Operations is a less-defined role than sales or marketing, but no less important. Broadly speaking, operations encompasses the inner workings of a company. Depending on the size of the company, this could anything from administrative responsibilities to HR to designing systems for greater productivity and anything in between. At a larger company, some of these (such as HR) might spin off into their own departments; at a small startup one person could handle all this and more.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” observed the great management consultant Peter Drucker. Put another way, the culture—and thus the people, the employees—of any business will have more to do with the success or failure of the business than any strategy devised in a corner office. Good employees are a company’s greatest assets and should be valued accordingly. Whether they specifically handle HR or not, an operations manager will ensure that the systems and strategies established work for the employees, and don’t just make the employees work.
An effective operations manager is always looking for ways to make things more efficient. Whether that’s drawing a straighter line between A and B, hammering out a project timeline that maximizes time and talent, or reducing unnecessary redundancies, they’re never satisfied with the status quo. Often, policies and procedures are set in place and never revisited or revised—simply because no one has the time. But an operations manager actively looks for ways to fine-tune existing systems or create entirely new ones where needed, knowing that the more efficient a company is, the easier it will be to turn a profit.
Imagine if every team within a company was in charge of their own payroll. Or every employee had a phone that would ring if a customer called. Or one part of a team designed something with a round hole, and another team designed a corresponding component with a square hole—oh, wait, that’s happened. Needless to say, this would be time-consuming, inefficient, and potentially disastrous.
The operations manager or team picks up all these pieces. They’re the catchall for anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else in the company. While this may seem less glamorous than programming a new app or designing a spiffy new marketing campaign, these pieces are precisely what allow the programmers and marketing team to work in peace, without distractions.
Given this “catchall” role, the operations manager or team will be connected to every part of the company, often more than any team to another team. This allows operations to facilitate inter-company communication, serving as a central clearing-house for information. It also gives them a crow’s nest view of the entire company, a position not afforded to any other team.
Each team at a company—be it research and development, marketing, sales, or customer success—is vital to the success of the whole. The operations team puts all the pieces together, allowing each team to focus on what they do best. At the end of the day, there’s nothing like a well-oiled machine to keep things running smoothly.