Strategic thinking and planning has always been important to a business' success. Now, perhaps more than any time in most of our lifetimes, it is crucial. There's been a lot more talk about it since the financial crisis. Some of that talk is right on target, while some is just tossing the word strategy around like an MBA wannabe. Many get too far down in the weeds to create effective strategy.
Solid strategy must come from the highest levels of a company with the board and senior executive team working in concert. And it must be a 30,000-foot view.
Think about the Apple Computer. Is its strategy to make a sleek, white cell phone? No. Apple's strategy is to differentiate itself by taking existing electronics and make them better. Those at the top then rely upon the staff to make that happen. BlackBerry comes out with a smart phone, Apple comes in behind it with an easier to use, more fun iPhone. Amazon introduces the Kindle, and Apple responds with the iPad.
Not only do consumers appreciate the functionality, but it's also looks different, and they are willing to wait in long lines when products become available and pay for that difference. The massive marketing campaigns not only hype the product but also reinforce the idea that the iPhone says something about who you are.
Starbucks didn't do anything revolutionary to coffee. But it changed the way coffee is presented. It's high-quality product with a quality service experience. Starbucks differentiated the company in numerous ways, from social activism to the naming of the different size cups. The company also generally will place a location in a highly populated city, such as in the first floor of our office building in Washington and then saturate that market. We have another Starbucks two blocks away and another shop a couple blocks in the opposite direction. Starbucks also makes its customers feel like they have a say in the product offerings by participating in social media and allowing comments and suggestions to be posted publicly on its website.
Another company going gangbusters is Zappos. The company cultivates a casual atmosphere and quirky happenings that help employees to enjoy coming in to work, which translates to better customer service and more customers and more sales. You get the picture. CEO Tony Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, provides a look inside the company and the culture that has grown it to more than $1 billion in sales. This isn't rocket science folks; it's older than the Snow White tune "Whistle While You Work." It's common sense, but in the rush to corporate profits, the people who make the company the money can often be pushed aside, which leads to disgruntled employees who are not good for any brand.
So when credit unions hold strategy sessions, who should be involved? C-suite managers and the board? Of course, this is their job, but some bottom-up assistance is very important. Lower level employees see what's going on in their departments, like the attitude of employees, that might be affecting your brand. They also tend to be younger employees and see on the teller lines what members need from their financial institution.
And when a teller takes initiative or presents you with an idea they have based on a trend, he or she should be commended and rewarded. Rewards, particularly with Gen Y, are not necessarily monetary, although that's definitely appreciated, too. Give them training to further their careers and, if they're that good, retain them. Let them head up the credit union's charitable effort or something else they have shown an interest in. Part of any strategic plan must include finding and developing employees for the future.
When it comes down to it, strategic planning is all about the character of the officials at the top. Be ethical and respect your human capital and your members as real live people.
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