Strategic plans come in all shapes, sizes and levels of usefulness. When done well, they serve as the centerpiece of an organization’s operations. When not done well, they usually lack any real strategy. Often, they become an annual check-list of what needs to be done, instead of providing direction for future initiatives. Long-term plans that lack strategy general become paper weights sitting on a shelf and collecting dust until the next planning session.

Businessmen planning business strategy while holding puzzle pieces, creating ideas with light bulb drawn on paper and rearranging wooden blocks. Conceptual of teamwork, strategy, vision or education.

Do not let this happen to your strategic plan. Instead of wasting valuable time creating something nobody intends to follow, spend your time putting real strategy in your strategic plan.

Focus on the Big Picture
Strategy is about the big picture. It’s the “what” of your strategic plan. In other words, what does your financial institution hope to accomplish? What will make us sustainable for the long term? Do we have the right business model in place to make us competitive? These are some of the questions your executive team should ask in your planning session. All too often, planning sessions stall because executives don’t think broadly enough. Answer the big questions first, then spend time on tactics, which answer how your financial institution will carry out those big picture initiatives.

Choose a Destination
If you get in your car with no destination in mind, there’s a good chance you’ll waste time and gas driving around aimlessly. It’s no different with a strategic plan that lacks direction. Everything your employees do should tie back to strategy, which is tied to your mission and vision and core values. It’s all connected. If your executive team hasn’t decided where it’s going in three to five years, or even next year for that matter, you are driving in reverse without even realizing it.

Make high-level decisions
Do we need to build more branches? Do we need to close a branch or two? What consumers should we be targeting? What factors are keeping us from being a better financial institution? What is the one thing we must do to grow our financial institution in the coming year? These are the types of questions you should answer in your planning session. Decide the “what” part of your strategy first, then focus on how you will do it.