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Top-Performing Banks Opt for New Kind of Strategic Plan

By: Roxanne Emmerich

Times have changed, and your processes need to change as well. As the year begins to fall away, planning for the New Year begins, and everybody is trying to figure out how to turn this year’s budget into next year’s strategic plan.

For all the good that would do, you would be better off folding the budget into a flock of little origami cranes. At least that would improve your dexterity and add a bit of flair to your office décor.

Trying to make a strategic plan out of a budget is ugly. Budgeting and planning are as different as a grocery list and a five-course meal. You need one to get to the other, but they are hardly the same.

So how do you create a plan that leads to world-class results?

Put Away the Chisel

You have probably heard of the butterfly effect, where the beating of a butterfly’s wings sets off a chain of countless small reactions until you have a hurricane on your hands. That is the economy for you — an incredibly complex web of tiny causes and huge effects. It is difficult to predict exactly what the world will look like three, six and 12 months out.

Given all this uncertainty, any minute-to-minute plan you carve in stone is doomed to fail. The move from step five to step six that seemed so logical in January may be suicide in July after the economy has shaken the ground beneath your feet a few times. What you need is constant reassessment and re-orientation to the end results you want, coupled with the skills to adapt and adjust your strategies as changes come your way.

So when you meet to plan for the coming year, put away that chisel. Instead, define the targets you intend to keep in your sights and build the shared commitment to reach them.

Build Mutual Trust

“We must hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” That was Benjamin Franklin’s thought on signing the Declaration of Independence, but it ought to be on the lips of everyone in your planning meeting as well. Mutual trust is a key ingredient in strategic planning. Putting petty conflicts and self-interest aside is vital to refocusing all eyes on the prize. Every team member must know that every other team member has his back and will support rather than undercut his efforts to reach the mutual goal.

Because you are not dealing with robots, that kind of trust cannot simply be programmed. You have to name it as an indispensable value from square one and get your whole team to recognize this fact. When trust breaks down along the way — when, not if — everyone must have the ability and willingness to communicate on the spot and heal the rift for the sake of shared objectives.

Put Some, Uh … Strategies in Your Strategic Plan

The reality is that the strategic plans of typical banks are devoid of strategies. What most of them have instead are goals. Lots of them have goals. There may be some initiatives or tactics, too. But without strategies, world-class results will only be something you read about in the headlines — not something you realize within your own bank.

One Page — Period

As a teenager, Stephen King had a dozen short stories refused by one magazine after another. Finally, an editor gave him a piece of advice: Your final draft should always be shorter than your first draft. Once King started reducing instead of expanding in the final step, he began getting published.

The same rule goes for speeches, advertising, marriage proposals and strategic plans. Write all you want into the first draft. Get all of your ideas out there. Then brutally whack your plan down to one tight page.

Be Precise

Vague wandering in the general direction of results will get you vague and general results. Instead, create a plan that zeroes in on the results you expect with glistening, crackling clarity, and build in follow-through templates, making sure everyone is aligned through weekly check-ins.

Be Systematic

Good intentions are swell, but you will never connect the dots between point A and point Z unless you put a system in place. I do not mean a system that is written and forgotten, but one that you return to every week for realignment and one that is integrated into every employee’s quarterly plan.

These elements of a successful plan — flexibility, trust, strategies, conciseness, precision and drum-tight systems — are all optional; so is success. But if you choose to follow these guidelines, you will be well on your way to the kind of success that will have your old-school competitors running for their silver bullets. Let ’em run — you have things to do.

Roxanne Emmerich is a consultant based in Minneapolis, Minn. Contact her at 800-236-5885 or visit

Copyright (c) September 2012 by BankNews Media