During strategic planning sessions, credit union executives usually storm the beach like pirates in search of plunder. Whooping and hollering, sabres drawn and pistols at the ready, they are prepared to take on anything and anybody. Nothing will stand between them and their goal of hidden riches.

Great. Sometimes you can storm the beaches and accomplish amazing things. While there’s nothing wrong with this positive attitude, credit unions will benefit equally (if not more) from a realistic assessment of the things they actually cannot accomplish.

Look at it this way – your credit union is comprised of a limited number of people. Those people, no matter how talented, have a limited number of hours per day they can work. And if you work them (or expect them to work) more than what is reasonable, you will drive that horse right into the ground.

Similarly, your credit union has limited assets in terms of budget. If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood CFO. He or she is usually delighted to tell you exactly what you can and cannot spend. Your strategic plan may call for amazing things, but if you don’t have the bucks to back them up, you’re chasing fool’s gold.

Your credit union is also most likely limited to what it can handle operations-wise. While having too much of anything is often blithely described as “a good problem to have,” in the credit union world, nothing could be further from the truth. The size and scope of your operations allows you to serve a certain bandwidth of members and their needs at any one time. If you take on more than you can chew, all you will do is disappoint and disenchant members and limit the opportunity to expand wallet share amongst them.

People, money and operations are just a few of the limitations your credit union faces when it comes to strategic planning. Hiring an outside facilitator can help you realize this in such a way that does not allow for internal finger-pointing and blank.

Certainly, the goal of every credit unit is to grow so that it can hire additional people, earn additional money and increase its operational capacity. However, for your strategic planning process to be successful, it was also included a healthy dose of realizing those things which it cannot accomplish, and why.

Anything else risks burning out your people, spending money you don’t have and stretching the limits of your operational resources. These are all recipes for disaster when it comes to strategic planning.