Shannon is an Operations Strategist turning ideas into action. Banyan Communications.
Small businesses often face a unique set of challenges. They have to do more with fewer resources, which requires a focus on efficiency. To achieve successful growth, they also have to proactively plan for their evolution, as much as any company can, to have a pipeline of resources needed for their next phase, all while being fiscally responsible about every choice they make.
To achieve a coordinated approach to these various elements, and to do it in alignment with the company’s vision and business goals, requires a unique combination of skills to orchestrate the big picture while also diving into the details. That combination of skills is operations. What I mean by operations is the connective tissue between the vision of a company and the daily activity that accomplishes that vision. It is specifically the translation of that vision into planned action. It is the system that runs how a company does what it does.
Operational efforts support business goals in three main ways:
1. Coordinated efforts on a micro level (or diving into the details)
2. Evaluating cumulative effects on a macro level
3. Looking ahead through the lens of both financial planning and resource forecasting
Details matter more when you have to maximize a smaller number of resources. Defining who is responsible for what tasks helps ensure no unintentional duplication of effort. Defining specific processes helps teams get from A to B to C in a non-circuitous way, leveraging the right skills at the right time to maintain high-quality outputs without the added senior-level involvement and extra time inherent when teams create new processes every time project execution begins.
On a macro level, operations brings together all relevant departments to connect their expertise and ensure alignment of effort toward common overarching business goals. Operational management requires understanding the purpose, skills and perspective of each department to unify those individual department initiatives and ensure they are contributing meaningfully to specific business goals. Misalignment between departments often causes undue senior-level effort, team frustration and wasted time.
Employee support also starts at the macro level. Ensuring clarity of expectations, training to ensure employees are set up to successfully achieve their goals and providing a culturally transparent space of inclusion that invites each unique voice to participate and feel welcomed are all vital to the cohesion of small teams. Operations is often responsible for clarifying those roles, providing needed training programs and supporting leadership in maintaining culturally healthy company spaces.
All of these moving parts need to constantly be evaluated within the context of current fiscal reality, financial planning and resource forecasting. Because small businesses usually run lean, resource forecasting is imperative to be ready to act as new technology, skills or simply more hands are needed to ensure quality is maintained as workloads grow. That detailed forecasting needs to be done in conjunction with overall financial planning to ensure alignment between company needs and a company’s biggest expense: its people. Operations helps to build and evaluate these two metrics while ensuring every financial decision is made with the larger fiscal reality in mind, maximizing the results of every dollar spent, leveraging technology and tools when possible and stretching dollars further as small businesses grow into larger companies.
In my opinion, the only consistency in small business operations across industries and entities is a promise that business needs will change to stay relevant to market trends, maximize the technology available and fully engage the skills employees bring to the table. For operations to successfully support this ever-changing environment, a centralized voice needs to bring these various elements together toward a unified effort, collaborating closely with leadership and department heads and being adept at seeing the consequences of various decisions on the overall company vision and goals.
Without this guiding force in a small business, efforts can be disjointed, priorities can become siloed and the clearest of company visions can often languish in the land of conjecture without ever having the benefit of operational planning to turn that vision into a reality. With a solid operational foundation, the CEO can focus on the vision and company goals and teams can focus on high-quality outputs without the distraction of uncertainty.