4 Business Lessons from Operations Managers

4 Business Lessons from Operations Managers

The operations person is often overlooked as a source of business wisdom. She directs seemingly mundane duties, supervising hourly workers, walking the production floor, and making sure that orders are shipped on time.

However, a good operations manager who understands the nuances of the position, is a particularly valuable asset to a business. I have had the privilege of speaking with operations managers. These “turnaround pros” can transform disastrous situations into ones that deliver precisely what business owners, chief executives, and customers need and want. Here’s what they understand, that everyone in business can learn from.

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1. Implement small changes successfully to win support for bigger changes later on. Front-line employees and back-office team members alike are often skeptical about change. They don’t want to stop doing something that has worked for many years to make an improvement that might yield faster throughput, higher product quality and lower operating costs.

To win (eventual) support for innovation, the operations manager evaluates current processes and identifies small changes that will quickly deliver tangible results. Typically, no retraining is required, no large pieces of equipment must be installed, and no processes need to be redesigned.

After a series of small successes, people are usually ready for broader changes, new initiatives, and greater expansion. Operations managers don’t have unrestrained authority, and must pitch a proposal that outlines:

  • Expected benefits and ROI
  • Costs for capital expenditures and worker training
  • Downtime requirements for installation, or an alternative plan for continuous service
  • Effects of operational changes on sales, customer service, billing, etc.
  • Timelines for all phases from investigation through launch to ongoing operations

Because she has already proven her understanding of people, processes, products and her ability to take actions that improve performance, she’ll likely get approval for proposed change.

2. People don’t care about how it gets done, just that it is done, and done right.The operations manager understands what is relevant to customers and owners, and it’s her responsibility to meet specific performance goals, typically defined by what sales and marketing departments promise as well as what the owner envisions. Her job isn’t to explain business intricacies, defend worksite practices, or elaborate on operational glitches, but to prevent problems from happening and deftly deal with the ones that surface. The end goal is that the customer gets what they’re expecting, at the cost of what the owner desires.

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3. Firsthand observation is better than secondhand hearsay. The operations person knows the value of direct observation. She will show up on the third shift to see line employees in action, not just ask her supervisors what’s going on. She’ll visit the customer’s facility to observe the handling and application of a problematic component that her company supplies. Then, she’ll recommend a solution based on what she sees, not what others tell her.

These firsthand looks help her to grasp opportunities and diagnose problems. Then, she devises plans and solutions that address these real world problems.

4 . Don’t reserve vision for high-level strategy, use it to improve all aspects of your business. The operations manager is visionary. After evaluating an operation, she develops a vision for workflow, methods of assuring adherence to customer requirements, communication channels, and more, all in sync with the mission of the organization.

Then, she makes changes—tweaks in some cases; major revisions in others—to achieve her vision. She communicates goals, evaluates progress, and implements improvements, all based on how things should operate ideally.

We may think that vision is restricted to high-level strategic decisions of business owners or key executives. But anyone can, and should, have a vision for her work.

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What lessons have you learned from operations management?

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Author Julie Rains
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