Board of Directors’ Corner: Six Signs You Have a Mediocre Strategic Plan

No one chooses mediocrity, but many choose to accept it.

Mediocrity: a quality that is adequate or acceptable, but not very good. There are very few instances, if any, where mediocrity is tolerable, especially in our industry. Yet, so many strategic plans are mediocre. Not bad…but not very good.

Now is the time to take a look at your strategic plan and ask, “Is my plan merely mediocre, or is it a plan that will lead to greatness?” Setting the strategic direction of your bank must be nothing short of spectacular.

As a board, it’s your responsibility to set the overall direction. Without a clear, compelling, and specific vision of the future, captured in your strategic plan, executives and staff may “make it up as they go.” Not for lack of competence, but for lack of clarity. High-performance banking isn’t improv. Strong performance flows from actionable scripting.

For over 16 years, I have been in bank boardrooms and served as a strategic facilitator. During that time, hundreds of passive, pieced-together plans have come across my desk. Here are the six guaranteed signs of a mediocre strategic plan:

  1. The plan fails to capture a tangible strategic path for the bank.
  2. The plan does not clearly and concisely answer the question: “How will we maintain and expand profitability in the future?”
  3. The plan fails to address the competitive forces beyond your immediate competition.
  4. The plan doesn’t focus on relevant strategies. Answering “why” do this or that is essential before committing resources.
  5. The plan is only aimed at the long-term horizon and never accounts for the short-term implications.
  6. The plan fails to articulate the “how” and “who” of the tactics. You can’t implement generalities and platitudes.

The strategic plan should be the actionable battle plan for the next year, created with direction from the board, insight into execution from the executive team, and with clear, specific tactics to be rolled out for each major strategy. Without it, you’ll just have another binder to collect dust on the boardroom bookshelf.

Think You Have a Mediocre Strategic Plan? Use This 7-Step Test to Find Out

Your plan is mediocre if:

  1. The core strategic vision cannot be summarized in a single paragraph.
  2. The core strategic vision cannot be articulated by all directors and senior management.
  3. It does not clearly state the top tactical initiatives that will be used to achieve the core strategic vision.
  4. It does not firmly define what “profitability” means to the organization.
  5. It does not place responsibility on management with specific assignments, timelines, and expectations.
  6. It isn’t reviewed every quarter.
  7. It does not concretely answer: “How do we get a new customer?” and “How do we keep that customer?”

What’s Missing From the Typical Strategic Planning Process?

  • Risk Assessment: One of the core duties of a bank director is to assess risk, set risk parameters, and monitor risk. Assessing and setting risk parameters will be an essential element of the strategic planning process. The assumption of risk, or the lack thereof, will impact the success of this strategic plan.
  • Communication: Often strategic planning gets treated as little more than an extended board meeting. Everyone must be actively engaged and fully participate in order to have the rich dialogue needed for strategic planning. When you facilitate in-house or fail to produce valuable interaction and discussion, you rob the process and ultimately produce a mediocre plan with little buy-in.
  • Lack of an Actionable Agenda: Have you ever been part of a strategic planning meeting that feels like it is 90% nonsense? That you could have gotten the same amount done in half the time? Doing some heavy lifting by communicating one-on-one with board members and management team before the meeting to pull together an agenda that focuses on exactly what needs to be accomplished changes the whole productivity and engagement level.
  • Remains Too Tactical: Tactical planning has no place in strategic planning. When you let a budget run your process, you fall into the trap of getting into the weeds of your plan. Time must be dedicated to strategic long-term issues and vision to produce a strong plan.

What Do You Do With a Mediocre Plan?

If you find yourself in possession of a mediocre plan for the current year, you need to uncover and accept the lack of excellence where it exists in your plan. Then you start planning your next cycle today, allowing for a full and rich process. Following our proprietary Defined Communication Process™, you can take mediocrity and transform it into something dynamic.

As a board member, you have a unique opportunity to lead your bank through the process of upgrading to a strategic plan that positions the bank for greatness.

Michelle Gula is the Senior Vice President for Strategic Services at The Emmerich Group.

She is the author of:

The Art of Strategic Planning and The Art of Succession Planning

Michelle has a limited number of Strategic Planning Discovery Calls available for qualified bank executives and directors.

To find out if you qualify, call (952) 820-0360 and ask for Chris.