By: Greg Spira
It’s a commonly shared best-practice that demand planning is a multiple-input process, through which different commercial perspectives should be considered to develop the best demand plan for the business. Having balanced discussions is not only important to ensure that the best decisions are being made. In my experience balanced discussions gives everyone a voice in the process. Without full participation in planning, it is unreasonable to expect full alignment in execution. When someone is not able to contribute to the discussion but is expected abide with the decisions made, it becomes difficult to enforce the execution of the decision. It offers the excuse to say, “That’s not my number,” and shirk accountability.
The success or failure of reaching consensus on the demand plan and other decisions in the Demand Review is not measured based on how well the discussion goes during the meeting. It is measured, instead, by how well everyone adheres to the plan that is approved and the decisions that are made.
Reaching consensus on the demand plan doesn’t mean that everyone loves the decision. It means that everyone agrees to execute that plan. In the context of a monthly planning process, it means everyone will support the plan – at least until the next month when new information, assumptions, or performance results justify making changes to the demand plan.
The facilitator of the demand review plays a critical role here. They must feel comfortable elevating the tough conversations and decisions that need to take place. The most effective facilitators do not shy away from conflict. They are skillful at facilitating when there are disagreements and helping people with diverse viewpoints to resolving issues. If these disagreements are left unresolved, it is unlikely that the demand plan will be followed.
I have worked with clients with a wide range of cultures. One culture could be described as overly “nice.” Another common culture is “no-holds-barred,” very direct, and abrupt in discussions. As much as it can be emotionally challenging to deal with, the “no-holds-barred” culture can often get to the heart of an issue and resolve it far more quickly than the “nice” one. In a company with a “nice” culture, I find people are willing to sit in Demand Review meetings and politely debate superficial issues with one another for hours. Then they leave in a stalemate. The rooms are full of “elephants.” Controversial issues are obvious, but no one wants to discuss them. It can be too uncomfortable to do so.
In situations where conflict or debate is likely or necessary, facilitators have the task making people feel safe in participating in the discussion and decision making. Creating this safe environment doesn’t just involve good facilitating during the Demand Review. It requires advance preparation and engagement of key players prior to the review. Facilitators need to identify in advance the contentious topics that need to be discussed. Then they need to plan how the discussions will be facilitated so that they are productive and constructive.
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