Just Say NO to Strategic Planning Land Mines

If you’re like most bankers, you probably pulled your strategic plan together eight or nine months ago. When is the last time you looked at it? Have you been hitting your quarterly goals? Are you on target to hit your year-end goals?

You are hearing everywhere that those who run their banks like they ran them five years ago won’t make it in the not-so-distant future. Heck, based on the news reports over the past year, they may no longer be in business.

The same goes for the strategic planning process. Those who are still using the old “Mission Statement, SWOT, and Goals” approach with a nice book delivered at the end will be left in the dust by those who understand what the top two-percenters know.

Of course, those people are even a bit ahead of the extremely unfounded approach of thinking strategic planning is taking last year’s budget and making alterations and then crossing your fingers, hoping to get better results. Budgeting is not planning—and budgeting does NOT create results. Never has. Never will.
So what are the best practices of strategic planning that drives massive result improvements?

It’s NOT about the plan
The most significant result of a great planning session is that your team develops two things: critical thinking skills about targets, and strategies to get you to those targets and to trust in each other.

I recently watched a physicist do a demonstration of how probabilities change when just one input out of thousands changes. He showed the results impact to be astronomical. You can’t lay out a plan and expect it to happen that way. Things change. Competitors get tougher. Competitors go out of business. The economy is a complete wild card.

With all those variables, a step-by-step plan is a bit ludicrous. Instead, a powerful commitment to what results you will create regardless of what happens and the critical skills to make the changes on the fly is what a good session is all about.

Additionally, in order for people to live their commitments, there must be trust as a base. Trust is a fickle thing. You no doubt have people on your leadership team who have let others down—many of them repeatedly, some almost daily. Without creating the communication abilities and the healing to rebuild the trust, the best of plans is a seed on concrete. It has all the potential—but there isn’t a chance the day beyond germination.

Commit to at least 10 strategies—50 would be better
Most financial institutions have a strategic plan that they paid good money for. They even feel fairly good about their plan. But open the plan and you’ll find that there isn’t even one strategy in the strategic plan. Somehow, all those smart people in the same room missed a biggy.

If that’s the case in your organization, you’re in good company. Not only are you not alone—you are in the majority. The vast majority.

A goal is not a strategy. A tactic is not a strategy. A project is not a strategy. A key result is not a strategy. And an initiative is NOT a strategy. Only a strategy is a strategy and if you haven’t distinguished what is a strategy and what isn’t, your strategic plan isn’t going to take you far past mediocrity.

If your plan is longer than one page, you don’t have a powerful, viable, get-it-done document
Mark Twain, as usual said it best: “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”

Getting something down to one page, with the right things on the page, is the clarity you need to align everyone and everything to really make it happen. Let me illustrate my point.

Have you noticed that the people in your organization who are least productive in getting results are always the ones who tell you repeatedly how “busy” they are? What they fail to understand is that “busy” is NOT the game. The game is results. You probably don’t hear your top performers complaining about being busy. They don’t have time for that nonsense. They’re too focused on getting things accomplished. They know that “busy” is the language of under-performers. “Busy” is the trump card that is played when the real language should be, “Hey, I know I’m not getting results, but I’m going to pull the ‘busy’ card so you back off and leave me to struggle—which is just the way I like it!”

You probably have many, many busy people. They wear you out as you watch them struggle to get below-average results. What you need instead is a plan that highlights EXACTLY the results that are to be obtained. Then you need to complete the strategy follow-through templates to make sure those happen, getting everyone and everything aligned through weekly check-ins.

Which leads us to…

Build the Iron-Clad Get-It-Done System
Do you walk your talk? Will you make happen what you say will happen? Only if you have a system. The system must make your plan a part of every employee’s quarterly plan AND include a weekly process to stay in alignment. Without the system, your planning session is just a nice little outing with doughnuts.

So plan away, but put it in context. If you have never had a flying lesson, you probably wouldn’t take over the wheel of a 747. You would first study, learn, and practice what you need to know. If you don’t know how to do a worthwhile strategic plan geared for great results, it is time to study, learn, and practice what you need to know.

So why am I asking you about your strategic plan just as we’re about to approach summer? Because it’s never too late to course correct. Summer is the perfect time to start “knowing what you don’t know.”

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