"Open strategy invites minds from outside leadership to be part of the strategic planning process, including frontline staff and account holders.”  -James Robert Lay

Imagine asking your front desk workers to share their thoughts directly with the CEO. Picture inviting your customers into the boardroom. Envision welcoming your top competitors into a strategic planning meeting.

Sounds a little crazy, right?

Sure, open strategic planning sounds a bit odd at first, but it’s extremely effective when you approach it with an open mind.

Is Strategic Planning Still Important for Financial Brands? 

It’s important to reevaluate the relevance of your strategic planning as time goes by. It’s particularly important in a post-COVID world with major shifts in energy, time, and attention.

Don’t just think of strategic planning as a peek into the future. It’s also an opportunity to review what’s been done before and learn from it. Identify patterns that inform your forward progress.

As James Robert Lay says, “Strategic planning creates clarity in an otherwise confusing, complex, and chaotic world.”

Take time to pause and reflect on what’s happened in the past and seize the opportunity to learn from it. This is the best way to ensure your strategic planning is still effective as you move into the future.

Who Should Have a Seat at the Table?

Periodic strategic planning “as a season” is outdated and must be transformed.

Instead, it should be an ongoing process that welcomes various people and viewpoints along the way. Don’t limit the seats at the table to a “chosen few,” or you’ll miss out on key stakeholders you never considered before.

“Future growth is rooted in the foundation of what’s known as open strategy,” James Robert says. “And that is because open strategy leads to increased clarity as it also removes some of the pressure that senior leaders feel when it comes to strategic planning.”

You don’t have all the answers. Neither do your C-suite executives.

You need diverse feedback from the minds in marketing, sales, lending, ops, accounting, finance, and more.

Plus, your frontline staff, partners, and suppliers all have valuable ideas to share. Your account holders/members should be involved, too.

Even your competitors can be part of the process. It’s a progressive idea to invite competitors into the sacred space of strategic planning, but this is part of loosening up a fixed mindset.

“Competition is rooted in scarcity,” James Robert says. “That leads to a zero-sum game.”

Instead of viewing the marketplace as full of winners and losers among your competitors, put your focus on helping your customers be the winners.

In strategic planning, this means welcoming their voices into the process. Give them a seat at the proverbial table and ask them to join the conversation. Take surveys and conduct interviews, recording their insights and emotional responses in their own words.

Asynchronous video can be an excellent resource for capturing stakeholders’ thoughts for everyone in the process. Share clips of people speaking from their unique points of view, making a long-lasting impression in your stakeholders’ minds.

We’re past the days of “selling strategy from the top,” where the top executives pushed their thinking downward onto everyone else. Today, it’s about pulling up perspectives from the bottom and ensuring everyone in the hierarchy is truly being heard.

What are the Top Strategic Planning Priorities for 2023?

One of your top priorities should be systematizing the predictable, a concept from Isadore "Issy" Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotel. When you approach predictable events from a systematic point of view, you preserve the resources you need to humanize the exceptional.

AI and automation provide a way to do this efficiently at a financial brand. Not only can you automate sales and marketing activities, but you can create space for exceptional customer experiences. Look for collaborative opportunities to add value for your customers/members.

James Robert also sees an opportunity to improve the employee experience as a top priority in 2023. “The way that we can do that is by empowering internal team members through education, but not just education alone,” he says. Education should be combined with coaching that helps employees overcome their fears and welcome change.

Research at the Digital Growth Institute has found that 73% of financial brand leaders don’t feel that they or their teams have the education they need to confidently navigate AI-related changes. They’re experiencing a knowledge gap and need extra instruction.

How Do We Develop a Strategic Roadmap?

Investing in technology should be part of your roadmap, but it shouldn’t overwhelm the entire journey. “Technology alone is not the path forward to maximize digital growth,” James Robert says.

Related Content: Technology Shouldn’t be the Focus for Transforming Your Financial Brand

Be mindful of how you’re incorporating technological investments and view them as connecting people and solving problems. Focus on tech investments that remove pain for people.

Your strategic roadmap should help you identify common pain points, then accomplish the goal of curing them or at least helping your customers rise above them.

Always put people at the center of your thinking, not the technology itself.

How Can a Financial Brand Measure its Progress?

Focus on two main areas that show progress.

  1. Lagging indicators, which measure past performance and growth
  2. Leading indicators, which predict future performance and growth

Ideally, a financial brand uses a mix of leading and lagging indicators to provide deep insight and clarity into its performance. Stay on the lookout for opportunities for future growth. This builds a picture of relative risk, allowing you to be more flexible and adaptable.

How Do We Identify Opportunities and Create Strategic Priorities?

Start by throwing out the 3 to 5-year plan and focus more on the next year.

From there, divide the plan into quarters and focus on the 90-day growth method. In this method, you pause every 90 days and reflect on what is working and what’s not. This makes the next 90 days more productive because you’re nimbly adjusting to the latest conditions and preventing wasted work.

Related Content: 90 Days to the Peak: Climbing the Mountain of Change

Remember, motivation is like a muscle. It will eventually tire and fail unless you give it time to recover. This is why the 90-day plan is vital to your strategic direction. Pause, recharge, learn, then move forward to pursue opportunities in the next 90 days and on through the year.

How Does Strategic Planning Boost Revenue?

When brands commit to the 90-day growth plan, they maximize their digital growth potential and accomplish more every quarter.

This prevents the sunk cost fallacy, in which a person or company continues throwing away resources simply because they’ve already previously spent so much time or energy. Instead, strategic planning allows you to break free of sunk costs and move forward to more profitable activities.

How Will the Economy Affect Our Plans in 2023?

Although nobody has a crystal ball to look into the future, James Robert has years of experience weathering the ups and downs of the financial marketplace.

He says history has shown that the future tends to fall into predictable patterns from the past. The COVID-19 pandemic defied previous patterns in some ways, but overall it was like any other large force in the global economy in terms of creating waves of chaos.

There’s nothing we can do to escape the bumpy ride of the future. What we can control is how we react to it. Look back on the patterns you’ve seen in your organization over the past few years, including those related to COVID, and see what you can learn.

In your mind, go back to 2019. Where were you? You probably had a long-term plan, but by March 2020, it was entirely disrupted. What hard lessons have you learned since then?

James Robert encourages financial professionals to focus on what they can learn, even when experiencing dark or hopeless moments. “The most important asset we can bring to the table is an unwavering belief that the future will be bigger, that the future will be better, that the future will be brighter no matter how dark the present moment might feel.”

Do you have a question about digital growth and transformation at your financial brand? If so, please text it to 415-579-3004. James Robert’s team will answer for you on an upcoming podcast episode.