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Five Skills Key to Successful Business Operations Management – You Could be Great at Operations if..

Five Skills Key to Successful Business Operations Management – You Could be Great at Operations if..

You cannot be a good business leader unless you thoroughly understand the business operations in your organization and how it links to its performance. I have noticed one big reason business strategies fail – it is the unbelievable reality that senior leadership many a times doesn’t understand the basics of their business. How it runs and what makes it run. An operations mindset is extremely critical for all leaders – No matter how good you are at framing strategy; it also has to get executed successfully for an organization to succeed. This is where the business operations team can play a big role, by not only providing insights to the leadership on the ways to improve business performance through profitable growth and strategic management of costs and risks but also to reduce the gap between strategy and execution through disciplined process implementation. Quite a few big buzz words there. But it boils down to one thing – to succeed in business, you have to understand and be good at operations. I strongly believe an operational mindset is a mental “muscle” that can be developed. For all those who want to develop this muscle or are thinking of a career in business operations, this post is for them.

So without further ado, here are the five top skills/loves that I believe are must-haves for those who want to enhance the performance and productivity of organizations through understanding and improving their operations:

Must-Have #1 – You love people:

Lee Iacocca said:  “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.” Understanding people across multiple functions and roles and leveraging their strengths is extremely important to meet objectives – in an operational role where you have to work mainly in a matrix structure where you have lots of responsibility but not always the required hierarchical authority, this becomes paramount. You must know how to connect with people and energize and enthuse them. Communication skills, beyond the verbal and the written, the ability to listen and read between the lines is an useful asset to align people to your goals. And all this is not possible unless you have a genuine interest and love for people.

Must-Have #2 – You love numbers:

Does the idea of deciphering lots and lots of rows and columns of numbers spread across sheets give you the shivers ? As they say, the devil lies in the details and to be good at operations, making sense of numbers must excite you. Plenty of common sense plus and an ability to derive meaning out of the different ways numbers can be combined or dissected to arrive at the right performance metrics for early warning signals for the business as well as measuring the results is part and parcel of the operations role. Knowing your numbers and the different levers that can be applied to them makes you the master of the game.

Must-Have #3 – You love wearing multiple hats:

In operations, you have to be put yourself in the shoes of different functions on a day-to-day basis – sales, IT, finance, business, delivery – to be able to understand the requirements from all perspectives and execute on it. A specialist in operations with a generalist bent of mind to connect all the dots in the organization for the right solutions.  You have to become the subject matter expert in many things at the same time. Quoting from an article by Vikram Mansharamani in HBR – there appears to be reasonable and robust data suggesting that generalists are better at navigating uncertainty. Professor Phillip Tetlock conducted a 20+ year study of 284 professional forecasters. He asked them to predict the probability of various occurrences both within and outside of their areas of expertise. Analysis of the 80,000+ forecasts found that experts are less accurate predictors than non-experts in their area of expertise. Tetlock’s conclusion: when seeking accuracy of predictions, it is better to turn to those like “Berlin’s prototypical fox, those who know many little things, draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradictions.” Ideological reliance on a single perspective appears detrimental to one’s ability to successfully navigate vague or poorly-defined situations (which are more prevalent today than ever before).

Must-Have #4 – You love solving puzzles:

Providing smart and creative recommendations for business process improvement is one of the key areas in which business operations team can be key contributors. As an operation person, you have to identify the problems, dig for knowledge in the vast amounts of available data and then analyze it to arrive at the areas of focus. As per research by Gartner, through 2012, 80% of organizations will struggle to recruit the talent required to meet their business analytics objectives. This needs an inquisitive mind, a persistent approach and deduction skills. If you are a crossword or Sudoku fanatic, you are in the right “zone” here 🙂

Must-Have #5 – You love WORK:

Back end work, strategic work, boring work, last-minute deadline work, grunt work,  thinking work, transactional work, delegated work, filling in for someone else work – your work landscape in an operations role will constantly be changing and switching. So, you must have a great love for work by itself and in itself in all its myriad shapes and forms. If you are particular about doing only one type of work and consider certain types of work below you – this is certainly not the role for you. The duties and responsibilities in this role are fluid and are different from company to company or even business head to business head. I have rarely across a defined job description that remains constant over a period of time in my career. So, your guiding principles and measuring stick for your work should be based on what you want to achieve, not what type of work is needed to get there. A passion for work coupled with an ability to set your own standards for excellence is crucial in this role.

In addition to the above, a  business operations person must be able to exude confidence, have conviction and be firm on what he/she believes is the right thing to do. It is only then that by focusing on some of the points where structure, processes, people and systems intersect, and engaging and influencing all the stakeholders involved to work on those critical junctions, the business operations team can release benefits that ripple across the organization.

What other skills do you think are necessary for successful business management and operations? What have I missed? Please share your experiences below. I would love to hear and learn from you.

Image courtesy – http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelheiss/3090102907

5 Quotes on Operational Excellence for Successful Business Operations

5 Quotes on Operational Excellence for Successful Business Operations

Very few people have the ability to capture their thoughts into a few words – words that leave a lasting impact, words that continue to inspire over decades or centuries and words that speak to you and give you your personal “eureka” moments.  Think about it, Aristotle lived between 384 BC and 322 BC – more than 2300 years ago and what he said then continues to influence us now. Among his many pieces of wisdom passed down through the ages, and before modern management or its terms were invented, he defined business operations and operational excellence –

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So my post today combines two of my passions – operational excellence and quotes that inspire me in this area. I have chosen my five favourite Quotes on Operational Excellence that to me most accurately reflect the principles of successful Business Operations –

Quotes on Operational Excellence #1: Build a Cathedral –

Organizations should be……. no less than Cathedrals in which the full and awesome power of the Imagination and Spirit and native Entrepreneurial flair of diverse individuals is unleashed in passionate pursuit of … Excellence. Our job as leaders—the alpha and the omega and everything in between—is abetting the sustained growth and success and engagement and enthusiasm and commitment to Excellence of those, one at a time, who directly or indirectly serve the ultimate customer.

7 Steps to Sustaining Success:   You take care of the people. The people take care of the service. The service takes care of the customer. The customer takes care of the profit. The profit takes care of the re-investment. The re-investment takes care of the re-invention. The re-invention takes care of the future. (And at every step the only measure is EXCELLENCE.)” ~ Tom Peters

Quotes on Operational Excellence #2: Get Everyone on the Same Page –

“The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad …. A business should be run like an aquarium, where everybody can see what’s going on — what’s going in, what’s moving around, what’s coming out. That’s the only way to make sure people understand what you’re doing, and why, and have some input into deciding where you are going. Then, when the unexpected happens, they know how to react and react quickly.” ~ Jack Stack, “The Great Game of Business

Quotes on Operational Excellence #3: Follow the Right Order of Operation

 “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what ResourcesInfrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution….

While successful leaders address all four areas, the best leaders always start with why followed very closely by who. Then, and only then, do they work on the design of what and how.” ~Mike Myatt

Quotes on Operational Excellence #4: Process First, Technology and Tools Second –

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” ~ Bill Gates

Quotes on Operational Excellence #5: Discipline Matters – Close the gaps in Execution by Following Through

“Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously.  Following through ensures that people are doing the things they committed to do, according to the agreed timetable.  It exposes any lack of discipline and connection between ideas and actions, and forces the specificity that is essential to synchronize the moving parts of an organization.  If people can’t execute the plan because of changed circumstances, follow-through ensures they deal swiftly and creatively with the new conditions…” ~Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan – “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done”.

These quotes reveal the corner-stones of operational excellence – people, processes, technology and continuous improvement. There are many more quotes that inspire and I have left out some that I have already quoted in my past posts.  I would love to get your favourite quotes on Business operations and Operational Excellence here – maybe do a part 2 of this post. So, if you enjoyed this collection, spare a moment and leave a comment.

From Idea to Execution: Five Pointers to Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations – Business Operations Performance Management

From Idea to Execution: Five Pointers to Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations – Business Operations Performance Management

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Don’t tell me why this is difficult to do, just go get this done ASAP please. The please is usually an afterthought. This is the kind of challenge that no self-respecting operations person can resist – there is a certain joy in translating an idea into flawless execution cutting through all the challenges and complexities of a large organization. And in my role of running business operations, I have been on the receiving end of this challenge many a times. The corporate/senior management realizes they have a business problem, have a good idea of what the solution could be and there comes a mandate for a directional change that may involve a lot of shake up implementing a new process or changing existing processes to meet the end goal.

In today’s scenario, we no longer have the luxury of time, complete clarity, a free rein and big budgets to get that magic solution – which will solve the big business problem – visualized, planned, experimented, and then implemented. Every solution has to be aligned to growing profits leading to one or both objectives – revenue-maximizing and cost-cutting. Operational agility and operational excellence are all the more important now to turn corporate priorities into focused actions more quickly, effectively, and consistently.

Here are five pointers that I have found useful in getting things done – “more done with less” to achieve the desired results quickly:

Pointer #1: Understand the need behind the want A clear understanding of the desired outcome is necessary so that you don’t end up with a flurry of misguided activity. For example the stated want maybe “reduce bench costs”. To arrive at a solution, you have to go to the source of the problem to see what the real need is – it maybe that the reported data on bench is inaccurate leading to wrong conclusions, or that there is inaccuracy in forecasting leading to an increased virtual bench size or the demand-supply balancing is inefficient. Not knowing the source here and just taking action on reducing bench by reducing headcount would be dangerously counter – productive. Understanding the outcome needed also allows the defining and implementing of a solution instead of just executing on a task blindly which may not give the expected results. And before you move to the next step, put it in writing – the problem statement, the current state and the desired state when the planned solution is in place. This is very important to not only clarify our own thought process but also help you ascertain the skills and timeline needed to execute.

Pointer #2: Get the right working team on-board – You could do it alone but almost any deliverable in a work setting will get done quicker and better if you involve others with the skills, background and experience in the area. You don’t need a committee (the death by committee danger there 🙂 ) but creating a virtual team gets the work done easier. Pick the brains of subject matter experts, tap into the larger functional teams across the organization, and get volunteers from your teams. Almost everyone would be happy to get involved in learning something new or breaking the routine of their everyday assignments. Being able to work in a matrix structure is quite a useful ability here.

Pointer #3: Get key stake-holders enthusiastic about the solution Identify the people who stand to benefit the most from the solution and socialize the plan with them. Enlist their support early by showing them the “why” behind the plan and how they stand to gain from it. Create a sense of urgency to build momentum. This will help get their buy-in and reduce any resistance that you may come across when you go ahead with execution. People don’t like being handed with a “done deal” specially if there is any impact on their business as usual activities. Regular, sincere communication is a great lubricant to work through silos and organization hierarchies and boundaries. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to please everyone – just the ones that matter (for the success of your plan in action).

Pointer #4: Go! Don’t wait for all the answers and for the perfect plan – As Seth says, the real question isn’t whether you have all the facts. The real question is, “do I know enough to make a useful decision?” (And no decision is still a decision). If you don’t, then the follow-up question is, “What would I need to know, what fact would I need to see, before I take action?” Speed of decision-making is very important in execution – there is a time for analysis and a time for action. A perfect launch time, a perfect solution or perfect acceptance is unrealistic to expect. The best way to see if your solution is workable is to put it to work. Define phases of implementation if you can’t see the full path yet but begin the moment you are reasonably sure it will work.

Pointer #5: Don’t drop the ball after execution – Give yourself and the team a pat on the back and celebrate the success. But don’t forget these three important steps. Before you move on to the next challenge, get the process documentation, tracking mechanism and measurement metrics in place.  Create checklists for the activities, documentation of the changed or new process and training sessions as needed. With good processes defined and documented, everyone will always know what has been accomplished and how far have they gone ahead or fallen behind. Set up regular feedback and tracking mechanisms with the right set of metrics to have early warning systems that will help anticipate problems or the need to change the solution.

Summing it up, there is very little that is impossible to get done at work. Getting things done just needs the right mix of enthusiasm, effort, agility and persistence. And isn’t creating order from chaos, a lot of fun?

What are your secrets to getting things done in a complex organization? What have I missed in the pointers above? I would love to hear and learn from you.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31732378@N02/3129967709/ by Jon.B

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Five Must-Dos for Sales when not Selling – Sales Operations Essentials

Five Must-Dos for Sales when not Selling – Sales Operations Essentials

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In lull periods or high-activity periods, I have observed that there are certain basic essentials in the sales process that are often overlooked in the excitement of closing a sale or in the anticipation of the next sale. The fact is that without openings, there are no closings – the best salespeople understand that before you can close the sale, you must open. Many sales people balk at this part of the process, they often find it demotivating and boring as opposed to being in front of a prospect, deeply engaged in problem identification and solving and then closing. But whether you do it all yourself or outsource some of the operations to someone trusted, these are must-dos that go a long way towards building the funnel/pipeline and being prepared for the next big opportunity because a Full pipeline inoculates you against most sales problems:

Must-Do #1: Organize your Contact database – When was the last time that you sifted through all your contacts in your prospect database? In this fast-moving economy, roles change, people move and email IDs and contact numbers become obsolete all too soon. Check every contact and Qualify or Disqualify them as you go along. This should actually be an annual ritual whether you do-it-yourself or use an automated tool to make sure that your contacts are still relevant and are still prospective gold and not dust.

Must-Do #2: Reach out to all your contacts – Selling is all about building relationships and gaining trust. It’s important to communicate frequently and use the many different channels of communication available to keep prospects moving through the sales cycle.  Keeping in touch is very difficult when you are stretched for time but you just have to prioritize this. So set up calendar reminders for regular check-ins, build and nurture your relationships to gain trust of all your prospective buyers.

Must-Do #3: Polish your Sales collaterals – How ready are you for your next pitch? Sales collaterals are a visual representation of your business and offerings and often serves as the first impression a prospect has of you. So it is very important to make sure that all your collaterals shine and remain relevant. Create a central repository of all the literature, pricing templates, Power Points, PDFs and past proposals. Update them, index them and keep them ready for use for your next sales pitch.

Must-Do #4: Wine and Dine with your peers – It is important to tap the power of  collaboration by engaging with your peers to collectively to stimulate new thinking, develop and document best practices and how-to approaches, and weigh in on emerging sales issues and reality checks. Get engaged through Social Media – there are many forums, chats and boards on the internet where you can meet other sales people in similar industries as well as real life conferences and networking events. By not consistently and consciously widening your circle of acquaintances and contacts, you will be severely curtailing your chances of success. Through networking, you can power your selling through knowledge and experience of others who have been there and done that.

Must-Do #5: Stock-take on your Sales Strategy – As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great thing in life is not where we stand, but what direction we are moving.” Now more than ever you have to focus, improve, and possibly even change what you do to attract, and retain customers. As you move forward with your sales plan you must keep track of how well it is working. Every so often, you need to look back at your strategy, analyze the trends and metrics and ask yourself some simple questions: What worked? What didn’t work? What do I need to change? What else do I need to do? Measuring past performance and monitoring future market conditions, gives you the best chance of surviving and thriving.

What would you add to this list? Are there other must-do strategic and operational initiatives that have helped prepare you to sell successfully? I would love to know.

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