Fully Operational: Understanding one of the most broadly-defined positions in a company

The job title “operations” can encompass a wide range of responsibilities, from human resources to logistics. The job function is uniquely specific to each industry and company. So what is operations, and what does an operations manger do? We talked to four operations professionals about their roles and how they got there.

What was the career path that led you to operations?

“I started in small management roles that taught me the importance of process improvement and leadership.” – Kevin Porter, COO, Ogden Clinic

“Human resources led me to operations. For over eight years I worked with people and found out how to get the most [out] of them. While working with employees, I learned that if you really want to take care of them and improve a company culture you need to understand all aspects of the business. In order to get involved in those aspects it was required that I take the leap into operations. Solving employee problems leads to operations.” – Jared Olsen, Director of Operations, Xima Software

As an operations manager, what areas do you need to be familiar with?

“In general you should have pretty firm knowledge of many areas in order to be an effective leader. However in my role, if I had to choose a couple they would be Human Resources (personnel management), Administrative Management (strategic planning and coordination), and Process Improvement.” – Porter

“Operations is all about process and procedure. Whether it is sales, warehouse or accounting related, it is important to understand the goals and direction of everyone you interact with so as to be most efficient. In order to be successful the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.” – Matt Davis, COO, Walker Edison Furniture

What are the key traits of a successful operations manager?

“It is important to have good communication skills (listening and speaking), integrity, an innovative approach, adaptability and good judgment.” – Porter

“An understanding of the company strategy. If you know what your company is trying to achieve then you can react accordingly. If you don’t have a vision then your strategy will crumble and your company will fail. … Don’t ever think you are the smartest person at your company, always get the most of your employees and turn to them for their ideas.” – Olsen

“Operations is all about having the discipline to develop the most efficient processes and procedures and to stick with them regardless of the situation. That mentality translates across a wide variety of departments and situations. Whether it is being able to sell more, spend less or a safety related issue, the underlying reason for success is having the discipline to follow the processes and procedures that are in place. Time and time again I have seen people succeed because they understood the big picture and were able to be disciplined enough to achieve their goals and the goals of the company better than others because of it.” – M. Davis

What advice do you have for new startups as they start to formalize and streamline their operations?

“It is important to be aware of all factors of your business. Having a broad vision will give you the insight necessary to improve a process, recognize opportunity, and build a competitive advantage.” – Porter

“Set a vision, mission and core values. If you have those things then you’ll always know what boundaries you can work within. If you don’t have these established then they should be part of your formula as you are trying to streamline. A clear vision and mission will help you know what fat you can cut and focus on what really is the most important.” – Olsen

“Think long term. Be a visionary in regards to your future. In order for anyone to achieve long-term success they must think in terms of where the company will be and not necessarily where it is at the moment. Think through having more employees, bigger facilities, more inventory or whatever may be applicable to your company. A small workaround or ‘band-aid’ may not seem like an issue when you are small, but as you grow that band-aid can turn into a major problem if it is not addressed.” – M. Davis

“Hire great people who are extremely motivated, and give them the tools that allow them to excel. Also, continuously invest in your management through training and education.” – Sean Davis, COO, Brahma Group, Inc.