A 10-Year Plan To Send Listerhill Back To The Future

Taking inspiration from popular culture and performance excellence training, this Alabama credit union has put together a living strategic plan for the next decade.


In March 2015, the Baldrige National Quality Program awarded Listerhill Credit Union ($674.5M, Sheffield, AL) a Malcolm Baldrige Level 2-Progress Toward Excellence Award, which recognizes performance in the areas of improvement, innovation, and efficiency.

“To complete this application, we had to tear down silos and barriers,” says Listerhill CEO Brad Green.

As part of the application process, which the credit union started in 2014, Listerhill had to ask itself more than 250 questions that focused primarily on categories such as leadership, strategic planning; customer focus, measurement, analysis, knowledge management, workforce, and operations, says Joyce Bates, chief administration officer.

“You answer these questions to see who you are as an organization,” Bates says. “Then you start work on process mapping — who you are, what you do, and how you do it.”

Taking a cue from the Baldrige model, Green wanted to find ways to be more open and proactive with idea generation. For Listerhill, this means making sure everyone in the organization, regardless of role and responsibility, understands the impact they make.

Now in the midst of its second application, Listerhill attributes the monumental change in how it approaches the future to six best practices.

hand_ball1. Find Inspiration

Although Green wanted to foster open dialogue between employees and departments, he also wanted to think long-term. In the 1989 time-travel film “Back to the Future II,” the hero travels into the year 2015. A major plot device in the film is a sports almanac that lists the results of major sporting events from 1950 to 2000 — immensely valuable if taken back in time.

Drawing inspiration from this, Green wanted to create a Listerhill version of the almanac. So, during the first full-day session of strategic planning in 2015, he asked his senior team to predict the future, using current industry trends as a baseline.

“What opportunities or challenges do we foresee in the next 10 years?” he asked. “In the market, regulatory, legislatively, nationally, locally?”

The credit union went broad, including anything it thought could come into play over the next decade.

microscope2. Identify The Right Moves

The credit union’s entire strategic planning process took two days. But it was only after the first day of educated predicting that senior team members were allowed to think about the credit union’s corresponding countermoves if these predictions proved right.

Topics discussed ranged from mobile strategies for the next decade to what the next generation of Listerhill branch will look like, from how to get more young adults in the door to what emerging markets the credit union could expand into.

The session prompted Jerry Sprinkle, vice president of consumer lending, to ask key questions like: Is Listerhill offering the right products? Are some products stale? Does the credit union need new products? Are rates where they need to be?

On the technology side, a core conversion in mid-2015 now allows disparate systems to better talk to one another, giving employees like Johnathan Gray and Rob Michael, Listerhill’s vice president of IT and regional manager, more data to make informed decisions.

It’s a pretty comprehensive book of work that hopefully is relevant to us in the short-term and long-term. It could just be for the next six months. But it could also be for the next six years.

Regarding new branch plans, Gray says, “If business intelligence tells us 80% of the people in a branch are older than 55, putting in automation is probably not a good idea. It’s probably not going to be used.”

map3. Create Ownership

For a strategic plan this large to succeed, Listerhill needed buy-in from all levels. So after identifying its objectives, it created 18 planning teams to draw up specific plans, or “process maps,” that fulfill the assigned objectives.

Teams of employees from across the organization, ranging in seniority from tellers to managers, are mapping current processes before reimaging what the processes should be. The teams will then test new designs with focus groups before presenting a final product.

As part of this process, Green also asked his board and senior management to each write a letter to the Listerhill of the future about what would be most essential between 2015 and 2025. Green synthesized these into a single letter and included it with the rest of the materials that went into the credit union’s strategic planning almanac.

colorful_hands4. Ask The Hard Questions

For Listerhill, process mapping is starting to allow employees to see the individual steps necessary to create a mobile phone application, branch design, or millennial marketing plan. And when these steps are clearly outlined, employees can more easily make additions or subtractions. It gives them a reason to think critically and ask questions such as why the credit union does something, is it necessary, and can it be eliminated, Green says.

Ultimately, Green hopes mapping can help the credit union gain meaningful efficiencies. For example, the credit union’s lending operation is almost completely centralized; however, the mortgage origination process is decentralized. But as Listerhill grows larger, the mortgage origination process is likely to become centralized, Sprinkle says.

“Based on the speed at which we’re growing, we’re interested in exploring the lending process for all types of loans,” he adds.

ruler5. Define The Measurables

When implementing new strategies and processes, an organization must be able to measure and quantify success, regardless of objective.

“There has to be a way to measure whether we’re successful,” Green says.
Listerhill will continue to calculate metrics it has used in the past — such as mobile adoption rates, employee engagement, and Net Promoter Score — but at this point no official benchmarks have been set. Of course, tracking performance is just the first step.

“Once you set those measurables and attain them, it’s about making them better,” Green says.

moving_process6.  Keep The Process Moving

The nature of predictions is that some will be wrong. But that’s why Listerhill’s 10-year plan is a living document. The credit union can update it, and probably will given crucial factors such as when and by how much the Federal Reserve will move interest rates.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive book of work that hopefully is relevant to us in the short term and long term,” Green says. “It could just be for the next six months. But it could also be for the next six years. In either case, my vision for the future is that we represent the absolute, most-trusted source for financial services in our market.”