How Mental Toughness supports more effective S&OP

Mental Toughness is a personality trait which is emerging as the key to understanding how people respond to and perform under stress, pressure and challenge. Mental Toughness explains up to 25% in the variation of an individual’s performance.  It is also a significant factor in individual and team health and well-being. In my new e-book, I describe how to develop 15 characteristics of the Mentally Tough.

Mental toughness has been used in elite sport psychology for over 20 years to increase performance. It was first defined in 1995 by performance psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr as ‘the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent regardless of competitive circumstances’. Mental Toughness is often referred to as a mindset that drives positive and effective behaviours. As much as 68% of S&OP practitioners indicate that behaviours are not addressed enough in S&OP implementations. Mental Toughness can be used to address this and is a great way to include more positive and effective behaviours in an S&OP implementation.

In their book ‘Developing Mental Toughness’, Professor Peter Clough and Dough Strycharczyk discuss the history of mental toughness. They build on concepts like resilience and hardiness to scientifically define and test a model for mental toughness. This model is applicable not only on elite sportsmen, but also for any individual or business. Through their research they found four attributes that make up mental toughness; commitment, control, challenge and confidence, also called the 4 C’s. Most important, they found Mental Toughness is developable. Professor Clough made a valid and reliable survey, the MTQ48. This is an on-line, 48 questions psychometric survey that measures an individual’s Mental Toughness across the four component.

What follows is a short description of the 4 C’s and how they contribute to more effective S&OP.


I promise to do it. I’ll set a goal and do whatever it takes to deliver. This attribute measures how and why we set goals and also how we respond to them when faced with tough and unyielding deadlines.

In terms on setting clear goals, my data shows that only 30% of companies sets clear S&OP maturity goals and checks these at least yearly. Furthermore, process discipline is one of the main roadblocks to implement effective S&OP. Sticking to planning rules and the plan as agreed in the S&OP meeting is essential too. These are all S&OP commitments. Honoring meeting timelines, logistics, agenda and meeting etiquette seem like small commitments, however they are often poorly executed and impact S&OP effectiveness.  As tennis great Roger Federer says about Mental Strength:

I’m not sure, you know, if it’s the most important to be tough in the biggest moments, but it’s also the day to day grind you go into.”

It’s easy to be committed to the big executive S&OP meeting when facing the CEO. The daily S&OP grind can be much harder to commit to. An S&OP team that scores high on commitment will commit to all facets of S&OP, both in the important moments and in the daily grind.


I really believe I can do it. I keep my emotions in check when doing it. There are two sub attributes to control. Emotional control, where the high scoring individual keep their anxiety in check and life control, where the high scoring thinks they are in control of their life

S&OP teams that score high on life control are pro active about solving issues or improving the S&OP process. They do not sit back and wait for others to start something. S&OP teams that show high emotional control keep their emotions in check and stay constructive in heated discussions. They have the ability to manage their emotions, stay focused, keep listening attentively and contribute to discussions. All essential elements for effective S&OP.


I’m driven to do it, I will take a chance and acceptable risk. Setbacks make me stronger. This attribute addresses how we, as individuals, respond to change. Do we embrace change or do we prefer to minimize exposure to change and prefer to work in stable environments?

S&OP teams that score high on challenge dare to challenge the status quo. They are willing to think outside the box and explore new scenario’s. They accept that they might feel uncomfortable in these situations and are willing to deal with these feelings. They will be open to take risks and when faced with setback, they’ll keep striving for the best outcome possible. When they fail at first, they won’t give up.


I believe I have the ability to do it. I can stand my ground if I need to. This attribute measures the extent to which we have self-belief in our abilities and interpersonal confidence, to see through to a difficult task that can be beset with setbacks.

An S&OP team that scores high on interpersonal confidence will feel confident to cross the functional silos to solve business issues. They will also feel confident to challenge their peers and their leaders in a constructive way to get the real issues on the table and force decision making. They will have confidence in their own abilities to take on the most difficult actions as outcome of an S&OP meeting.


S&OP has many benefits, however it is an intensive process that requires data gathering, analysis, reports and monthly alignment meetings. There is no easy fix for S&OP, it is a recurring business effort that sometimes can be painful. A marketing director once told me just before the executive S&OP meeting; ‘it is like going to the dentist every month’. Even companies with years of experience will tell you privately that every month it can be a struggle to get all the data aligned, commercialized and scenario planned before the executive S&OP.

To keep going at maintaining and improving S&OP requires a positive mindset and Mental Toughness to not give up. On top of this, a Mentally Tough S&OP team will have a pro active mindset and displays behaviours that support effective S&OP meetings. Enough reason to measure and improve the Mental Toughness of your S&OP team.

About the author:

Niels is an S&OP expert, accredited Mental Toughness coach and founder of He is passionate about making individuals and businesses being themselves at their best.

Copies of his digital guide Building Mental Toughness: Practical help to become yourself at your best, can be bought online. You can contact him at to enquire about measuring your Mental Toughness with the MTQ48 and receive a 12 page personal development report.


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