We get it. Managing the operations of a business is no easy feat. You're responsible for efficiently and effectively producing your products and services along with managing: people; assets - like equipment, tools, machinery and fleet vehicles; using technology to stay efficient; and ultimately you are responsible for the end customer's happiness through your efforts... and yet problems come up. Having run a few of my own businesses I'm here to help operations managers like you with our Operations Manager's Quick Handbook to keep (or get) your operations running smoothly!
Let's begin with an overlooked component of operations...
1. Where's your head at?
Before we go any further, do you know what your objectives are and if they are aligned with the company vision? Do you have the company vision posted somewhere nearby that you and your staff see every day? That will be your guiding light when you are forced to make decisions on a day-to-day basis and help you take your operations management to the next level. When you have option A or option B (or worse yet, option A,B,C,D,E,F,G or a combination of a few) which do you choose? You can get lost in decision making mode if you don't have a guiding light. With the vision and mission in mind you can more easily make decisions that benefit the long term gain, not just the short term pain. Sometimes that decision to buy new equipment, hire or fire, how to assign tasks/jobs to your team in what priority, or take on a client (or let one go) and these decisions can be really difficult and stressful, especially when they come all at once. However, if you act with heart while moving towards that vision and mission that has been set out then two things happen; you can make decisions faster and with more confidence, and you can defend your decisions if questioned by management, or the board (or just your own self-doubt if it doesn't go to plan) as to why you made that decision... "I did x because I felt, given the circumstances, that decision was most in line with moving towards the vision and mission of the company". (Just make sure it really is!)
Now let's break down your operations into two categories: Physical Operations and Digital Operations.
2. What are you working with?
Let's talk about your physical operations. This includes all things physical, firstly people, then assets like machinery, equipment, tools, vehicles, and real estate. These are all resources you have to use to get the job done and achieve your objectives. Let's start with people first...
a) Your people
Ok so maybe you've got the perfect system now... but John called in sick today and now you've got to scramble. Maybe you've got the dream team, or maybe sometimes it can feel like people suck. You're trying to run a business and somebody is going to mess with that eventually. We can look at this in a few different ways. How can you mitigate that preemptively, and how do you deal with it when it happens?
The topic of "Dealing with people" can be 100 books long really, and can't really be covered in a simple blog but here's some main things that the most effective leaders and managers keep in mind:
Have a service mentality
Whenever I hire someone I tell them, "I actually work for you, not the other way around." I let them know we both serve this organization and the vision and that I'm there to help them meet the expectations of their role. I try to clearly outline the expectations for them on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. If they are meeting those expectations then I am their best friend. If not then it's a simple conversation that starts with "So, you know the expectations for your role, I noticed ______ is happening, so what's going on and how can I help?" I will then try to coach them, give insight, or dissect the problem with them so we can uncover a solution together or find out why they aren't engaged enough to care (sometimes staff slip off if not watched).
If you're like me, you are focused and driven to get results but sometimes life can get you down. People may be facing things at home that you have no idea about. When things come up, or a staff member was rude to a customer or someone didn't get the job done... try find out what the cause is, don't just address the symptom. This is why your staff's mental health is so key in today's workplace. If your staff are healthy mentally, physically and spiritually and engaged then you should find that they are on the ball, productive and even like coming to work.
Act with heart AND head
Yes you have to do what makes sense logically but the best long term results come from using your heart, head and gut. An funny exercise to help with this is to actually "check in" by touching your head, then heart, then gut when you need to make a decision. "Ok head, whats logical? Heart, what would you do? Gut, what are you feeling is the right decision?" Go ahead, try it right now with something that's troubling you. Let me know if this works for you in the comments below.
b) Physical Assets
How are you managing your: machinery, equipment, tools, vehicles, inventory etc. Do you have them documented in a spreadsheet or software and tracked when in motion or on a job? Does each person have access to the assets as and when it's most needed? Are there bottlenecks, people waiting on assets or assets sitting idle? Answering these questions can help you to uncover some holes in the business that you can start to re-think. First get organized and then optimize.
3. Tech operations
What technology do you use to facilitate operational tasks. What do you do to fill the minds of your organization with the right data and training? Technology can be one of your most powerful tools if adopted properly. If not adopted and trained on properly then it can be a huge headache so proceed with caution.
a) Digital Operations
What parts of your business can be automated or systemized by technology. "There's an app for that" is true now more than ever, however most apps or tech solutions don't do everything you need them to or sometimes do way more then you need them to do which further complicates things. So you have to create your own special "Tech Stack". What this means is; what combinations of technology tools do you use to facilitate all areas of your business. You handle operations but there's also other area's in a business to consider when choosing software; such as marketing, sales, finance, HR and the list goes on. So you'll want to do a considerable amount of research first. The first thing you want to do before considering new technology is "How are we doing it now?" vs "If we started from scratch how would we do it knowing what we know now?" How many of your business processes are curtailed to accomodate for the technology versus your technology accommodating the best system. Better yet, are you following best practices if the technology meant for that isn't doing what you want it to? Sometimes the right software should actually help teach your team the best way of doing thing. If you map out your systems, you'll find that there are probably a lot of "bandaid" systems or legacy systems that could and should be retired in the making of your new system. Just consider managing the change with your staff and customers before making any decisions.
4. KPI's (Key Performance Indicators)
Ok so things are coming along. Each day you do your best and make it happen, but how do you know if you're doing well or not? Could you be doing better? What are the benchmarks? What status quo can you challenge to get better results which will lead to a win for you? Let's be real, whether you are an employee or entrepreneur you need to think in three ways to be the most effective... Systems driven (logic), heart based, and creative. First, let's stick to the best systems the way they are so you can benchmark results. This is how it's done currently and that gets us "x" results on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Next up, when you think critically for a moment (which requires you drop the ego), you can then get creative about the problems and bottlenecks you face and propose some small experiments or tests to try and see if they give you an edge.
5. Bottlenecks and most common downfalls
Where do you experience the most issues, inefficiencies, and unknowns? Most businesses should always continue to hone their operational systems. Every so often have a bottleneck meeting with your team and ask where there's resistance or pains in the day to day operations. This is the tricky part... try not to say anything or address them! You are only allowed to write them down as they speak. Maybe you say "mm" to acknowledge but that's it or "go on" to probe a bit more into the problem so you can get honest feedback. It's critical that you listen to everyone on the team because they are the ones in operations. If you look at these without ego (meaning nobody is blaming you for the bottlenecks and downfalls) so you can relax and start to serve your team better by listening and then going to work to make their jobs easier which in turn will make operations run smoothly. So, write them all down, thank them for their input and then take that list and go think about how to solve them.
Are there commonalities here?
Do a lot of people have the same problems?
What part of the process does this occur at?
What could I do or implement to relieve this tension?
Is this a case of missing or forgotten training? (aka did you or the company just not inform them of how to do that particular job/task) In that case you can hold a one-on-one to address it or do a full training for everybody if it is rampant.
Once you've got your list and thought through them all, one of two things will happen... you've got a list of potential solutions you can run by the team or you can go and ask for help which is okay too. Bring in a consultant even if it will help.
6. Processes and systems of champions
Have you actually written out your processes? Use a whiteboard or piece of paper to start and map out each process of your system. Use simple arrows to show movement through the system. Client calls in -> agent answers. Or... order is received via e-mail -> inventory cross checked by agent -> inventory deducted -> shipping order printed -> etc etc. You get the idea. The key here is to actually visually map it out so that you can step back from the system and get a birds eye view of how it's working and answers will start to present themselves. Oh and don't forget to actually go and ask your staff the exact same thing and see how it differs from the way you "thought" it went. Comparing the two you might be very surprised. You may find redundancies, errors, room for improvement or even better, removal of systems that no longer work. As your company ages it's equally important to retire systems that no longer serve the business while doing so in the best way possible and managing and helping the change with your staff. Ultimately you will craft and hone a better system day by day until your staff are happier and more productive, the customers love you and you are seen as a champion!
7. How you make decisions.
When the day to day operations require decisions from you, what is your framework for making the best decisions you can?
According to mindtools.com this is the way to make decisions:
- Create a constructive environment.
- Investigate the situation in detail.
- Generate good alternatives.
- Explore your options.
- Select the best solution.
- Evaluate your plan.
- Communicate your decision, and take action.
Now that works when you have more time to evaluate and think through your decision, but what about when there's no time and you need to make a snap decision now. My advice is to use these three quick questions when you feel you are going to make a decision:
1. Does it make logical/business/financial sense?
2. Is it aligned or push forward towards the vision/mission of the organization?
3. Is this decision for the greater good of the community (or world) and the beings involved?
Bring it back to combining heart and head and there's a good chance you'll make the best decision possible.
8. Self love and self education
Speaking of heart... how about yours? I know, so cheesy... but seriously, taking care of yourself is incredibly important. You have a mission critical role to play and as a leader you have to be at your best when you show up to get the job done. When your mind is sharp, your heart is full, you are healthy, happy, and doing good work then you are the best version of yourself and your team will feel it and know it. So take care of you too, you smooth operator.
Why I wrote this.
Because we salute our operations managers of the world and we also think we have something you'll like. As an operations manager you might be in charge of, or know who is in charge of, your business vehicles fleet management. They require repairs and maintenance that cost you time, hassle, logistical headaches, lost productivity, opportunity cost and more... and we have a better way to do that.