Articles & E-Books


Critical Inputs to the Strategic Planning Process

Dec 18, 2017

In the world of software programming, there is an old saying “garbage in, garbage out,” we get results in line with the quality of our input. In working with financial institutions in recent strategic planning efforts, we saw this principle in action. One institution had taken great pains in collecting information and performance data through a number of channels, providing it to the strategic planning team ahead of the meeting and preparing the team in advance for a discussion of the information. The other institution approached the planning process with a heavy reliance on personal knowledge and a sort of “we’ll look it up as we need to” philosophy. 

At the end of the planning process, the financial institution that brought the most information to the table and spent additional time preparing board members and executives had the best detailed, realistic, and actionable strategic plan. This process enabled the institution to immediately act upon the direction and decisions made during the planning process. By successfully building momentum coming in to the planning process, they were able to take advantage of that momentum coming out of the planning process to accelerate action plans. 

The financial institution that took a less data driven and more personal knowledge approach to the planning process developed a strategic plan and follow-up actions, but was left with a considerable amount of post-planning research work that needed to be done in order to validate the planning assumptions. This approach, while not wrong, did not allow the institution to effectively build upon the thoughts and ideas brought forward during the planning process and take advantage of the energy and momentum typically created during the planning process. Rather than putting their foot on the accelerator, they first needed to put their foot on the break.

As we reflected on these two strategic planning efforts, we identified the following:

1. We realized that one organization has prior experience with us in an industry-steeped process, requiring defined inputs from multiple perspectives along with subject matter expertise. They were also encouraged to focus heavily on getting to action planning.

2. The second organization had experience with a more fluid process with less emphasis on inputs and action plans, using a facilitator but relying entirely on their own expertise to provide data and inputs to the planning process.

As you prepare your next strategic efforts, consider what the past experience of your institution has been with strategic planning and what the expectations are of the current effort. Are you looking for a facilitated process with higher-level discussion and strategic concepts, or do you need outside subject matter expertise and a structured, action plan-focused process? It is of critical importance to establish, manage, and monitor expectations of the process.

Strategic thinking and planning develops, redefines, or affirms the strategic direction of an organization. This effort requires solid input and preparation, beyond just “back of the envelope” brainstorming and a review of last year’s numbers. Creativity and financial performance measures are critical inputs, but if you want to achieve the best results from your annual strategic planning investment, you might want to include the following strategic planning inputs in addition to the more traditional metrics:

A. Solicit input from stakeholders. Board, management, employees, and customers are all stakeholders in the strategic planning process and can contribute significantly—if they are asked. Wipfli’s GPS Survey™, an acronym for Growth Performance Strategies, is a fourth-generation tool updated to reflect industry dynamics. It assesses key strategies both in terms of importance to your financial institution and in terms of where your institution is performing relative to that particular strategy. The difference between the importance ranking and the favorability ranking is called the differential and is expressed in a basis point gap. The graphic depiction below expresses this differential both in terms of the institution and the benchmark. 

The GPS Survey™ is an effective way to collect the data necessary to evaluate your financial institution’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. The survey is completed online at a confidential website. All information is gathered anonymously and confidentially.

Areas evaluated, along with typical participant group assignments, are as follows:

Board governance (assigned to the board and management)
Leadership/management (assigned to management and employees)
Employee engagement (assigned to management and employees)
Customer relationships and opportunities (assigned to management and employees)
Sales and service (assigned to management and employees)
Risk management (assigned to the board and management)
Delivery channels and marketing (assigned to management and employees)
Productivity and efficiency (assigned to management and employees)

Specific areas of concentration and demographic sorts can be added to the GPS Survey™ based on your financial institution’s needs. The highly customizable GPS Survey™ allows management to drill into areas of concern with dynamic reporting only a click away! Strategies can easily be evaluated based on agreement scale and importance scale.

B. Confirm the culture of the organization is ready and willing to change. Peter Drucker is attributed with saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is often labeled as “touchy-feely,” but extensive research shows it has a significant impact on the long-range success of changes and initiatives within organizations. Culture is ingrained in all areas of an organization—it’s values, mission, and communication—and is one of the key factors in determining long-term effectiveness. The successful execution of strategic plans almost always involves organizational change, which usually requires a shift in culture.

One of the most widely used inventory tools is the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) provided by Human Synergistics International and designed by Cooke and Lafferty that quantitatively measures a culture, helping to identify the current behavioral norms that are preventing an organization from reaching its ideal cultural state. Wipfli is accredited by Human Synergistics, working with our clients to identify behaviors of work groups/units within the organization and why some groups perform better than others do. We help measure current culture and assess the ideal state. Leadership is instrumental in identifying the behaviors that are necessary to help the organization become its high-performing ideal. Effective culture analysis and change require both a qualitative and quantitative approach.



Wipfli is working with financial institutions and other organizations to shift to a high-performing culture encouraging achievement, employee retention, and operational efficiency. Ideally, employees will be able to:

Help others to grow and develop.
Involve others in decisions affecting them.
Show concern for people.
Pursue a standard of excellence.
Think ahead and plan.
Enjoy their work.
Know the business.

Execution of meaningful strategic planning requires focus on both inputs as well as outputs of the planning process and retooling on an annual basis, at a minimum. Wipfli’s team of experienced consultants many of whom have led and managed financial institutions of all shapes and sizes, are known nationally for their strategic planning process. Contact us today to discuss your upcoming strategic planning goals!



Deron J. Kling
Senior Manager
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