Articles & E-Books


Assessment and Execution of Strategy: Keys to Strategic Success

Jul 01, 2016

When contemplating the challenges of assessing strategy and then executing it, I vividly recall a recent bank board meeting I attended in a consultant capacity. While facilitating the board through dialogue regarding needed infrastructure changes pending a potential acquisition, outside board members seemed relatively complacent about the challenges ahead. Part of the challenge was navigating resistance to change and, most importantly, critical cultural change to succeed with the strategic plan that management was developing. The board was comprised of some talented, experienced outside board members as well as shareholder legacy members. As we outlined the changes management acknowledged needed to be implemented, I asked each board member to share the most significant changes to the bank governance role they had witnessed during their tenure on the board. I was nothing short of incredulous when a legacy board member paused, considered thoughtfully, and replied, “I can’t think of any changes, really.” This particular board member had served on the board for multiple decades. Professionally speaking, I am glad that reply is not the norm. Across the country, boards are becoming increasingly vigilant in their oversight of strategic direction and holding the CEO accountable for implementation and effective execution of such.

Here at Wipfli, we have just completed a significant reengineering of Tools for Success in the development and execution of the “right” strategies. Given the regulatory environment; the omnichannel mandate from customers of all ages, demographics, and markets; the 24/7 delivery way of life; and the onslaught of disruptive technology, annual assessment of competitive advantage and differentiation are critical.

Strategic thinking that creates, redefines, or affirms strategic direction of a financial institution is a deliberate and orchestrated ongoing process that requires a conscious disconnect from the everyday world, introspection on what is going well, and contemplation of what needs refinement. As we move into the latter half of 2016, most financial institutions are gearing up for the annual strategy assessment meeting and another round of charting direction. So here is a checklist to ensure you are navigating continued change with tenacious attention to execution of the “right” strategies:

Strategic Thinking To-Do List for 2016: Six Keys to Execution

1. Solicit objective input from stakeholders. This includes your board, management, employees, and customers. Wipfli’s GPS assessment, an acronym for Growth Performance Strategies, is a fourth-generation tool recently 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 Qlik away! Strategies can easily be evaluated based on agreement scale and importance scale.

2. Assemble the right team to chart strategy. This might include the board, always includes executive management, and often includes a cross section of top talent/high-potential thinkers that includes some combination of the following: change agents; intelligent, voracious readers who are connected to what’s happening in the outside world; devil’s advocates to balance the change agents; people who hold roles critical for implementation; and the leaders of tomorrow, often classified today as millennials. Prior to the meeting, provide challenging reading material to get the team thinking externally. Ensure the results of your pre-session assessment are completed, read, and reviewed.

3. Ensure a clear Vision. What is the desired destination? Today, this is typically referred to as Vision 2020—a clear picture of where your institution intends to be at that given point in time. All priorities, strategies, and tactical action plans are focused on the Vision. You need to decide what needs to be done to get your institution from where it is today to its destination. Anything that does not contribute meaningfully to the Vision is just fluff and needs to be discarded.

4. Establish or affirm the priorities. Defined as the “big rocks”/most important “big things,” your priorities need to be nailed down to get from where you are today to the end destination or Vision. As a best practice, you should have no more than 3-4 priorities. Then build the best strategies to achieve each priority, but have no more than 3-4 strategies for each priority.

5. Build the tactical action plans for execution success. This is the “roll your shirt sleeves up”/grind it out piece of the planning process. It is usually the least fun. It requires deliberate commitment to the who, what, and when of every strategy worth having in the plan.

6. Build compensation rewards around execution of the plan. Nothing else is worth rewarding. Ensure attention and focus are on strategic execution—every day! To help everyone stay focused, create the dashboards needed to measure success and post them visibly, create even more of a performancebased culture, and enroll every employee in execution of the plan! When this really occurs, magic begins to happen in terms of teamwork, culture, success, and consultative advisory customer focus.

Execution of meaningful strategic thinking—not just a planning process—requires a refocus and a retooling on at least an annual basis. Wipfli’s team of experienced consultants, most 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 fall 2016 strategic tune-up