The Art of Operations

The term “operations” will trigger different definitions or impressions depending upon an individual’s role, knowledge of organizational design, longevity in business, or propensity to think strategically or tactically.

Operations, or “ops” for short, is a black hole for some and the center of the universe for others, but few will argue its importance or influence on achieving business success.

Operations is a company’s delivery engine, whether you are a solopreneur or a multinational corporation. It is where strategy transforms into action, where progress is measured, where efficiency and effectiveness are pursued, where priorities are driven, where effort is valued, where revenue is realized, and where resources are consumed.

Unfortunately, it is also a haven for dysfunction, confusion, frustration, infighting, inefficiencies, and organizational pain.

Operations serve as a firm’s nexus. When the executive team isn’t aligned with its front-line workers, and the coordination between internal departments is less than ideal, it will likely be discovered and felt in operations first. The impact of stressors on a company is often determined by how quickly the ops team can adapt and resolve these stressors. Mission clarity, robust communications, proven processes, known standards, effective training, risk identification, clear and concise governance, cross-functional acumen, decisive leadership, and a cohesive culture are essential elements to running a smooth operation. Each element must be proactively designed, tested, implemented, and reinforced.

The key to effective crisis management is preparation. That way, when fires surface, and they will despite rigorous safeguards, the best extinguisher is the artful manipulation of an organization’s people, process, communications, and culture levers.

Many believe the essence of operations is process development and enforcement, more science than art — if we follow the process, we get the intended result — a cause-and-effect relationship. Operationally, processes or standard operating procedures (SOPs) are essential, but unless your firm has deployed robots, adding people to the equation injects variability and complexity.

Quickly, the human elements of reliability, dependability, commitment, effort, attitude, accountability, trust, and others emerge and begin impacting day-to-day endeavors. Human differences, both strengths and weaknesses, must be factored into task assignments and team rosters, along with management’s ability to resolve conflict, manage expectations, assess performance, and provide timely, constructive feedback to encourage efforts and correct shortfalls.

The numbing fact is that many managers lack the requisite job, industry, business, and people skills to effectively manage their direct reports, which leads to employee turnover. This attrition adds the ingredients of recruitment, onboarding, training, and assimilation to the “ops stew.”

Where the firm sits in the business life cycle, economic and social conditions, demand and capacity seasonality, and executive team cohesion also impact, either positively or negatively, the effectiveness and quality of the work. Combine those factors with the need for operations leaders to have a solid working knowledge of all aspects of the business, from sales to billing, marketing to legal, and strategy to supply chain, and it becomes clear that operations require artists, not scientists.

Artists masterfully use their color palettes by manipulating known color combinations to create the desired hue. They then apply these colors with interwoven traditional and creative painting techniques. In essence, the artist strengthens their art with orchestrated prescriptive principles based on their vision, environment, and psychological outlook. Similarly, skilled operations leaders manipulate hard processes, methodologies, and business principles to adapt them to the unique execution conditions they are encountering. In short, they master the “art of operations.”

If you need help calculating the risks to your business operations, are concerned that your operational elements are not prepared to achieve and sustain your growth plans, or your operations teams are slow to adapt to changing industry or economic conditions, Helmwise can help.

Helmwise is a business consulting and coaching firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina, that helps small and medium-sized service businesses prepare for and sustain growth. Helmwise specializes in scaling business operations to support low-stress expansion, upskilling leadership teams to facilitate change and create adaptative organizations, and strengthening operational components before a business succession or to enhance an entity’s valuation upon owner exit.

For a complete description of Helmwise’s services or to schedule a complimentary consultation, visit www.helmwise.com.