S&OP: Hire for Strategy, Not for Need

“You’ve got the req. — go get to hiring.”

Hearing these words from a superior can be enlivening… or startling… or both.

In the still-evolving world of Sales & Operations Planning — a world of theory, studies, perceptions, and perspectives — many champions see the investment of personnel as the biggest predictor of success. While executive sponsorship is often cited as the most important ingredient, to be successful, implementing a process like S&OP takes human resources; there is no way around it.

Every function in a business, including demand, supply, finance, marketing, sales, management, engineering, participates in S&OP. When asked if dedicated resources from these functions are necessary to support S&OP, many consultants will tell you “it depends.” I like that answer, because it reminds me why consultants make so much money. It depends means “I’ll tell you that if you hire me to consult for you long enough, I will get to see and learn your business and make an informed decision.”

For those with finite funds, I’ll give you the secret learned later in these lengthy engagements. Are you ready? Effective support for you S&OP process, absolutely, takes full-time resources. We will get into why full-time, how those resources differ from the still-needed part-time participants, and where to find them.

OK, so if you’re a fan of S&OP — you’ve seen what it can do — then hopefully I’ve got you excited. I want you to be able to take this article to your boss, lay it on top of the other S&OP white papers, and finally hear those words that opened this masterful piece of blogature — “Go hire.” Well, if your boss is enraptured, giving what you / they want comes at a price — like anything (perhaps I do have a future in consulting!). That price is that S&OP resources must be some of the most skillfully managed talent that your firm employs.

S&OP is frequently instigated and implemented by Supply Chain — so in most undertakings, its success or failure depends on how well this function minds the embers, feeds the fire, and fans the flames. Finding the right captain and the right lieutenants takes an understanding of what true talent in this area looks like. Beautifully summarized and borrowed with permission from Robert Bowman at SupplyChainBrain is the following excerpt from a few years back:

Companies say that they are in dire need of competent supply and demand planners, but the requirements of that position today are so varied that you wonder whether a single person exists who can do the job. It calls for strong math and statistical skills, obviously, but a good planner must also be able to communicate well across the multiple silos of an organization. The right candidate will have a deep understanding of the requirements of manufacturing, logistics, marketing, sales and finance. Then there’s the necessity of reaching outside company walls to suppliers and customers, to ensure that all parties are in agreement about what the demand forecast should be. Who are these freakishly talented individuals? And where can they be found.

I hope that this hits home for some. If you are a professional in Supply Chain in 2016, then you should be extremely proud. Even without the order and structure that S&OP affords, the essential thrusts it implores — running by the numbers, searching for insights, influencing sound decision making — are all expectations of the demanding daily work of Supply Chain in this fast-paced, globalized business world.

Development of individuals for planning roles is paramount. Adding more planners because of a new product family addition or departmental workload leads many companies into trouble. Few Supply Chain planners study this discipline and jump right into it; most fall into it over time. Therefore, varied foundational experience and education can leave doors open to evacuate for these individuals, if sustained role interest, perceived value, and future opportunities are not afforded.

Greater than resource capacity planning, the most important role of H.R. in S&OP and Supply Chain management is helping the business to formulate adequate strategies for talent development and retention. While talent loss is costly for any role in a firm, losing experienced individuals who have developed intimate understandings of products, personalities, patterns, and plans is even more so. Be strategic. Turnover in this space is avoidable, and the elevation of the importance of these roles starts with education.

Circling back to dedicated S&OP roles, managing a process that has both tactical and executive layers takes a lot of time and a lot of talent. Developing the demand plan, evaluating supply capabilities and constraints, exploring financial solvency, integrating commercial sensing and shaping, and unlocking leadership expectations — every month — cannot be done as part of anyone’s “normal” job. For S&OP owners, this is the job.

These roles not only own the design, execution, and continuous improvement of the milestone executive S&OP monthly meetings (4-6, depending on philosophy), they also manage and lead the daily and weekly tactical meetings that explore and link SKU, account, and regional details. Engagement must be fostered, maintained, and the future talent needed to continue to evolve S&OP has to be ripened. As supporting leadership to the owner, full-time S&OP coordinator roles are further suggested to lead and ensure accountability within demand, supply, and finance; each with similar, function-specific, expectations like that of the owner.

S&OP positions are the best of the best in the participatory functions. Some individuals should be put on the path for organic growth within their teams, others for possible rotationary development across the functions; but S&OP presents additional opportunities to promote talent with specific intention. As Oliver Wight® asserts, “Coordinators and IBP (S&OP) project leaders often become the next generation of executive managers, and for good reason. Why would you not want to promote the people that have been actively participating in the integrated way of running the business?”

When it comes to S&OP roles, think it through. Investing in staff members, only to lose them because of a lack of strategy, is a bad outcome. Carefully develop the case for the need, plan and educate on the roles and role life cycle planning, and make your S&OP program a desirable place to be!

Want to learn more about what to look for in hiring advantageous S&OP roles or how to appreciate and manage the life cycle of a S&OP program? Join me in the upcoming IBF Webinar: Getting the Brightest & Best: S&OP Talent Management, on August 31st. Plus, you can also join me at IBF’s Business Planning, Forecasting, & S&OP conference in Orlando, October 25-28, 2016.

IBF Board of Advisors, IBF Knowledge Committee
Award-Winning Sales and Operations Planning, Supply Chain Management Professional, MEDTRONIC
Andrew is an award-winning Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) and Supply Chain Management professional. He is currently employed with Medtronic, the world's largest medical device company. He is also on the Board of Advisors for the Institute of Business Forecasting & Planning (IBF), and a regular international speaker at industry events, including the IBF. Andrew is a hands-on data scientist; but also an inspirational industry leader with a passion for innovating & advancing the fields of demand planning, S&OP/IBP, and enterprise risk management.

3 Responses to S&OP: Hire for Strategy, Not for Need

  1. Great article. Companies need to hire the best qualified and preferably certified candidates to fill their S&OP roles. Certification demonstrates a person’s commitment to their profession . Continuing education programs show an organizations commitment to their people.

  2. Well written article. It’s a critical topic given where we are in the evolution of Supply Chain as a strategic enterprise. The market hungers for qualified talent, perhaps because young professionals still look to other functional areas to fulfill management career aspirations. While supply-chain hiring managers have some serious work ahead, there are several common-sense practices to attract and retain top talent. http://www.vanguardsw.com/sales-operations-planning/

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