Joe Mosher
Mosher Consulting Group
Reimagining The Strategic Planning Process
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Joe is the founder and principal advisor at the Mosher Consulting Group - a management consultancy committed to extending access to strategy execution advisory services to small- and middle-market food, agribusiness, and manufacturing firms.

Mosher Consulting Group is a strategy execution consultancy serving leaders of small to middle-market food, agribusiness, and manufacturing firms. Mosher Consulting Group partner with clients to execute strategy, improve performance, and deliver stronger results.

In this episode

"We live in an opportunity rich but resource constrained world", observes Joe Mosher of The Mosher Consulting Group. Joe admonishes that the strategic planning process needs to adapt by integrating an honest assessment of internal capabilities to match the identification of external opportunities. Executives undermine the effectiveness of their strategic planning process by placing too much emphasis on the external environment and opportunities without paying enough attention to internal capabilities. Failing to take into account your internal capabilities will result in your strategic plan being no better than a coin flip. Joe points out that poor execution, not poor design, is what causes strategic plans to under deliver what they promise. Listen to the end to get the details on the gift Joe is offering our listeners.

A glimpse of what you'll hear

02:34 Your internal capabilities are essential to formulating a viable business strategy

03:05 What gets in the way of understanding your internal capabilities

04:24 Balancing the focus on your external environment and opportunities with the internal assessment of what you can and cannot do

08:32 Why you should get employees and front line staff involved in your strategic development process

11:06 Benefits from implementing a balanced strategic planning process

16:24 5 simple steps to implement an integrated strategic planning process

21:57 Learn about Joe. Email Joe at joe@moshercg.com

Episode Transcript
(Note, this was transcribed using a transcription software and may not reflect the exact words used in the podcast)

Centricity Introduction  0:04

 

 Welcome to the Best Kept Secret videocast and podcast from Centricity. If you're a B2B service professional, use our five step process to go from the grind of chasing every sale. to keeping your pipeline full with prospects knocking on your door to buy from you. We give you the freedom of time and a life outside of your business. Each episode features an executive from a B2B services company sharing their provocative perspective on an opportunity that many of their clients are missing out on. It's how we teach our clients to get executive decision makers to buy without being salesy or spammy. Here's our host, the co founder and CEO of Centricity, Jay Kingley.

 

Jay Kingley  0:43  

 

I'm Jay Kingley, co-founder and CEO of Centricity. Welcome to another episode of our Best Kept Secret show where I'm happy to welcome Joe Mosher, founder of the Mosherr Consulting Group, where he is committed to extending access to strategy execution advisory services, to small and mid market food, agribusiness, and manufacturing firms. Joe is based in Traverse City, Michigan, welcome to the show, Joe.

 

Joe Mosher  1:14  

 

Thanks, Jay. I'm really happy to be here.

 

Jay Kingley  1:15  

 

Joe, when I graduated Business School, the very first job I got was working for a multinational strategic consulting firm. And we worked at the corporate business unit level of large public companies all over the globe, helping them create winning strategies. And when we would do that process, we used to spend a lot of time studying customers, where they were well served and where the opportunities were, we used to really understand all the competitors in detail and what they were doing, where they were going. We also took time to understand what I call the exogenous factors, things, for example, like changes in technology, changes in regulation and government policy. Everything that possibly could have happen outside of the four walls of the company. And using that we would develop this strategy to take advantage of the opportunities that we saw, minimize the risk in danger zones, and create that come back to the company and basically say, here is your roadmap to success. Now, Joe, what's wrong with that approach and way of thinking?

 

Joe Mosher  2:39  

 

Well, Jay, I would I would argue that it's not necessarily wrong, but it's incomplete. You know, food and agribusiness firms in the small middle market space, are really undermining their own ability to grow and compete, because they're failing to focus on the internal capabilities required to implement those strategies. There's really an important persistent imbalance, where you see leaders that are so heavily focused on that external strategy development process. But they're not doing honest assessment of their internal capabilities to execute that strategy. And it results in really suboptimal outcomes.

 

Jay Kingley  3:10  

 

So Joe, what types of things are getting in the way of understanding and taking into account their internal capabilities?

 

Joe Mosher  3:22  

 

I think a lot of it comes down to cognitive biases around what an organization is able to accomplish, and an incomplete picture of what their true capabilities are, you know, a polished new strategy and strategic direction is really magnetic. It's sexy, it's fun to work on, it creates a lot of energy. But when firms are also relying on the same dated or undersized processes, and operating models to implement that strategy, their success is falling under 50%. And this has a lot of impacts. You know, it not only does it dilute the ROI of the actual time and energy they've spent on that strategy development, but it creates a lot of frustration. It clearly erodes the confidence of employees, and it can even undermine the credibility of leaders. You know, no one would consciously invest the time and money it takes to develop a compelling strategy for growth if they really understood that the odds of success are no better than a coin flip.

 

Jay Kingley  4:17  

 

You know, one of the things which I think listening to you, is got to be really hard. And maybe we can talk a little bit about the right way to, to think about this. But let me try to frame up what I'm puzzling over. On one hand, I opened with a description of how so many companies do the strategic development process, which is really heavily externally weighted, and you I think, very perceptively pointed out the flaw in that type of thinking, but I would imagine the other extreme is just as bad where I get so focused on what I think I can and can't do as an organization, I miss out on opportunities, I don't understand how to avoid the risks. And it seems to me that there could be a danger of stagnation, where I simply reinforce the capabilities I have, rather than continue to add new and prune others that aren't that important to me. So talk a little bit about, you know, in order to think about this, right, how do you balance the external and the internal?

 

Joe Mosher  5:34  

 

I think it's you have to think about them in terms of priorities along a spectrum, and creating a healthy tension among defining the new, defining that external environment where you're going to compete, the different competitive threats that are likely to come for you are already presenting themselves, and your own internal abilities to run your business to grow and to execute. When you think of them along a spectrum and create that healthy tension, the balance will naturally emerge, because what's going to happen is firms are going to be consciously thinking about what threats are out there. But if they're also then saying, okay, these are the threats that are presenting themselves, how well are we suited to, to respond to those, it does create a broaden perspective, where people are thinking about both sides of the equation.

 

Jay Kingley  6:23  

 

So are you saying that any proper and effective strategic development process has to consider on an equal footing, the company's internal capabilities, and where the gaps and opportunities are? And part of your strategy has got to be about how do I get the capabilities that I need, and not in continue to invest in capabilities that are not going to be relevant on a go forward basis?

 

Joe Mosher  6:53  

 

I think that's all said, Jay. You know, ultimately, this comes down to leaders and management, reconciling the business in their heads, with the one in their hands. So this is about recognizing that perhaps not executing as well as you you thought you were, and certainly not as well as you need to grow and compete, but not losing sight of what are you trying to execute against. And so what success looks like in this context is, is not fully detoxing, or going cold turkey off of defining new strategies, the what is always going to be critical and important. It is the basis for innovation is the basis for growth. It's the basis for for changing and evolving your business. But as long as you're also asking those questions of not just what are we going to do, but how are we going to do it? How are we going to meet our objectives, then you'll be setting in the right direction. Further, I would also say, looking at the ability to confidently say no or not now is a really valuable contributor to to execution. Not every good idea needs to be pursued. You know, we we live in a persistently, opportunity rich and resource constrained world. And so be able to make explicit decisions about priorities and trade offs. And do that in the light of day and open to scrutiny among your employees, is going to help you be set up for success.

 

Jay Kingley  8:13  

 

When most companies develop their business strategies. It's in my experience normally been a pretty tight, small group of people doing it, sometimes they bring in external help, sometimes they don't. But the number of people involved relative to the size of the organization is miniscule. And you said something a little earlier that has tweaked this thought about how employees can feel disconnected and demotivated from a process that doesn't consider you know, their capabilities and what they can bring to the table. But my question to you as what degree do you think in this process, when you're doing it right you need to reach out and incorporate the views of your staff who have to execute the strategy, not just the people creating the strategy?

 

Joe Mosher  9:12  

 

Interesting question, Jay. I don't know that I have a specific ratio in mind. What I would say is that, at times, we can look at the strategy development process as an acute or finite set of activities. But the reality is that strategy evolves, and an employee's from frontline management individual contributors at every level, your organization, your sales staff, people working with suppliers, people turning the wrenches in the plants, they see and feel your business every day. They see and feel opportunities. And so creating those mechanisms, both processes and even that culture, where good ideas around what we could do differently, or helpful feedback around what we need to stop doing, can percolate up I think will will create that broader input into the strategy I think there's a lot of space for considering that internal capability piece is part of strategy development. But let's be honest, there are people who specialize in strategy development. There are both internal and external. You mentioned your early career experiences, which are very valuable and very powerful organizations, it takes a special skill set to do an external scan to get a comprehensive and rigorous understanding of the marketplace threats and opportunities. And so that may be by design, a very small group of people. But then understanding Well, what does this mean for our firm, that's where engaging a broader number of people becomes valuable. 

 

Jay Kingley  10:44  

 

And I'm sensing that there's some iteration here that you come back with a few will pass number one of what the external environment looks like, and what you see is opportunities or not, then you're then going to meld to that your sense of capabilities in draw in a bigger group of people that are going to be essential to executing. And that might cause you to go back out into the marketplace and revise your point of view based on your capabilities. And you're going to iterate around that until you get convergence. Is that the type of thing that you're talking about here? 

 

Joe Mosher  11:19  

 

Yeah, I would agree with you, Jay. 

 

Jay Kingley  11:21  

 

What you're talking about in terms of a process, I think is different than what a lot of companies are doing. And I think it is pretty compelling on the surface. But let's talk about how the decision makers who own this process in the business itself benefit by doing what you suggest. Let's start with the decision makers, when they transition from the if I can call it the old approach of strategic development to the type of integrated, balanced iterative model that you're talking about. What's in it for them? 

 

Joe Mosher  12:01  

 

Yeah, great question, Jay. And let's let's put ourselves in their shoes and with their mindset. So these individuals, these decision makers are leading firms under tremendous pressure from from many different sides, whether it's increased regulation that you referred to earlier, sustainability pressures, vertical integration in their space, or horizontal consolidations, or even pressure from private equity firms that are driving zero based budgeting or companies that are business planning the things that really drive competitive pressure and compress margins with the space. When you think about those decision makers, there's a few things that they that they need in terms of benefit that help them. One is having a strong strategy execution capability in your organization gives you greater competence. And this isn't just confidence, you go around and pound your chest and feel good about your business. This is the kind of confidence that starts to build among not just management employees, but around different stakeholders, shareholders and ownerships of the companies. And when you have that broadly held confidence, that starts to manifest itself as for more aggressive and innovative plays in the future, you know, ownership and boards and shareholders that feel good about the company's ability to execute and compete, tend to provide the oxygen for growth in the form of capital in the form of support for different investment plays. And that really has a virtuous cycle that begins. The other thing I would say for the leaders, one of the benefits emotionally would be knowing the true nominal capacity of your organization's ability to execute, enables you to make better decisions. So that can be decisions around risk tolerance, the timing of certain accurate activities, the true fact base likelihood of success. And once you have that improved visibility to how things are really working in your company, and how likely you are to succeed. That again, also builds more confidence builds more of a sense of control, and frankly, removes surprises, you know, we should never guarantee it, there's never going to be problems, but to the extent that you can remove surprises from your operations, the much healthier and more satisfied all stakeholders and shareholders will be

 

Jay Kingley  14:23  

 

Now as a former line executive, the thing that I really hated the most, were what I'm gonna call them negative surprises. And you know, you get that someone in the organization says to you, I need to talk to you, and you're just like, oh, my gosh, what's gone wrong? And being able to eliminate those kinds of negative surprises. I think any executive would welcome that reduction of, frankly, anxiety that comes every time that rears its ugly head. But let's let's talk a little bit about the business itself, I get the decision maker, but for companies in their bottom line, who adopt this approach, what do you see there?

 

Joe Mosher  15:10  

 

Well, if we if we think about the strategy space overall, there's there's a lot of research that that that proves out that more than half of all strategies, and strategic efforts fail. And they may not fail in terms of delivering zero, but they fall short of what they're meant to accomplish. This is rarely a reflection of poor design, it's usually poor execution, there's always the examples of companies that were too early or too late in the market, or perhaps went beyond the natural capabilities of their company and competed in a space where they couldn't differentiate on value or quality. But typically, these strategies that fail are result of poor execution, firms with a strong strategy execution capability in place increase their odds of achieving their objectives by more than 70%. So that immediately puts you into a very small cohort of individuals of individual companies, who, when they set their sights on a target, have high confidence, and generally high quality results in getting them where they want to go. And this cuts across all the objectives. So whether your strategy is to introduce a new product in your portfolio, whether it is to drive, top line revenue growth, whether it's to increase manufacturing capacity, or trying to drive costs out of your organization through automation, regardless of what your objectives are, strong strategy execution capabilities, will dramatically increase your odds of success. And then the quality and impact of that success when you get there.

 

Jay Kingley  16:39  

 

And being able to hit a 70% number that is game changing, I think so a very compelling, different way to look at it compelling results when you do, which brings us to the next I think question that most of our listeners are going to be are going to have, which is, so if I want to do what you're suggesting, what tactically are the steps I need to undertake?

 

Joe Mosher  17:08  

 

Well, the good news is, it's quite simple. Probably the hardest part is keeping it simple Jay. The first thing leaders need to do is resist the urge to just jump into something new. So there is no off the shelf process or methodology or technology that's going to merely flip the switch for your organization. While you may be excited about the idea of introducing that healthy tension between development and execution, you need to start with a clear sense of where you're at today. So what does that look like? Make sure that you're dealing in fact and that speculation, and we do this through suggesting that you do a post mortem on your last strategic plan, or your last major change initiative. And so in the course that post mortem, you ask yourself tough questions, to really test if did we meet our objectives? What worked incredibly well, what didn't work? So well? How do metrics and numbers and figures prove out whether it worked well or not, again, really supporting it with the data, once you've got a clear sense of where you're at today, and you're going to articulate that through a post mortem of of a strategic plan or change initiative, then it's time to look at that and really depersonalized what you find. So recognize that the the outcomes that that were delivered, or the lack of outcomes that were delivered, is a reflection of the system, it's a reflection of the of the business's performance overall, it is rarely the the fault or the the outcome of one individual or one department. So as you come through that, that review, now is not the time to try to find a throat to choke, look at the data, look at the facts, get clear on it. And then really what you want to do is create a hypothesis. So why do I think this is the case? Why did we fall short and fail to execute in these key aspects? What is driving that? What's the root cause? What might we do to solve that? And so take that hypothesis and test it, talk with members of the executive team, talk with members of management at all levels, take it out to some of your staff, the same thing we were talking about earlier with the strategy development process, take this hypothesis out and bounce it off of people in the organization. There is a huge benefit to the collective perspective on what may have gone wrong, what may have not done right, and getting that perspective, through the experiences of those who lived through the wins and losses, not just yourself as a top executive. Now, this might seem counterintuitive, but you also want to share your hypothesis with the people that you're that you're getting feedback from And that might seem counterintuitive, because you certainly as a CEO, or president of a firm, if you go out and start talking to people and saying, Hey, we really failed to hit our goals last year. And and here's why I think it is, what do you think there's clearly the risk that you're going to influence the kind of feedback you get, there's no doubt. But everyone already assumes you have a point of view, everyone already assumes you have hypothesis, everyone already assumes you're making some kinds of conclusions. So simply state them, let them be known. And then make sure it's very clear that you value candor, not agreement. So I am asking you, because I understand that what I have concluded, may be incomplete or wildly inaccurate, and I need to hear from from others. And so as you take that hypothesis and test it with others, you will get a much more comprehensive sense of where you're at. And then the final thing is be selective in what you do. What commonly happens at the end of this process, is you may have 10 12 15, or even 20 different items on the list of areas, deficiencies, gaps in the company, where if you fix these things, boy, the sky's the limit. That's just like a new strategy, it's going to create a lot of excitement. Now we're ready to go, we're ready to attack this, let's Let's get after all of it. But the reality is you have to be selective here, pick one or two, pick one or two that are going to really move the needle, really focus on those those those prioritize gaps. And by being selective on what you work on, you can be more bold in solving for them.

 

Jay Kingley  21:40  

 

Joe, you've given us a great roadmap to reimagine and the strategic planning process, and do it in a way that is objectively much more effective. So we're gonna take a quick break, and then we're going to be right back to learn a bit more about Joe.

 

Centricity Introduction  22:01  

 

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Jay Kingley  22:59  

 

Welcome back. We're talking to Joe Mosher of the Mosher Consulting Group. We heard about his process for rethinking how businesses should be doing the strategic development process. Now, I want to find out a bit more about Joe and his business. Joe, let's start with what are the pain points that you resolve for your clients? And why do they need you to get rid of the pain?

 

Joe Mosher  23:27  

 

Thanks, Jay. So some of the pain points that I help my clients work with is, is clearly in from earlier part of the conversation when a client has a clear strategy. But they know that they're failing to execute and make acceptable progress towards their objectives. That is, that is a space where we can come in and help frame and and structure a better path forward. Additionally, this this may look like how do you improve your capital investment? Decision making processes? How do you ensure you're working on the right things working on the right way and getting the outcomes you want? It could include planning for and managing the the integration of an acquisition, as you as you stress your existing organization, add a new company to the mix. It may also include times where where a firm is looking at organizational changes and saying we need to restructure our organization. We've had generational change at the top of the house. Or perhaps we've had some turnover, we will look at a different way of structuring our company and helping to look holistically at okay, how does our company operate? What are our capabilities? And how do we design an organizational structure in a way that optimizes for the capabilities we want or those that we're looking to develop? You know, you had a guest not too long ago, Jay that made a great analogy and said, You know, it's really hard to read the label when you're sitting in the jar, and that is spot on. And one of the reasons that my clients reach out to me is because they need that objective assessment of where they're at today, it's incredibly difficult to get a true fact based and very clear eyed view on where your company is relative to these capabilities. When you're when you're in the company, there's a great benefit from the experience of leading the firm of serving the customers and having been through the growth cycles. But it can also skew what you find, it can skew what you look for, and what you choose to do about it, there's a lot of biases related to what's possible, what's not possible. And so that's, that's a benefit that I try to bring to my customers and clients. It is it's a common capability that doesn't exist in a lot of clients that the size of companies that I serve, and if it doesn't exist, very likely that person has very little capacity to do it. So that's, that's right, I try to come in and provide a different perspective and help drive change forward.

 

Jay Kingley  26:03  

 

Always, you know, clients aren't looking to buy what you do. They're really looking to work with service providers who are great at what they do. So let me ask you that question directly. What is it that makes you great at what it is that you do for your clients?

 

Joe Mosher  26:24  

 

I think it comes down to the fact that I'm a bit of a reluctant consultant. So 20 plus years in industry, and far more years working in businesses, managing businesses, part of senior management of long, firm, large firms, then as a consultant, and so I really try to carry that operator mentality with me, which helps keep that balance between the abstraction of strategy and the reality of execution. And And really, what does it mean to look at the whole business, but then also to have to live within the four walls of the organization. So through my career, I've been able to develop the ability to quickly diagnose businesses and processes to assess the materiality of gaps and risks and break those down into component parts. And always doing this without losing sight of what outcome or trying to create, what is the what is the benefit or the value at risk, you know, what does good look like? And what is the value of good when we get there. So that's something that I take very seriously, and try to bring forward to my clients. The other the other thing that that is worth stating is in the space where I play, there's a relative scarcity of comparable alternatives that that do, what what needs to be done with a relatively low cost to serve. So as a small consultancy, with very few overhead and fixed costs that need to be passed on to clients, it allows for me to be very competitive, on on, on cost, not pass that along. And as a result drive some pretty favorable returns for clients in this space.

 

Jay Kingley  28:08  

 

Joe, I encourage everybody to go into LinkedIn, take a look at Joe's background, you know, LinkedIn, of course, being our online resume, you get a good sense for the career that he's talked about in all that corporate experience. But Joe, what I want to ask you is what has happened, you know, between your personal life or your professional life, that would explain why you set up Mosher Consulting, and why you left the corporate world to go out and help them as an outsider.

 

Joe Mosher  28:43  

 

Let me just say, Jay, that I grew up in a household with a fair bit of chaos in it. And some pretty persistent financial stress over the years, including stretches of time where the family was on public assistance, that we didn't have reliable transportation. We thankfully never suffered from food insecurity or shelter insecurity. But it was a a lean upbringing. And so I started in early in life to really try to find a way to frankly, create processes or structures that brought some sort of sense of stability, and reliability and control to my life. And so looking back now, I've been working for decades to try to put sharp corners on big messy challenges. The first was like I said that that upbringing but then later on into the work that I've been doing you know, I I've worked for a very large organization in this space for for more than a decade. And after a number of you know, notable promotions and career advancement, which was was very exciting and very rewarding. Over time, I began to feel less and less connected to the underlying businesses and operations of the of the, of the company. And I think that's a natural outcome of working in large organizations is that you over time there's there's there tends to be a disconnect between what happens on the ground, the guy turning the wrenches, the people making commercial decisions, the people trying to serve customers, and what happens at corporate HQ, and not to, not to speak poorly of HQ. But that's is a natural tension that emerges. And for me, as I got further and further away from the businesses, I got less and less comfortable. You know, I've seen a lot of examples of businesses that have had exceptional execution, and others where they stay put forth great effort, and yielded very little change your impact. And I just felt that there are companies and firms out here in this space that don't have the benefit of large corporate departments, large SWAT teams of experienced professionals that can come in and fix these problems. And I just felt that that that need in the marketplace matched a passion that I have for helping helping businesses succeed. And it was time for me to take a different path that is, hopefully more meaningful and lasting to the clients that I serve and the sense of satisfaction I get out of the work that I do.

 

Jay Kingley  31:29  
You've given I think our listeners an awful lot to think about and process, it's pretty compelling. I have no doubt that many of them are going to want to reach out to continue the conversation that we've started today. So how is it that our listeners can best get in touch with you?

 

Joe Mosher  31:48  

 

Sure, well, certainly email is always best, they can email me at Joe@moshercg.com additionally, my website, mohercg.com is a great place to learn a lot more about me and also be able to reach out. And of course, as you said earlier, I'm on LinkedIn, people can also find me at Twitter, @moshercg. 

 

Jay Kingley  32:09  

 

We'll put all of that in the show notes and a screen on the video to make it easy for people to reach out to you, Joe. So before we wrap up, you know, I want to thank you for being a guest, I think you've added tremendous value to our listeners. And you know, as good as it was, Joe, I'm sort of thinking maybe you can do a little bit better, I'm thinking maybe you might be able to up the value offering to our listeners. So this is what I'm going to ask, I think on top of the great content how about a little gift, but can you do for the people that are listening in?

 

Joe Mosher  32:54  

 

A little gift? Okay, um, one of the most important things we're talking about what what clients can do, what companies can do to address these challenges. One of the most important things people can do up front is structuring that post mortem that I talked about. This informs where you look, and how you look at the issue, and it has an outsize impact on the quality of the outcome. It's rife with cognitive biases, and this is the vulnerable vulnerability in the process. So I would say if any of your listeners would like to talk a bit more about that process and would like to walk through how to properly structure the post mortem, including the types of questions to ask who to involve things of that nature, I'd be more than happy to offer them some of my time to walk through it. You know, just just reach out and let me know that you you heard me speaking on the Best Kept Secret podcast.

 

Jay Kingley  33:50  

 

Thank you, Joe, to our listeners, you definitely want to take up, take him up on his generous offer and tap into both his point of view and his experience. Thanks, everybody for tuning in. Let's continue to crush it out in the marketplace. Until next time.