One of the most challenging things in facilitating strategic planning processes is building consensus on the length of time that the plan should cover.

Go big or go home business concept

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

Some believe shorter is better and necessary because of the inherent uncertainty in the world today. Others argue for a moderated time outlook of 2-3 years, and some opt to reach out a bit further to look at 5-7 years.

But if you really want to ‘go big, or go home’ you might want to consider a bolder time frame of 10-15 years (or longer), and that means you need to define a BHAG.

If you’re not familiar with the term (popularized in the Jim Collins best seller Good to Great–must reading for every CU leader if you haven’t already done so), it’s an acronym for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

Here’s what Collins had to say in Inc Magazine about how organizations that pursue BHAGS are different from others:

The power of the BHAG is that it gets you out of thinking too small. A great BHAG changes the time frame and simultaneously creates a sense of urgency. It’s a real paradox. So on the one hand, you’re not going to get a BHAG done in three years. You’re not going to get it done in five years. A really good BHAG probably has a minimum length of about a decade, and many take longer than that. Two decades. Three decades. So time frames extend to where you are no longer managing for the quarter but for the quarter century.

Chances are you might be thinking it would be insane in rapidly changing financial services industry to think that long term. But as Collins noted it is not just about the time horizon, it is about getting you out of thinking small.

My Take: It would serve many credit unions well to engage in defining a BHAG for the business 10-20 years in the future. The shift in thinking required refocuses the conversation on how to create a business that will work in a world that will be much different.  Even if you don’t end up committing to a BHAG, the exercise will stretch your planning team to think in new ways and lead to a better strategic vision.

Action Advice:  Block out a segment on the agenda for your next planning session, or perhaps convene a special session mid-year, to dive deep into the idea of a BHAG for your credit union. It will make the team better at strategic thinking, it will stretch the conversation into new areas, and it just might surface a path that excites and enthuses the team about what is possible down the road.