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How I realized engaging the executive team in S&OP and training my dog are practically the same!

Business Leadership  

It is common knowledge that in the realm of S&OP, weak executive support most often causes the process to fail. Unfortunately, we have seen this problem across a lot of companies.

Is this your company? Are you constantly trying different ways to engage your executive team in the S&OP process without luck? Some of you may even have said to yourself, "What is the executive teams problem, I keep telling them how important it is, why do they keep ignoring me?"

Before I jump in, for any executives reading this, who may have taken offense to the title, I ask you to keep an open mind and read the full blog before passing any judgements. You're probably thinking, "Wow is Jordan really about to compare executives to his dog? He must not think that highly of executives!" in response, "No, I just think that highly of my dog!" I recently stumbled upon this interesting correlation in my life, and will show you the connections.

To give you a quick summary of my new life experience, 5 months ago I adopted a puppy, Bailey, she is a Black Mouth Cur. Black mouth curs are an interesting breed, in that they are highly intelligent, hyperactive, and have a short attention span. I spent many hours researching the right training techniques for Bailey, and while there are different styles, I went with a positive reinforcement technique. One last note on this, different breeds of dogs are said to need different training styles, but the breed just differentiates on the level of difficulty because of the discipline required by the trainer. Baileys training required a high level of difficulty, which is probably the main reason I found a correlation to engaging the executive team in S&OP.

Comparing Traits

Now that I have given you a quick background, lets do a couple comparisons of Baileys traits to executives:

Intelligence: Bailey will take her time to understand her environment, figure out how things work and most importantly how to utilize the things around her. While I can't say every executive in the world is intelligent, I would say the average executive is fairly intelligent, and like Bailey they will take time to notice their surroundings and understanding their organization to utilize the resources available.

Short attention span: Bailey can only handle short spurts of a specific type of training at a time. She will get bored easily, training with her must be concise and to the point, there is no room on my part for confusion, or I will lose her attention. While some executives may physically have a short attention span, the simple fact of how busy they are results in the same type of behavior. Executives need to be given information quickly and in a manner that is direct and to the point. Usually the time you have to present information in front of an executive is very short.

Common Themes

Now that I have compared some traits lets dive in and compare a few training themes and S&OP themes related to Bailey and the executive team:

 1. Understanding the overall purpose and how it relates to achieving a goal:

Bailey:  While my ultimate goal is to have a well behaved dog, from Bailey's perspective, her ultimate goal is to make her owner happy. Getting her to understand this simply meant showing her I was excited when she successfully performed the task at hand, treats were used at first, but I knew I was successful when I was able to wean her off treats and simply reward her with my excitement. Essentially making it clear to her how the training would help her achieve her goal.

Executive Team: The executive teams ultimate goal is profitability. Many times executives may not be familiar with what S&OP is and what it sets out to accomplish. The first step to engagement requires educating them on the purpose of the process and how it directly ties into achieving their goals. Ensuring they understand how the process works is also important.

Suggestions: Whether you are just kicking off your S&OP process or just struggling to engage your executive team, just as I did with Bailey, taking a little extra time to show your executive team why they need S&OP is a good idea. Holding a small meeting for the executive team only, would be a good idea (The smaller the meeting the better). Remember the the short attention span trait, keep the presentation short and to the point, more importantly keep it high level and simple to understand. When presenting to them the different payoffs S&OP will achieve, such as inventory reduction, be prepared to answer how this is achieved, in a relatively easy way, remember your executive team like Bailey is intelligent, they will want to understand the how and the why.

 2. Being disciplined, consistent, and avoid confusion:

Bailey: Bailey is a highly intelligent dog, every movement and slight attitude change I make, she is watching and trying to interpret. Knowing this I must not slip up when training her. Keeping her training consistent and avoiding the possibility of confusion is important. As her trainer I must stay disciplined as well as ensure other people around her are disciplined. It only takes one time accidentally rewarding bad behavior to throw off her learning. Bailey will not buy in to the training if she is constantly confused and not confident in my teaching.

Executive team: The executive team has their hands in numerous things, providing them with consistency and a strict discipline on how the process runs is a major deal in keeping them engaged. The executives are well aware of how valuable their time is and an inconsistent process that lacks stability and ease of running smoothly will cause the executives, just like Bailey too lose confidence in the process.

Suggestions: This second theme goes with another blog I recently wrote: Do you K.I.S.S your S&OP Process?  Going back to the short attention span of both Bailey and the executive team, keep a standard template for metrics and the agenda, you want your executive team to spend their time on understanding what the information presented is telling them, making them spend time up front each meeting just understanding the structure of the meeting or how to read the metrics will likely cause them to lose their focus. Keeping meetings on a consistent schedule each cycle and booking all meetings a year out will keep a good structure and keeps your executive team comfortable with a smooth flowing process. As mentioned with not confusing Bailey with accidentally rewarding a negative behavior, organize the meeting agenda to have an area with issues to be discussed, as opposed to having issues randomly scattered through the meeting, the same goes with big wins or successes to be discussed, structure is key!

 3. Incorporate some entertainment value:

Bailey: Without some level of entertainment it would be hard to get the short attention span of Bailey to focus. For Bailey, making training into a game where she gets rewarded for performing tasks correctly is a big deal. Giving her breaks during training and playing fun games like fetch, were extremely important to engaging her. All work and no play is no fun.

Executive team: Adding a little excitement to the meetings can be all the difference to an executive feeling forced to attend and wanting to attend. This may seem a little silly, but it can be easy for an executive to blow off a meeting or send someone in their place, so just like making games with Bailey and giving her treats, using a little creativeness based off your executive teams personality to keep them excited about the meetings can go a long way.

Suggestions: A couple years ago while attending an IBF conference I heard some great suggestions on engaging executives in the S&OP process. Just like playing games with Bailey, making a small game or competition in the executive meetings can keep them engaged. A good game I was told about is having the executives who attend the meeting all guess at the beginning of each month what they think actual sales for the month will be. A prize could be given out to the executive the following month who guesses the closest or it could just be for pride. The key rule behind this is the executive can only participate if they attend the meeting. Another good suggestion is making sure they understand how important they are to the process, so always have some type of decision that needs to happen in the executive meetings, besides just the CEO approval.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, looking at some traits of my dog and I how I approached training her, there are some common themes to how to engage your executive team in S&OP. The major things to remember are avoid confusing information by keeping it simple, make sure they understand the reason for the process, and get your point across quickly because of the short attention span. One final piece of advice to consider is keep information with executives at a high level when presenting, if they want additional details let them ask and have answers and additional presentation material on hand and ready.

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