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Defining an Operations Manager + Building up to COO

What defines an Operations Manager and the differences between the manager and their exec counterpart - particularly the skill gaps to fill to build to the COO level.

1. RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN OPERATIONS MANAGER

The kick-off question was what are the key things we do in our roles (aka soul-searching session). Here's a list of all responsibilities repeatable across everyone, and a rough percentage of time each of us spend on them. In no particular order:

  • Recruitment - 10-25%
  • HR - 10% (incl. onboarding, retention management, perks)
  • Culture and people ops - 10%
  • Legal - 10-60% (incl. compliance such as GDPR, contracts)
  • Finance - 10-35% (incl. invoicing)
  • Office management - 20% (incl. facilities, office move, organising events and socials, etc.)
  • Team management - 5-20% (incl. 1 to 1s, OKR management, sprint planning, company wide communication)
  • Strategic ops - 5-20% (incl. expansion, company structure)
  • Process improvement - 5-20% (incl. productivity analysis, comms with product, tools analysis)
  • New process implementation - 5%
  • Quality control - 25% (esp. when manual processes in place)
  • Support - 10-30% (incl. client, customer, bizdev support)
  • OTHER - 2.5-50% (incl. marketing, devops, bizdev, content, investment, executive assistance, project work, data analytics and reporting)

Takeaways:

  • Lots of variation, but also lots of similarities
  • Everyone is juggling different responsibilities that change over time. How does what we focus our time on change over time? How to prioritise / decide what to do first?
    • Figure out what the constants are, i.e. the work that needs to be done every week/day. Then do it at the beginning of the week/day, and the rest is for the other part of the week/day.
    • Go for the biggest wins. Always.
    • Work in sprints. Outline all the projects that need to be done this month, people responsible for it, checklists for each task. Do a debrief weekly. Focus on one, most important thing to get done.
  • Nearly everyone wishes to spend more time on new process implementation and process improvement

Other thoughts on Operations Manager responsibilities:

  • "Anything that we don't have a hire to do"
  • "Just do everything to fill in the gaps"
  • "Everything else that needs to be done we don't have people for"
  • "Putting out fires before anyone realises anything's burning" πŸ”₯
  • "I sometimes struggle to think what it is that I do"
  • "Ops role is responsible for moving everything forward"
  • "Ops role is to keep the wheels moving"
  • "Founder/CEO is for strategy. Ops is for execution"
  • "If Ops [Manager] is not there, everything slows down"
  • "The person that everyone turns to"
  • "A person who takes everything on"

2. BECOMING AN OPERATIONS MANAGER

Two types:

  1. Those who come to Ops role from other background, i.e. marketing, bizdev, consulting, after having started a company, etc.
  2. Those who start out in ops as graduates without having experienced many of the other areas.

Questions:

  • Is there a cookie cutter impression of an ops person? I.e. "this role serves a purpose, we need to find a specific person for this role.
  • Is it better to have a homegrown Ops Manager, or is it better to have someone joining?
  • At what point, as a sole Ops person in your company, can you justify bringing in someone else? How do you build out a team?

Takeaways:

  • Common trait in ops people is attention to detail and always pushing for a better way, process, etc. to achieve efficiency.
  • Ops is quite niche in every company. The role fits whatever is needed and grows from there.
  • Certain verticals that Ops Managers specialise in makes it either harder or easier to move to other companies/industries.
  • Ops Manager journey is likely to be very specific to you and the company that you're building. Makes it more difficult to jump in to companies in other areas/industries. You learn how to run operations in that particular business. Some skills (specific to industry) are no that transferable.
  • Sometimes it helps to go sideways to "grow up"; try something else in a different company to get some additional skills. Then you'll see what's working / what isn't.
  • Difficult to find someone to join ops at a senior position.
  • On hiring Ops Assistant:
    • Having part time help is worse than not having anyone at all
    • Hire well/right and get another "you" - don't worry about them relying so much on your guidance; if you hire well they will evolve their own job as long as you give an opportunity to do that
    • Evaluating whether you need a generic Ops Assistant or is it better to have someone in more functional roles, i.e. Office Manager, HR Assistant, Accountant, etc.
  • Key attributes of a personality of an ops person is inquisitiveness and resourcefulness: realising that something needs to be done, even if you have no idea how to; then learning how to do it; then doing it.

3. PROGRESSION TO COO

Questions:

  • Key differences between COO and Ops Manager?
  • Learning from someone else / having a mentor?
  • What are your skill gaps?

Takeaways:

  • One of the key differences between COO and Ops Manager - COO lets go of the detail. As a COO, you should be happy by other people taking on responsibilities and empowering your team to do so; but also understand what it takes to carry out those responsibilities and understand how to get people do it (soft skills, EQ, people management).
  • COO is responsible that each team is working in sync and towards the same company goal; also making sure that all processes are efficient.
  • What's an Operations manager in one company might be a COO in another company; depending on company size, growth trajectory, funding stage, etc. COO can come from Head of Ops position, but it depends on business needs.
  • Mentors are important. If you cannot find them in your business, look externally or build a good network around you. Having 2-3 mentors is extremely beneficial.
  • Founders/CEOs don't [always] make good mentors as the skill sets are different.
  • How to find a mentor? Reach out to everyone - networking groups, LinkedIn, etc. You need someone who's done it before and has enough experience. They need to be inspiring; you need to look up to this person, "I want to be you" type thing.
  • Quite difficult to find mentors in London / build network here in comparison to Silicon Valley.
  • Key skill gap: EQ (emotional intelligence) and soft skills.

4. SUMMARY

  • Is the Ops role jack of all trades? In some respects - yes.
  • You fill the role that you're in; you learn certain verticals more than others (depending on company/industry)
  • You either stay in ops and progress to COO, or use it as a platform to go into something else (i.e. Culture, HR, Chief of Staff, Finance, Product, etc.)
  • To reach the COO position is about change of mindset, going from the world's best doer/executor and world's best jack of all trades to someone who has a mindset of a leader and people manager, and has great EQ.
  • Shift from Ops Manager to COO is a difference between the executor/doer in everything that company needs to stepping up, learning how to delegate, doing it more strategically, working in collaboration with the founders. This also allows you to see the opportunities you wouldn't have been able to see before.

5. TOOLS

Recruitment

HR

Performance/culture/team management

Learning