After more than two decades as a consultant and advisor, I have seen many different companies, from scale-ups to enterprises, from the inside. Through this experience, I can conclude that many businesses do not fully understand and appreciate the need for running a proper operation.
Why is that a bad thing? In my professional opinion, this is why too many companies often have trouble making it to the next phase in scaling after conquering their first growth numbers. It could even be why some brands have difficulties staying afloat before they are ever able to scale.
Without clear operations in place, business success often does not kick in when initially planned. Consider remote work, for example: Employees who work from home can’t just walk over to a manager’s desk to ask their questions as they come up. Lacking a proper operation that enables remote workers to get their questions answered can prevent them from fixing the issues they’re facing.
Another consequence of improper operations is your ability to compete with next-generation companies in your same core business. If you lack the necessary processes for speed to market, you can miss the boat and be left behind because you were unable to scale due to operational problems.
Your business’s operations are like a person’s spine; they connect to everything and everyone who works at or with your firm. Operations refer to the written and spoken communication among all departments, partners and customers. For instance, having proper operating procedures in place can ensure the sales and marketing departments are on the same page and that the finance department is able to see who’s paid and who hasn’t. In turn, they can inform the sales team about which contracts are up for renewal.
In other words, having a solid business operation means that everyone on your team knows what needs to be done, and, if not, they know where to go and who to ask for help. There is an operational process, and people are accountable.
How hard can it be to establish clear operating procedures?
Based on my experience, the answer to this question is “very hard.” As business advances, operations can feel like a hot stone; most people don’t want to hold onto it for too long. Even companies with a small number of full-time employees can have difficulties making the simplest things happen in an orderly fashion. But if you can’t figure this out when you are starting the firm, how will you do it when you need to scale?
What can you do?
Before you start any form of scaling, you need to have your house in order to achieve your future highs. Assign owners to your challenges, hold those people accountable and keep focusing on the tasks ahead. If you don’t do this, you could experience a fallback, and often this will be fast and unexpected after you tasted that first success and want to steam ahead. One could argue that figuring out operations is maybe not your most exciting task initially, but the things you like to do the least are often essential to your business success.
Here’s how to get started:
Know what to focus on first. When it comes to improving your company’s operations, focus on the big wins in the beginning. There is no need to spend your resources on a small problem first if you can fix something much larger that would benefit the whole company or most of your clients right away. Make a road map, as developers do when they are building software. Make sure you prioritize based on needs and impact. Then, work your way down. Skip the nice-to-haves if the need-to-haves are not in place yet.
Identify who needs to be involved. Operations are about addressing needs and taking care of them. I would always advise assigning all these needs to specific people who understand the lay of the land, can push the project forward and are able to inform the larger audience about their progress. This will ensure your team is focused on important issues and give people a much better sense of who is doing what and how they are taking care of it. When not successful, you can zoom in on challenges employees are facing and assist when needed. When they are successful, you can let them assist others or provide them with a new task. This way, you get buy-in and there is no single point of failure since people need to present the progress and have their own tasks to take care of.
Hold your team accountable. Keep in mind that having your house in order should apply to every department. Involve as many people as possible, and give small teams assessments next to their core responsibilities. Accountability is the magic word here. Making plans, inviting people to meetings and not following through often happens. Operation goals are more than great intentions or ideas, and they all boil down to accountability and hard focus. If you build your home on loose sand, it’ll never keep straight when the water comes in.
The bottom line: Operations are about having your house in order.
The moment you have your company’s operations under control, the rest of your firm can handle more ups and downs. You can give everyone involved quick answers and send them on their way to execute what to do next to address the question. When you give people all they need to perform, it is up to the people to deliver and the management to guide them and grow.
Operations are about having your house in order. Without proper operations in place, you could lose your progress and, in the process, a lot of employee morale. You can help prevent this, however, by keeping the best practices above in mind.