How to Hire a Skilled Inventory Planner

With inventory dollars accounting for one of the largest assets on a retailer’s balance sheet, you need properly qualified personnel managing your company’s inventory. Yet some organizations assign this important financial responsibility to lower-paid, entry-level or under-qualified people.

That’s not wise: Planners can be responsible for millions of dollars of purchasing, while also directly affecting customer satisfaction through adequate goods in stock. These are critical responsibilities with an impact on the success of the business that few others in the organization hold.

The most successful retailers elevate the planning position and function, fully integrating it within all aspects of the organization. Positive business results come from the communication and collaboration between the inventory, product/merchandising, creative, financial and supply-chain teams.

It’s critical to hire and develop the right people for the inventory planner position. You can have the best inventory processes and systems in the world, but an unqualified planner will lead to subpar results, missed opportunities and unnecessary expense.

Keep in mind that it’s not simply a matter of hiring “analytical personalities” or statistical experts and expecting them to be successful planners. Great inventory planners can be developed from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, as long as they possess the foundational characteristics outlined in our previous article Twelve Qualities of a Great Inventory Planner.

The key is to identify and hire candidates with a good balance of quantitative skills and qualitative thinking. A common assumption is to stereotype a planner as a purely “numbers person.”

In fact, the best planners possess both strong analytical and resourceful creative skills. They should be able to think objectively while interpreting meaningful insight from both quantitative data and qualitative factors.

Here’s how you identify and hire the people with the best potential to be successful planners.

In the interview process, first review the candidate’s analytical skills and systems knowledge. Ask for examples of how he or she has completed projects or resolved issues using data analysis.

Ascertain the candidate’s experience and comfort level when working with unfiltered data. Get a good sense of the thought process he or she applies when resolving issues.

Then move on to ask questions that go beyond analytical evaluation to gain an understanding of the prospective planner’s qualitative reasoning process. Here are some specific questions for all candidates:

  • What type of relevant factors would they review in addition to numerical facts?
  • What internal and external rationale would they base their decisions on?
  • How do they weigh the risk/reward trade-off of a decision?
  • Are they capable of independent thought, considering all pertinent variables or do they rely solely on system recommendations?
  • Do they have the desire to take ownership of their business and proactively take the necessary actions to ensure positive results?
  • Have they demonstrated persistent follow through on challenges and are they adept at problem solving?

If you can, you might consider hiring candidates identified with potential planning skills as temporary employees. Establish an evaluation period for training and exposure to the process, helping to determine if the worker a strong aptitude to become a competent planner.

As with any position, finding the right person for an inventory management position takes a lot of work. But hiring and developing planners with comprehensive quantitative and qualitative skill sets will go a long way in creating a robust, responsive and respected inventory control organization.

Paul Angelos (paulangelos44@gmail.com) has 25 years of inventory control and supply chain experience and specializes in developing retail planning processes, systems and people.

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