Strategic planning is a staple in the credit union industry this time of year. Fall doesn’t just mean football season is here—it means planning season is here as well. As credit unions both large and small face increasing competition and an uncertain economy, looking ahead and making best-case planning efforts becomes more critical.

While there are many different ways to approach the strategic planning process, all credit unions can at least agree on several key expectations of the process. For example, we all want to see an open exchange of ideas expressed under a guided, structured and perhaps even facilitated process. Going into the strategic planning process, however, begs the question: what can credit unions do to improve it?

Across the next three weeks we’ll share “15 Tips to Improve Your Strategic Planning Process.” With each installment we will suggest five tips you can take back to your credit union to help guide expectations as you enter any stage of the strategic planning process. We hope you get new ideas for how to energize the planning process.

This installment’s tips are:

  1. Put zing into your planning session with a Five Star Credit Union Analysis. Every credit union strives for greatness. But oftentimes we settle for mediocrity. How can credit unions go from good to great? They can strive to be a “five star” credit union. But what does having a “five star” rating really mean and what does it look like? A true “five-star” credit union will achieve success in five key areas: member service, staff, branding/marketing, operations, finances and differentiation. Try this exercise at your strategic planning meeting.
  2. Throw out the SWOT. The standard “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” exercise may not be the best way for your credit union to proceed with a strategic planning process. Most people already know the answers to the SWOT walking into the meeting. So don’t waste their time reviewing it in the session.
  3. A credit union cannot be all things to all people. A sure way to fail is to try to please everybody. Your credit union must find its true marketplace niche. Ensure your credit union finds its sweet spot in one of the following areas: service, price, product, experience or access/convenience. Identify yours at the next strategic planning meeting.
  4. Remember this formula: P = F2 where P is “planning” and F2 = “focus” and fun.” Any successful strategic planning process meeting must have elements of both. You must focus on specific issues to make any progress. That’s a given. But you must also have fun doing so. Fun loosens people up, drops inhibitions and gets the creative juices flowing. So have fun during and after your credit union strategic planning process.
  5. Consider the following question: “What should our credit union stop doing?” That’s right. Stop. Credit unions can often benefit from deleting certain things. Ask the following questions to help figure out what these things might be: What products are your members not using? Where have you created confusion for your staff? What product lines have too many choices? What products are outdated?

Next week, we’ll share five more tips to help improve your strategic planning process. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback, questions and ideas…please post your comments in response to this post to help us continue and expand the discussion.

Mark Arnold, CCUE, is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner. He is also president of On the Mark Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in branding and strategic planning. Some of the services Mark provides include strategic planning, brand planning, leadership/management training, marketing planning and staff training. His web address is and his blog is You can also contact him at 214-538-4147 or