Consider These Big Ideas, Questions to Develop Strong Strategy

John Spence

I ’ve been helping organizations with strategic thinking and planning for nearly 30 years. Although putting together a strategy can seem complex, there are only a handful of critical elements for building a strategy to help your credit union be more successful. Here are a few big ideas to keep in mind.

It’s Just a Guess

Hopefully a thoughtful and well-researched guess, but still just a guess. No one could have predicted a year ago where we would be today, and no one can predict, with any certainty, where we will be a year in the future.

There is No One Right Answer

Throughout our education, we are taught that to get a good grade, we must find the one right answer. After you graduate, you realize that in many situations, there are potentially multiple right answers. In strategy, it’s essential to look for the second and third right answers to find the best right answer.

Scarce Resources

At the heart of it, strategy is about the allocation of scarce resources. Even Google and Amazon do not have unlimited resources. How you invest your time, money and people is the essence of your strategy.

Saying “No”

One of the most important things a great strategic thinker does is figure out what to say “no” to. Just as important as how you invest your resources is where you choose not to invest. What part of the market will we not serve? What products or services will we not offer? What projects, even in the face of sunk costs, will we walk away from? It takes courage to say “no,” but the ability to do so allows you to direct your focus and is critical to success.

The Secret: Competitive Advantage

The main factor in creating a winning strategy is pattern recognition. The ability to identify trends, anomalies in the data, shifting member expectations and changes in other critical indicators — before your competition sees them — is what allows you to create a competitive advantage.

Time Horizon

It used to be that organizations would set 10-year strategic plans, then it dropped to five, then three, and now most of my clients feel that they can only look out about 18 months with any confidence. Therefore, it is vital to have a tight cadence of reviewing the strategy often.


Many strategies fail because they are constantly adjusted. Review the plan often but change it only when the market demands.

As you consider these big ideas, here are some questions to help you develop a strong strategy:

  1. What roadblocks will inhibit you from effectively executing the strategy?
  2. How confident do you feel that your data and financial projections are accurate?
  3. What metrics will you use to measure the success of your strategy?
  4. Are the timelines and budget numbers realistic?
  5. Is this strategy in line with your current strategy, or is it a significant diversion?
  6. Does the senior team enthusiastically support the strategy?
  7. Do the Board of Directors enthusiastically support the strategy?
  8. Is it difficult or impossible for your competition to copy the strategy?
  9. Is this strategy based on the current and future needs of your members?
  10. Do you have the resources to implement this strategy?
  11. Do you have the talent that can execute this strategy?
  12. What is the realistic timeframe for executing the strategy?
  13. Who will be responsible for taking this strategy and turning it into a detailed strategic plan?
  14. What issues have you had in the past executing your strategies?
  15. What warning signs would let you know if the strategy is not working?
  16. What would the impact be if this strategy fails?
  17. Is this a sustainable strategy that can be pursued for several years?
  18. What new processes, systems and/or programs must be put in place to support the strategy’s execution?
  19. Will this strategy require changes to your organizational structure?
  20. Will you have to hire/remove people to execute this strategy?
  21. Is this strategy focused on a part of the market you know you can win?
  22. What assumptions is this strategy based on?
  23. Will this strategy equire rebranding?
  24. Is the financial gain worth the risk of implementing the strategy?
  25. On a scale of 1 to 100, how confident are you that you can successfully execute this strategy?

With these big ideas and questions in mind, your strategy development will be well-rounded and poised to adapt when needed.

John Spence is an international keynote speaker, executive coach and organizational trainer who has been helping credit unions for more than 15 years.