Make your Strategic Planning a Vacation!


Photo by Mateusz Dach from Pexels

Why does it seem we are better at planning vacations than planning the strategic direction for our FIs and fintech companies? When we plan for a vacation, we take into consideration things like time, money and goals of the trip. We are mindful about the experience for each traveler in our group; coordination of flights, rental cars, hotels; and rate the overall success of the vacation upon our return.  We discuss with our fellow travelers their expectations and desires; we consult “experts” in the travel business and search peer reviews; and finally create a mutually agreeable plan. Vacation time is our time  to relax, explore, and to check off “bucket list” items not to be squandered with missed opportunities.

Some of my best family vacation memories are those where it seems we really planned as a team. With five separate families, adult children, grandchildren, in-laws, and all different ages pulling off family trips require a bit of focus and coordination. First, everyone needs to be on board for the destination. For us it’s always the beach and more specifically, Kauai. We take the time to consult local and known advisors on new opportunities; plan food options (do we cook or eat out; how do we share the cooking; what flexibility do we need for those that want to eat out); beach, golf, other activities required (do we want beaches with small waves — Salt Pond Park — or big waves — Polihale State Park? Snorkeling? Poipu Beach Park or dives with Capt Andy’s. And equipment needs — do we bring golf clubs and snorkel gear or do we rent? Lastly, assigning responsible members for all the tasks shares the work but builds the ownership in the success of the trip. Everyone has a part in the overall trip-planning and execution.

You might be thinking, “I don’t use all that effort to plan my vacations” but you or someone close to you does make some effort. Unless you have unlimited time and money or simply want to travel the world with no schedule or direction, some effort of planning is put into every trip. Developing, assigning and tracking that planning among the travelers builds ownership and commitment into the trip.

So why when it comes to strategic business and technology planning for our organizations do so many of the plans get off track, not have buy-in by all the leadership, and/or fail to include a clear and measurable roadmap that defines what is needed to get there and once there how to execute?

Borrowing a few simple ideas from vacation-planning can help organizations not only map their direction for the future, but get there with all their “travelers” experiencing the benefits of the trip.

Plan the Destination (Create a Strategic Plan)

When first planning for a vacation you look at the destination. What experience are you trying to have? Will it be a repeat of warm tropical climates with beaches and plentiful cocktails, a new mountain adventure with winter sports and relaxing evenings by the fire, or a trip to a foreign location that provide opportunities for National Geographic-type pictures or History Channel-like learning experiences that enrich the mind? Whatever the desired experience, you must select a destination. In the past (and I am now dating myself) there were travel agents that assisted in helping find the perfect destination. Now Trip Advisor, Yelp, and exclusive guide services are options for assisting in our destination-planning.

In strategic planning terms, we also need to start with a destination. Most strategic planning sessions seem to cover similar territory: increasing revenue, gaining client share, improving the client experience, and improving efficiencies. These are all admirable ideas, but focusing your strategy more specifically will better help you and your team determine your “destination.” As with a vacation, it is important to consider where you have been successful in the past and if you are  willing to repeat that success or try something new.

Understanding how your organization has been profitable in the past (who are your most profitable clients?) and determining if that is sustainable in the future (can you find more of those clients?) are important. Or do you or your team want to go a completely different direction than you have been in the past? Can you retool your organization to embrace that new direction, and ensure everyone is onboard for the destination?

Engaging a facilitator who helps plan, guide, uncover opportunities, or advise on what is exciting and new can help in your planning cycle, in expanding your horizons, determining your destination, and knowing what it will take to get there.

Obviously, your Strategic Plan is a fluid document, but defining a destination, agreeing on that destination as a team, ensuring you have educated the team on all the options, and declaring that destination allows your key leaders to have a clear a definable direction for outlining their contribution. Everyone agrees this is where we are going and if you don’t want to go, maybe this is not the organization for you.

If we planned our vacations based only on what we know or what we think we know, we might miss great opportunities. And in business as with vacations, it is no fun bringing someone along who is not excited about where you are going!

Build the Itinerary (Create the Roadmap)

I don’t know about your vacations but with ours there are always more things to do than time or money to do them. Focusing on the who, what, when, where and how is an important step that starts immediately after we decide the destination. The goal of this step is to help understand costs and budget accordingly, ensuring everyone knows their role and responsibilities along the way, as well as get buy-in and flush out any “hidden agendas” before the trip begins. And as with the destination planning, we depend on outside assistance to ramp up our knowledge about “what’s out there”.

In the planning process this is where the Strategic Plan expands into the Roadmap, or Tactical Plan. Many times, when consultants are assisting banks in looking at technology limitations, innovations, and efficiencies, outside the planning process, this is the missing link. While the Senior Leadership Team might have the vision of the destination, there is no clear direction of how to get there, what tools and technology are needed, and how the FI will invest in this direction. Too often, FIs are looking at innovation and technology without a real understanding of how it will help them get to or sustain their strategic direction.

For example, your Strategic Plan focuses on expanding your successful Small and Mid-Market Business clients who require a more customized approach, but the technology direction shows a desire for replacing the Teller System in the branch, which would create a better retail online account experience for a more repeatable and less custom approach in your non-business client base. But you wouldn’t pack a parka for a trip to the beach. Your Strategic Plan must be joined to the technology, staff and operational changes required to achieve that plan. This may mean challenging what the organization thinks it knows to help uncover more meaningful opportunities.

It is important that each member of the Leadership Team contribute to the Roadmap in a way that helps in understanding the technology and staffing in their organizations to support the goal. The timeline and budget required must be defined to meet the goal and allow for everyone to measure progress along the way. This Roadmap is what ensures the Plan stays on track, does not create unexpected costs, and reminds everyone of the ultimate destination.

A vacation can turn into an ordeal if you end up spending too much time looking for the right hotels and restaurants, searching for lost member, or shelling out money because someone on the trip changed plans along the way. The Roadmap keeps you and your fellow travelers on course on your strategic journey.

Manage the Changes Along the Way (Measuring to the Roadmap)

Okay, let’s admit that sometimes we think we have our direction committed to memory and we ditch the map. We got this! But aren’t we glad when we can access Google Maps and figure out how to get back on track when we suddenly realize we don’t recognize the landscape anymore?

Many times, during our vacation the trip’s situations change. Weather, personal preferences, timing, or unknown opportunities can require adjustments along the way. Having the itinerary handy to revisit and adjust to the prevailing circumstances has proven invaluable to us over time.

Executing on the day-to-day operations of our organizations is a full-time job. Reacting and adjusting to constantly changing circumstances is standard. Being able to refer back to your Roadmap and make adjustments allows everyone on the team to be informed and accommodate the modifications in the Plan. It evens allows you to take a detour if necessary.

Without regular review and measurement of the Roadmap, an organization is risking the success of the well-defined plan. Making the commitment to regularly review progress, update changes and revise details on the plan allows the entire leadership to remain dedicated to the plan and communicate to their teams a consistent message. And let’s face it, sometimes we cannot plan for everything. Being flexible can allow us to take advantage of unexpected opportunities as we travel forward.

Looking back now on your vacation experience, did you find the those times when you were able to 1) pick your destination and desired outcome with travel partners and advisors who committed to the location and helps take full advantage of the destination; 2) plan an itinerary that allowed you to maximum your time and investment before and during your trip; 3) review and change your itinerary as need with your travel partners in a positive and open way resulted in memorable and successful vacations?

While some of this might seem to oversimplify Strategic Planning and Management, tying the process to 1) finding your organization’s destination; 2) building a Roadmap with your Leadership Team and 3) using a Roadmap to measure success and create adjustments to the Plan using knowledgeable facilitators along the way can help make the journey less daunting and the destination more rewarding for all.