As we near the end of the year, credit union managers probably have two things on their minds—Christmas and strategic planning. As much as we’d all like to close up the offices for the whole month of December, there are a lot of important decisions that still have to be made before the end of the year.

Every year, I start out the Christmas season by watching my favorite Christmas movie—National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This year as I watched it, I noticed some similarities between Clark’s story and the strategic planning challenges facing credit unions. Ok, it’s probably not really that bad, but there are still some interesting connections to be made. So with no further adieu, I present 3 Strategic Planning Lessons Credit Unions Can Learn from Christmas Vacation.

Don’t Work in a Vacuum

strategic planning for credit unionsYour members will often give you tips on how to improve your services and initiatives, but only if you seek out their feedback. In the movie, Clark’s family asks if he’s being too ambitious by picking a tree that couldn’t even fit in their front yard or by decorating their house with “25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights.”

Clark’s Christmas, just like your member satisfaction, could be greatly improved by listening to others. There’s no point in working hard on a new initiative if none of your members want it. As you work on your plans for 2014, be sure to seek out member feedback. Ask them how they feel about interacting with your credit union. What would they change? Listen to their concerns and then brainstorm ways to create offerings to align with their needs.  

Adapt to Changes

describe the imageAt the beginning of the movie, Clark’s ideas about the Griswold Family Christmas weren’t that outlandish. But his downfall comes when he’s not able to adapt to changes in his plans. When their extended family shows up a week early and Cousin Eddie arrives out of nowhere, Clark stuck with his old plan without adapting to the changing situation.

Similarly, your credit union needs to adapt its strategic plan to meet members’ changing needs. The strategic plan you used five years ago is probably drastically different than the plan you’ll create this year.

The way your members buy financial products has been turned on its head in the last 10 years, and credit unions need to adapt. Today, members use online channels to research their financial purchases before they ever interact with your credit union. That means credit unions need to embrace online channels or risk falling behind. Start by imagining what you would want your credit union’s online presence to look like in a perfect world. Once you have a big picture, it’s a lot easier to break it down into smaller pieces you can take action on.

Set Realistic Expectations

credit union strategic planning3When you start strategic planning, it’s easy to create a long list of things you want to improve about your credit union. Whether you need to attract younger members or expand your mobile offerings, it’s not an easy task, and there’s a lot to put on your “to do” list.

Clark had a similar problem—he had a vision of what he wanted Christmas to be like, and he worked like a crazy person to make it happen. He ended up alienating his family and losing the support he probably would’ve had if he’d picked more realistic Christmas goals (like decorating a normal-sized tree). At one point, Clark’s wife Ellen laments, “You set standards that no family can live up to.”

When you work on your 2014 strategic plan, be sure to set realistic goals. If you pick overly ambitious goals, your employees are more likely to get overwhelmed and frustrated with their progress. Use previous years as a guide for you much you’ll be able to change within the next 12 months, and set goals you think your team will be able to achieve.

As I’m sure you know, your strategic plan is never completely done. It’s a living document that will give you ongoing direction for the future. But if you listen to your members, adapt to changing times and set realistic expectations, you can be sure that your credit union will start 2014 with your best foot forward.

Now that you’ve had a nice dose of Clark Griswold’s strategic planning lessons, go enjoy the holidays!

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