This planning season, think long and act short

Many of our well-laid-out action plans for 2020 and beyond have been derailed, deconstructed, or delayed. Credit union leaders are experiencing big career-defining moments and, in many ways, some of us are in crisis management mode. Credit union leaders can’t escape crises. While we can’t always avoid them, we can lead our teams through them, preparing and planning for a changing future. It’s times of crisis when leadership is needed most.

Prioritizing during pandemics

Crisis situations urgently demand our attention and quick response – even if it means delaying a previously scheduled action item or making changes to existing structures or processes.

Our teams – protecting and supporting our teams is the most important crisis-management focus for any credit union leader. This protection begins with having the right PPE, social distancing, and working remotely when possible, but it expands beyond to include other factors that may be negatively impacting our staff. Employees are addressing childcare, education, quarantine, reduction of income (partner), loss of life, illness, fear, depression, and more. Credit union teams need empathy, flexibility, resources, and encouragement.

I encourage credit union leaders to consider this question: “If your employees were to rate your response to their needs during this period of crisis, how would they rate you?”

Our members and communities – as a movement, this is an area where credit unions have visibly been the most effective. Credit unions truly became “Financial First Responders” in many ways, including financial counseling, credit flexibility, emergency loans, PPP loans, and skip-a-pay deferments. Credit union leaders have also been highly visible in their communities, supporting community-wide issues that address hunger, housing, and employment. Besides meeting the immediate needs of the vulnerable, these leaders are improving their brand, which will last long after the crisis is over. People are slow to forget those who helped them through a rough spot.

Our business models – credit union leaders have jumped in to adjust to and manage very high deposit growth to protect capital and income. Collection efforts have been ramped up with greater oversight and earlier member contact to address and find solutions to emerging financial problems.

Savvy credit union leaders are also using short-term pandemic impacts to seize long-term opportunities. For example, limited branch access during the pandemic has forced some “resistant” members to migrate from member-facing to technology services. It’s exposed “gaps” in existing digital technology and remote service strategies, and redundancy in branch platforms. This is leading to increased investment in digital strategies and scaled-back investment into branch access. Branches are closing or reassigning branch staff to other areas. The pandemic forced many “reluctant” credit union leaders to embrace remote work, and these short-term changes will have a lasting impact on many of the ways we operate in the future.

Keep your eye on future

The world we operate in has changed significantly in a very short time. The impact of these changes is still unfolding and collectively will influence our future direction and action plans.

Scenario-planning is a must, and given the current crisis, pandemic scenarios should be included in the forward-thinking analysis to identify changing member views, needs, wants, etc. Of course, economic recovery scenarios need to be high focus now as well. The scenario that does materialize will greatly influence our level of success.

While credit unions leaders are acting short, they should be thinking long and considering how the current crisis will change the long-term outlook. A sample of these important strategic questions include:

  • “How will these potential changes align with our purpose, vision, mission, and values?” 
  • “Which pandemic and/or economic scenarios are most likely and what are the potential near and long-term impacts of each scenario?”
  • “With additional pressure on earnings during 2021 and 2022, what are our Plan A and Plan B to ensure we meet member needs, generate earnings, and maintain capital?”

Why it matters

Strategic planning should be a continual process, during good times and bad. 

Credit union leaders who use strategic planning to make critical decisions are better able to pursue opportunities during the crisis. And leaders who rely on strategic planning during this crisis are more confident about their prospects for near-term results.

During these dynamic times, leaders are encouraged to lean into strategic planning and assertively prioritize and prepare for changing employee, member, community, and credit union operational needs.

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