From strategic plan to execution

From strategic plan to execution

CUNA’s Catie Shannon explains how to bring big ideas to life.

January 11, 2021

Strategic planning can seem daunting, especially as credit unions contend with the constantly changing environment of the pandemic. Catie Shannon, senior director of strategic enablement at CUNA, shares ways to make it more manageable.


CUNA News: How can credit unions organize their approach to strategic planning?

Catie Shannon: It’s really a few simple steps:

  1. Figure out the scope of your planning. Are you starting fresh or updating your current plan?
  2. Review current state. This is so important, especially as conditions are currently changing quickly. We all have assumptions—that need to be confirmed or debunked—about what is going on around us.
  3. With a common view of the current state, define your strategy to address it.
  4. Ask how you will take action to connect an exciting strategy to a doable execution.

Additionally, review your strategy more than once a year. This allows you to adjust to issues that pop up, and it removes the pressure of a once-a-year strategic planning session. Strategy is like the NFL—there’s no off-season.

Q: What are some common topics or challenges that credit unions will have to address this year in their planning conversations?

A: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and all the short-term and long-term impacts. We know so much more than we did a few months ago. How will this knowledge change our plans for in-person-banking, branch expansion, and digital platforms? How will what we’ve learned change our approach to financial well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Credit unions are uniquely positioned to help their members and communities. Every credit union should have a strategy to address the underserved in their community and membership segment. COVID-19 has shown us that the time to act on this is now.

Q: With the current limitations on in-person meetings and planning sessions, how can credit unions hold effective virtual planning conversations?

A: Virtual planning is forcing us to think about what’s important and where we need to spend our time, rather than filling a two-day retreat because we have it on the calendar.

Make sure that everyone has a common view of things like your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) and other external trends to address. Allow time for questions and debate when it comes to strategy and next steps. It’s important to make sure everyone is heard virtually.

Q: How can credit unions plan in a constantly changing situation, like the current pandemic, and build in room to adjust?

A: Review your plan constantly—at a minimum once a year, but ideally once a quarter or more. The days of three- or five-year plans that you hang up and never touch are over. Constantly evaluate your plan—make changes in the present while keeping an eye on your long-term vision.

Q: What steps should credit unions follow to take their strategic plan to the execution phase?

A: Do not stop your strategic planning at the “pretty piece of paper” stage—the colorful, well-designed piece of paper that you hang up and look at for months. Take that piece of paper and work with your team to really figure out the “how.”

What will it take to bring your great ideas to life? It’s not always money—a lot of times it’s working together to find the right resource, prioritize the right work, and focus on the right area. We can do that and not spend a dime, and still achieve our strategy.

Read more about strategy in 2021, sponsored by Origence.