Strategic thinking is one of the most important things your credit union will ever do.It also happens to be one of the most misunderstood and overlooked tools of the trade – in any industry. There are several reasons for that.

Think Outside The Box

In credit unions, especially, leaders often wear many hats (and many still maintain operational responsibilities). As they focus on their day-to-day tasks, the time they allocate to more strategic priorities often gets lost in the proverbial shuffle.

There’s also the mentality that you shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken. That mentality is often born of time restrictions and a focus on operations–the results being strategies and thought processes that tend to get stale.

But that puts your organization at risk of missing promising opportunities for growth.

Strategic thinking is about ideas—ideas that can be translated into actions that produce results.

But that is difficult to put into practice because crafting a vision of what your credit union will be in the future is subjective.

Thus discussions that are intended to be strategic often quickly revert to day-to-day (aka comfortable and manageable) issues for a number of reasons, including:

  • Dealing with the uncertainty of the future is uncomfortable
  • Discussing problems you see and believe you can fix feels right
  • Deciding NOT to do something may upset some of the people you serve

The reality is that our ability to discover the ideas that will create breakthrough results is limited by our perceptions, our perspectives, our experiences, and our beliefs. Getting outside of this (somewhat proverbial at this point) box is the key to putting your credit union on the path to long-term success.

Here is a 7-step process for helping your credit union find its way outside the box:

1. Understand the Box
Recognize that personal perceptions, perspectives, experiences and beliefs define your box.

2. Adopt a Strategic Mindset
Focus on the what, not the how — what is the business, who does it serve, what value does it add?

3. Address Big Picture Questions
Define the reason that you do what you do and figure out what makes your business different.

4. Get Outside of the CU Industry
Learn about things that have worked in other industries—how can they be adapted to yours?

5. Generate Ideas without Judgment
Postpone judgment until ideas have been thoroughly vetted and completely understood.

6. Learn Ideation CPR
Implement a system for managing ideas.

7. Discover First, Implement Second
Explore alternatives and discover what fits, then create the action plan to produce results.

Action advice: The ability to think strategically and navigate change effectively is key to creating a sustainable organization. Step out of your comfort zone. Use this 7-step process to create more strategic thinkers in your organization, and have your team incorporate this process into their next strategic planning session.