I was reflecting today on what makes a good planner and wonder if we sometimes overlook the most crucial skill when we embark on a recruitment drive? It’s a question I have been asked many times over the years and I think it would be fair to say that my answer has evolved over time. Before I answer, permit me to muse on the topic for a few minutes.
Let me go back 25 years. There I was searching for a career and ended up in the first contact centre to come to our part of Ireland. 60 of us, all with degrees, started as tech support agents for an Internet company. It was fair to say we were overqualified, but as for many people a job was a job and many of us there from the beginning who stuck it out ended up in the management teams both locally and across Europe. Anyway, about 4 months after I started up went an ad for a Resource Planner. I saw some synergies with a part time job I had held previously and ended up being the only person out of 300 to apply. Interviews by phone (absolutely unheard of back then) with the USA and France followed and the rest is history. The US planning lead came across to provide my training and she gave me an insight on why she hired me – it was my analytical and logical mind that made her think I was a good fit.
I probably kept that in mind, and over the next decade built up a team of planners across Europe who all had one great (and arguably not so great) quality. In terms of personality and skills we were almost clones. We were problem solvers, logical, analytical, numerical, fixers. But we weren’t necessary communicators. Some of us had to learn the hard way how to communicate with those outside the field and it was tough at times.
To add to this, I have had the privilege over many years to work with planners working towards their various University qualifications at Ulster University. At key stages of their study there would be a presentation – often related to a project they had implemented. At the end of every presentation session I would challenge the students to identify the common theme as to why all their projects were successful. That word appears again – communication.
Think about it – we can hire PhD mathematicians. We can bring into data analysts. We look for people with a logical and analytical mind. But is this good enough? They have customers, mainly internal who are looking for help and assistance. Many of these customers won’t understand the intricacies of resource planning. However they care passionately about their customers – the customers of the business – those who need help and assistance. We could even say the people who in the end pay our wages! These operations folk have been hired for different reasons – their ability to manage and motivate teams of people to achieve their potential. The customers may be the frontline staff themselves – maybe folks in their first jobs, or who have worked in different environments – all trying to give great experiences to each and every customer.
With these internal customers, the one skill that is now no longer required (albeit it is sometimes there) is the logical, analytical mindset and comfort with numbers. They don’t want big tables of data. Graphs may work, but they don’t want to have to work out what they are saying. Don’t give them highly mathematical excuses for why service wasn’t achieved yesterday. Just tell them what needs to happen and how that will help them deliver excellent customer experience to their customers.
That means we need to think about how we communicate the message we are trying to portray. Yes, have the backup data for those who like it – but think about how planning principles can be delivered in simple speak. Remember the analogy KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid – never has it been more true than when planners and operations folk are in communication. You either get Maths or you don’t. Therefore we need an inbuilt translator for when speaking to those that don’t.
I’ll finish with one final story. I was once helping a company hire a Planning Manager and designed the recruitment process. As part of it, candidates had to present a brief presentation on a resource planning achievement. Once candidate came in, opened a spreadsheet on screen and talked for 15 minutes about the numbers. Technically superb – but the 2 Ops colleagues – the end customer if successful, just looked at me when he left and said “what was that?”
If you customer can’t understand you, then how effective are you in your job, no matter how brilliant your analysis is?