Stimulate Your Board During Strategic Planning Sessions to Do Its Best Job

FLASHBACK 1997: “Boards should see themselves as the experts on the user level for the credit union, just as the management and staff are the experts at the operational level. The board should not just be rubber-stampers.” - Bucky Sebastian

 
 

FLASHBACK 1997: "Boards should see themselves as the experts on the user level for the credit union, just as the management and staff are the experts at the operational level. The board should not just be rubber-stampers." - Bucky Sebastian

In the midst of strategic planning season we revisit Bucky's plea for a wake-up call to credit unions and their boards. He posed a disturbing question to board members: "Is this credit union your primary financial institution?"

Now ponder this question: "What would your board's answer be?"


Stimulate Your Board During Strategic Planning Sessions to Do Its Best Job
June 1997
By Bucky Sebastian

The strategic planning season is upon many credit unions. In order to get the best results from it, the board should be fully engaged, critical and creative. Too often this is not the case.

All too often the board is the mere recipient of information, rubber-stampers of management initiatives. At many strategic planning weekends, the management lays out reports on the changing financial environment, initiatives it believes prudent and so on, all leading to but a single conclusion on the part of the board, which approves the new measures, appropriates money and instructs the management to do its best to carry out the plans.

Boards should see themselves as the experts on the user level for the credit union, just as the management and staff are the experts at the operational level. The board should not just be rubber-stampers.

Considering Their Own Lives
A means of startling board members out of their daze is this: Ask the board members - "Is this credit union your primary financial institution?" Such a question posed to many boards - even to many managements - would not produce a single nod around the table.

Posing the above question - or a similar one, "Do you do all of your financial business at this credit union?" - is a wake-up call for many board members and a good launching pad from which to begin a strategic planning session.

Presumably, the board members must admit that the credit union where they are directors is not their primary financial institution. It might be in the sense that they have their checking and transactions accounts there. But the credit union would not be the PFI for these board members if you define a PFI as the institution to which you trust your major assets, the ones to which your lives are most importantly bound (regular savings, retirement savings, home mortgage, education savings and the like).

You might follow the above questions to the board members with: "If the credit union is not your primary financial institution, is it because you feel it does not have the talent or the skills or is there another reason? Do you feel being a primary financial institution is not consistent with credit union philosophy?"

Once board members bring perceptions of their own lives and philosophies to the fore, they are poised for a planning session in which they will be engaged in both the process and the content.

They will be engaged in the process because they will likely look at the future of the credit union in a new way. Faced with a disturbing question, they will realize that the session should not be mere business as usual, but rather they will have to act like the directors they are supposed to be, and will have to instruct the management on the direction best suited for a credit union of which they are the experts on the usage level.

They will be engaged in the content level because they are more likely to develop ideas that will establish a strategy for the credit union that in turn will increase their own usage, the usage by present members and new usage by persons not yet members. They will also be more alert to the ideas that management presents to the board, evaluate those ideas critically, given them a reality check, to pass them through their own "expert" filter to consider whether they are going to work as projected or not.

Defining the Role of the Credit Union
All this moves to another point: the board should be defining what the role of the credit union should be. Without that definition, the credit union is likely to be adrift. The board should, as best it can, articulate simply and in a short statement, what the credit union is meant to do.

This "mission" should define the role within the community, the movement and the financial services industry. It can be limited, such as, "We will remain the financial institution of the employee benefits plan," or "We will work to become the primary financial institution among aerospace workers."

Making that definition, whether the ambition is limited or broad, goes a long way to answering later questions, such as "How do we relate to select employee groups?" or "Should we partner with credit unions in different states for ATM systems?"

When engaged in strategic planning, make the most of your board. Don't lapse into business planning such as passing the budge - leave that for another weekend. Dig deeper. Stimulate the board to work at their level as experts on the use of the credit union. You needn't invite micro-management, and you shouldn't, board members should understand that it is not their role to interfere with management, but a credit union too long steered by management is one headed for rocky shoals.

 

 

 

June 1, 1997


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