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Walking into the executive S&OP review can feel like walking into the proverbial lion’s den. Your heart races as the lions stare you down and wait for you to move so they can pounce, tear you to shreds, and then pick their teeth with your bones.   At least that was how I felt the first time I lead an executive review meeting. I quickly learned that my fear was limiting my effectiveness, and that I needed to combat that fear with solid preparation. Adopt these 4 principles and you will walk in with confidence! 

1 -Know Your Audience 

Keep in mind that the output of the S&OP process is the product you are creating, and your customer is the executive committee. Creating a process that meets their needs, and that they believe adds value, is pretty much the entire point of S&OP. The first step is to find out who sits on the executive committee and then put on your detective hat and figure out all you can about them. Go beyond what their current role is and any assumptions of what that role may imply.   Research their backgrounds on LinkedIn and talk to others in the company who interact with them regularly. Then set up a time to meet with them individually and start to build a relationship. Inquire about their priorities, motivations, objectives for their area of responsibility and how S&OP can help achieve their goals.

Find out who sits on the executive committee and then put on your detective hat and figure out all you can about them

It would also be helpful to study the basic personality types and use that knowledge to help you communicate more effectively.   Watch for clues in the interaction of the group during meetings as it will help you discern who the real leader is in this process, who may not be the person at the top of totem pole. 

2 -Know Your Stuff 

The best way to build your confidence is to educate yourself on S&OP best practices. Read, read, and read some more. Reach out to thought leaders and connect with them, ask questions, seek advice. This is the continuous part of personal continuous improvement! Embrace your role as artful facilitator, and do not let yourself be perceived as a burdensome task master.

Having a thorough planning playbook not only keeps you organized but also provides transparency and accountability

Having a thorough planning playbook not only keeps you organized but also provides transparency and accountability to the executive committee, and that develops credibility. The playbook should have the S&OP team charter and a RACI matrix to identify clearly what everyone’s role is in the process. Also included in the planning playbook are the data sheets for each planning family. These should be a one or two-page summary of the past three months’ performance to plan, key KPIs, and the horizon forecast compared to financial target and a projected period end inventory plan.  

Personally facilitate or at least attend every S&OP demand, supply, and consensus meeting.  After all, it is difficult to speak to the specifics of what occurred in demand or supply meetings that you have not attended. Your credibility will be damaged if you are perceived not to be in full possession of the facts. When you are in these meetings, think about your customer, the executive committee, and try to anticipate what questions they will ask and what they want to know.     

3 – Bring Solutions… Not Problems 

Showing up to an executive review with a list of problems for them to solve may make them wonder why they need you! The major issues should be resolved through the Consensus meeting (also known as the Pre-meeting) and the outcomes of those collaborative decisions are what is reported. List the constraints that were faced, the problem solving methods used (brainstorming, fish diagram etc.), options explored, and the solutions that were chosen. For those rare issues that go beyond the authority of the S&OP team, it is important to not just present the issue – discuss the pros and cons of each option explored and the team’s recommendation. Offer the team’s recommendations for long term improvements such as capital expenditure for new equipment to increase efficiency, training to improve processes, and talent to elevate team performance.   

4 – Turn the Executive Team Into Stewards Of The Process  

The best way to combat the tendency of the executive team to drift into oversight mode is continual education and feedback. They must understand the “core DNA” of S&OP and keep the focus on the future horizon (not the current month) and stay out of the weeds (volume not mix). It is also important that they have sufficient discipline to not give contradictory directions or set up competing metrics.      

To keep the process healthy and effective, conduct an annual audit with the team and executive committee. Conduct regular education and training sessions to train new team members and provide refreshers for others. It is also a good idea to end every executive review with a request for feedback, and then strive to incorporate it into the process.   

You don’t need to fear walking into the executive review.  Careful preparation is the key to success. You got this!