It’s a question that permeates convention halls and breakout sessions: What is the proper role of the board with respect to credit union strategy? Where one board feels a hands-on approach is best, another board looks first to its CEO. How are credit unions getting this process right? How do they balance the board’s role to ensure members’ interests are served with the CEO’s role to design and execute the most appropriate business plan? In listening to scores of credit union executives, three elements emerged as drivers and shapers of a sound practice. Let’s explore these components that demonstrate how credit unions are balancing the development and execution of strategy.

First, seek the board’s input on challenges and opportunities it finds most important. Most credit unions used their strategic planning sessions to collect these insights. Often, the CEO and their team would lead discussions on a variety of pertinent topics – growth, revenue, new products and lines of business, scale, technology, brand, etc. An effective pre-planning tool used asked each board member to provide one topic they wanted to ensure was included in the strategic conversation. This allowed the board to make certain that its pressing concerns were identified and discussed, as well as review the CEO’s thinking as to the next level of strategic progress for the credit union.

Agreement could wait during this meeting. This session was more about trends, understandings, concerns, dialogue and a general standard for the CEO to develop strategy. This format was particularly helpful for boards that wanted to develop strategically as a governing body. Boards became less concerned about what happened “last year” and further focused on areas the credit union sought to explore and expand over the next several years. Strategic planning sessions were designed to be “heavy on ideas and direction, and light on numbers.” Boards found great value in being better prepared for potential investments and business model changes to continue leading on behalf of members.

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