8 billion asset Ent Credit Union in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Don’t be responsive to board books. Be responsive to strategic plans.”

Vaughan participated in a panel discussion at the 2019 CUNA Roundtable for Board Leadership in Phoenix that examined the board’s role in strategy. Other members of the panel were Frank Chinn, board chair at $1.3 billion asset Unitus Community Credit Union in Portland, Ore., and James Sackett, vice chair at $1.3 billion asset Firefly Credit Union in Burnsville, Minn.

To develop the strategic plan, Vaughan says the board sets the “master goal” for the credit union, but doesn’t get into details on how to achieve that goal. The CEO and leadership team finalize the operating details and put together the strategic plan, which the board approves at the annual retreat.

A monthly dashboard updates the board on the leadership team's progress. The process guides discussions throughout the year.

“We focus on the highest level of strategy,” Vaughan says. “Discussions have evolved so we’re able to offer insight.”

While putting together the plan is important, Chinn says education is another critical component to strategic planning.

“There are so many levels to strategic planning,” Chinn says. “Part of that is educating the board.”

At Unitus Community, each board meeting includes an education session where directors learn about issues that may be brought up and discussed at future meetings. Chinn says he also provides board members with twice-weekly emails containing links to articles addressing board-related issues.

Sackett agrees continuous education is crucial for board members.

Firefly includes an information session at each board meeting on a variety of topics that board members find valuable. But the meeting also includes agenda items that allow for “open strategic discussion,” Sackett says.

However, the board takes no action. Instead, board members discuss the topic, which may prove beneficial in the future.

Topics they’ve discussed include cannabis banking, driverless cars and the impact on auto loans, and the impact of census data on the credit union’s market.

“It’s all underscored by learning more,” Sackett says.