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Demand planning provides the only truly objective voice in an organization, which is why it should be responsible for forecasts, says Atwell, the company's vice president for the U.S. market supply chain.
“The sales organization often is held to budget targets and tends to under promise and over deliver,” Atwell says. “Marketing is made up of big dreamers, and finance people worry about the bottom line, but demand planning is an objective voice and can add huge value, if leveraged correctly by the other teams.”
That is why it is so important to choose the right people to fill demand planning roles, she says. “At L’Oreal, we try to hire really passionate, driven people who can influence all parts of the organization.”
While analytical skills are important in any supply chain role, Atwell says she looks first for passion and influence. “And for people who are able and comfortable thinking in the gray areas, because as a demand planner you are wrong a lot of the time and few decisions are black and white,” she says. “I want people who are really passionate, committed and able to navigate all levels of the organization and exert influence – people who are not intimidated or afraid of hierarchy and are willing to speak up and share their point of view.”
This means finding people who are both right- and left-brained, “which is difficult,” Atwell says. “The most talented demand planners can communicate the creative types on the sales and marketing teams and also with operational engineers. They have to swing in both directions, which is a rare quality.”
Atwell is not very interested in a potential employee’s background or educational credentials. “A degree doesn’t define passion and commitment,” she says. “We can teach the technical skills of forecasting. What we can’t teach is the ability to think in the gray or the potential for leadership and communications and influence in the organization. Without these, the technical skills don’t really matter.”
Once these employees are part of the team, keeping them is a continuing challenge, which is not a bad thing, Atwell says. “Demand planning is one of those functions that builds leadership and communications skills, which makes everyone else in the company want them.” For that reason, demand planners should not be expected to stay in their roles long term, she says. “At L’Oreal we build our processes and teams around the assumption that most demand planners won’t sit in the same role for longer than two or three years,” she says. “We are constantly asking what we can do as an organization to have the right tools and processes in place so we can support them in their career growth and sustain their good results.”
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