By Christina Taylor, Director, Support & Operations, Commerce Solutions at Sound Payments –
I love Operations. Operations is the engine that makes a company run and ensures production. There are a lot of moving parts to any Operations team and developing those parts into a well-oiled machine can be challenging, but very rewarding. As operational managers, we live by results. Here are some suggestions to help you create high performing, results-driven teams.
1. Be a Champion of Change One of the most important characteristics of an effective Operations Manager is to be a passionate advocate for change. A favorite quote of mine by Aldous Huxley, “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” And companies that resist change… die. Eradicate the phrase, “we’ve always done it this way” from your vocabulary. That phrase is the kiss of death. Be willing to blow up entire departments and start over if something isn’t working well. And change is not just limited to processes and structure. Fundamental changes in the way we think about certain management concepts are necessary to stay relevant and attract talent. Be open to new ideas about people, technology and methodology. The landscape of technology and people management is perpetually changing. We can seek out that change or lament about the “good old days” and be left behind.
2. Invest in Systems & Tools. Without the right systems and tools, you’ll end up in a manual nightmare, battling unmanageable staffing needs and using what I like to call, “the S.O.S. model”, Spreadsheets On SharePoint. One of the crucial mistakes companies make is investing in only a few components of a full system suite to save on cost. This happens for 2 reasons; 1. Initial sticker shock. Decision-makers look at the price tag and run away without fully understanding the long-term impact. 2. The right people aren’t the ones presenting your needs to decision-makers. Executives who are too far removed from daily activity are pleading your case on your behalf. They’re usually only about 25% familiar with the details. So about 95% of the story is lost in translation and so, decision-makers only invest in a fraction of the systems suite. Impacted departments end up creating or purchasing additional tools and hiring more people to fill the gaps. The result is many different systems that don’t intersect, which impedes productivity and makes automation nearly impossible. The time spent trying to integrate these disparate systems and managing an increasing staff, costs significantly more money in the long run. Do a better job of tying the cost piece together in telling your story to decision-makers, include a cost analysis and invest wisely.
3. The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line!
This is what Lean Concepts are all about. The more teams and steps involved in a process the worse it will be for everyone involved and your customers will suffer for it. If your flowchart is 3 pages-long with 50 boxes, it’s time to blow it up and start over. I’ve worked to re-engineer processes that involved over nine different departments… NINE!
- One department to initiate the work
- Another group to create customer records
- And another to create a second type of record in a different system (yes, really)
- A 4th department to approve financing
- And another department to build configurations
- A 6th to setup billing parameters
- Then it went to a 7th team to audit everyone else’s work
- Then to an 8th to organize and prioritize the work
- And FINALLY, the last department to execute the work
Do you have a headache, yet? Because I have a headache, now. Besides the obvious, one of the biggest pitfalls to hand-offs is that each team has its own SLA to complete their portion of the work. So, every relay to another group is a delay to execution. Imagine how long it took to execute this process? Most often, when you ask why a task must be handed off, you’ll get the second deadliest phrase in an organization, “because our department doesn’t handle that activity”. What?! If that’s the answer, or any variation thereof; i.e. “we haven’t been trained”, “our group is too busy”, “we don’t have access” or…. *cringe* “we’ve always done it this way”, the hand-off can automatically be categorized as an unnecessary. Get rid of it.
4. Engage Your Employees.
Empower people and involve them in decision-making and process development. One of the best ways to motivate people, is to give them a voice in creating their own work environment. Don’t just define everything in your own vacuum and deliver it to the team on a platter. If you want buy-in on a new process, involving the team in creating it is the best way to get it. You might try choosing someone who is struggling in an area, instead of your expert, or the person most vocal about a procedure they hate. Then, have that person redefine it, document, and implement it. This is one of the best ways to help someone who’s struggling to learn and one of the best ways to see what that person can bring to the table. You must trust your employees to make decisions – after all, you hired them.
5. Leverage Your New People and Switch Roles.
Sometimes, it takes a fresh set of eyes to identify gaps in processes that your seasoned vets are missing. An effective and easy change to make is to put team members in completely different roles. This gets folks out of their daily routine and gives them new, creative energy. It’s also another great way to identify talents that people don’t always get to use. Even if the switch is just temporary. Similarly, get your new folks involved. I like to have new people help develop and improve training. After all, who’s a better judge of the training’s effectiveness than the person who just went through it? You may think your most valuable contributor to training is your long-term, Subject Matter Expert. But you’re missing out on one of your most valuable assets. Helping to define a program or a process is also a great way for a new employee to learn it.
6. “Done is often better than perfect” – Sheryl Sandberg. This concept was difficult for me to understand at first. When I first read it, I couldn’t have disagreed more. But, after being involved in a more than a few never-ending projects, I finally realized that if you wait for perfection, you will be waiting into the abyss of Never Never Land. Done is better than perfect because perfect never gets done. You can make improvements after something is in place.
7. Measure Your Success!
Some of the latest HR trends advise moving away from “yard stick” measurement of employee performance. And I mostly agree with that advice. But data-driven decision making is imperative to any successful Operations team. Results matter. And at the end of the day, results are what leadership wants to see – just the facts. As a favorite mentor once told me, “the numbers never lie”. Identify the areas you need to improve, re-engineer processes and automate functions around those improvements, then set clear targets/goals for you and your team. Make it fun and include incentives for reaching targets. If you’re not using a Balanced Scorecard, I strongly recommend that you start doing it.
Operations is one of the most important components of any company, with many functions and logistics under a complex umbrella. The day-to-day challenges operations managers face are not always easy to overcome. If you remain open to change, keep it simple, engage your team in the journey and measure your progress, you will enjoy remarkable results.