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Recognizing the competitive advantage it delivers, Yosemite Farm Credit has embraced strategic planning as a mindset, shifting from an alternate year strategic planning schedule to fostering strategic discussions on a quarterly basis at board meetings, culminating in an annual February strategic planning session.
“With the world moving as quickly as it is, and changes and crises happening so regularly, strategy needs to be a process throughout the year,” says Tracy Sparks, Yosemite’s CEO. “At the same time, it’s invaluable to gather our team together for a dedicated strategic session, share perspectives and develop a plan for what we can see coming next.”
Aiming to get the most from the two-day session, Yosemite prepares extensively. Tracy first learns from the board chair any topics they’d like on the agenda. Then, a smaller planning team works closely with FCCS’ Jean Cantey Segal to shape an agenda to address and inform current challenges and opportunities facing Yosemite, with topics discussed in an order designed to yield the most beneficial discussion. Together, they also conceive a theme for the planning session; this year’s was “Next 100 - No Limitations.”
“Jean brings an unbiased expertise as well as her deep understanding of Farm Credit and the challenges we face. She raises forward thinking topics and potential speakers that can help us keep a competitive mindset and anticipate what trends and pressures may impact us,” says Tracy. “Having her then facilitate the planning session enables everyone, including me, to actively engage in the conversation and contribute to the ideas being developed rather than watching the clock or ensuring everyone is heard.”
The annual strategy planning session includes an assessment of previous and ongoing initiatives to ascertain whether any realignment is needed. The group reviews the current strategic plan to identify areas that need updating and to ensure that all the decisions leadership has been making point back to the plan. They also consider Farm Credit’s differentiating factors and what activities and processes are working well and should be continued to maintain member service and the organization’s culture. Talking through the agenda’s discussion items, the group devises initiatives to support the strategic objectives, building a 3 – 5 year strategic outlook.
Following the planning session, Tracy oversees the building of the actual strategic plan document, which encompasses the overall strategy as well as a description of each strategic pillar and the initiatives to support it. Timelines, resource requirements, strategic partners and budgets are outlined, with details fleshed out as projects are initiated. Each initiative’s progress is tracked throughout the year, with updates provided to executive leadership and the board in a dashboard format during quarterly strategic reviews.
“Strategic planning is essential. Stepping away from our daily responsibilities to focus on strategy generates the big ideas that will help us maintain our competitive edge,” says Tracy.
Once the plan is approved by the board, Tracy takes the time to share the plan’s objectives and key components with each Yosemite department. Designed to be concise and easily understood, it informs decisions and actions taken by leaders and employees throughout the year.
“When clearly defined and then clearly communicated throughout the organization so everyone understands their role in achieving the organization’s objectives, a well considered strategic plan can align resources toward strategic initiatives that will move the organization forward in the marketplace,” says Jean. “Yosemite Farm Credit’s strategic mindset, fostered throughout the year but always with the strategic plan as the foundation, is foundational to its continued success.”
For more information about FCCS’ strategic planning consulting services, contact Jean Cantey Segal, FCCS Chief Learning Officer via email.