One of the most important aspects of being a successful leader is loving people leadership. You have to really enjoy it and have a passion for it. In my demand planning career I have worked in individual contributor roles but I quickly realized that my passion is really in developing and empowering people. 

The Keys to Building Effective Teams

1. The first key to building really great teams that are highly motivated and drive their own work is having a very clear mission – what are we here to do, what is our mission statement, what are we delivering year after year? It needs to go beyond just having a vision; it needs to be a defined mission statement that every business activity supports and works towards

2. Secondly it’s mastery, i.e. getting your team members to become experts in their field. As a leader, it is my job to help people learn their jobs. What I do annually with the IBF is the certification of my planners and I always budget for that year after year because that is my way of investing and developing my team members. That’s how I give them the foundational knowledge of what forecasting and S&OP should be. They all come back and say that it was such a great use of time, that they’re better informed, understand why we do what we do, and why S&OP is a critical business decision making process. [Ed: learn more about getting your team certified here.]

3. The third key is giving team members autonomy. There’s a lot of debate around coming to the office and making that mandatory. The Coca-Cola company has a flexible work-from-home program and we are completely hybrid. I have teams all over North America. We try to have physical meetings whenever we can but I give everybody complete autonomy when they come into the office. As long as they know what their individual missions are and they have the skills and the tools to complete and do their work as effectively and efficiently as possible. I find that this kind of independence helps bring the best out in people.  

It All Starts With Hiring the Right People 

The starting point to developing effective teams where individuals can be trusted to drive value independently is of course hiring good people. People make all the difference – you could have the same process, same leadership, same technology, same everything, but when you hire good people you can really take performance to the next level. 

The number one thing I look for is enthusiasm and passion for the work they do because you can’t teach that. You bring that with you as a person. I have always been so passionate about the work that I do that people always say “Oh my God Sara, you love what you do,” because I do and it shows. That passion allows me to go and try different things and learn and continue to develop myself. I want to see that in others because I know how powerful it can be.

Number two is intellectual curiosity. I want people on my team who ask, why is it like that? I want  them to say “Oh, Sara’s offering a forecasting certification program. I don’t know what that is but I want to go do that”. I want people who want to expand their knowledge and get excited when Gartner publishes this thing, or when the latest issue of the Journal of Business Forecasting is released, or when Apple News drops an article on machine learning. 

I love when people ask why the forecast looks like that, what retailers are doing, or what is happening with the consumers because that intellectual curiosity allows them to learn and improve in their roles.

It can lead them to learn things I might not know and it might be something that we can explore and take advantage of. It’s so important as a leader to adopt the attitude that I’m not the smartest person in the room. If I am then I hired all the wrong people! I don’t know everything so I need others to bring their expertise and their learning so we can be better together as a team.

 I very much lead like that and I love having my team challenge one another respectfully and challenge me and say “Sara wouldn’t it be better if we did it this way”. If it makes sense I say, yes absolutely. I tell them to go explore it and report back on what they find out and if it’s something that we need to go after, let’s figure out how we’re gonna do it.

Mentoring Helped Me Enormously – It’ll Help Your Team Members Too

Mentoring is very important in people’s career development and I’ve had many mentors in my career. Without my mentors and advisors I’m not sure if I would be where I am today. Mentors are people who can advise you but do supervise you. I have had people approach me for mentorship after hearing me speak at a Town Hall or at a conference.

When people reach out to you you can see if there’s a personal connection (i.e. beyond just professional interest). If there is, it is worth establishing a structured mentoring process. It’s my job as a mentor to schedule time for and provide a framework whereby there is an objective for the mentee, with actions or follow-ups that are then documented by the mentee that help to track progress. It’s a two way street: the mentee has to commit to doing work outside the meetings and the mentor has to provide feedback and guidance to make it worth their while.

Mentors have helped me get through some tight spots. I have had career failures – just like we all all do – and whenever I had those challenges, my mentors helped me get through them. Now I want to pay it forward and I have many, many mentees and many of them just find me. In fact, the latest mentee who reached out to me found me through an IBF podcast on Forecast Value Added. He’s currently implementing S&OP for a company in Atlanta and he wanted my perspective on certain challenges that he’s facing, so we connected. My point being, when people reach out to you, think about how you can help them and don’t be shy about formalizing a mentor/mentee process, whether that’s internal or external to the company.

Leadership Is Driving Team Members Towards Self Actualization

Ultimately, high-performing teams in any field is down to leaders building up their individual team members, giving them mastery over their domain, and bringing them to a point of self-actualization whereby they become the value drivers of the organization. It’s my goal at all times to build people up so I’m not the smartest person in the room. 


One of the best ways to develop demand planning teams is training and certification. IBF’s Certified Professional Forecaster program trains your team in demand planning best practices and validates their knowledge and skills. Upskill your team