how-to-run-a-small-business

What is operations?

Operations management is the behind-the-scenes work that allows your company to thrive: from coming up with smart processes to hiring the best people

What’s the difference between a good company and a great one? What’s the one aspect of a business that allows your employees to go from just being effective to really thriving? Operations.

For a lot of people, it’s not quite obvious what operations consists of or what an operations manager does. But for those in the know, it can really be a successful business’ secret weapon.

Operations management is about organising your business practises to create the highest possible level of efficiency. It’s defined by its variability—there will be no two days in a row where a COO does exactly the same thing. The tasks undertaken by an operations specialist will rarely contribute directly to the output of the company. Instead, operations is all about maximising the company’s efficiency and productivity and making it the very best business that it can be.

What is an operations manager? The people who work in these roles come from all sorts of backgrounds: from dancers to accountants. Their main impact on the business is to take care of the procedural matters that would otherwise distract key members of the company’s leadership. The tasks that usually fall under the purview of an ops specialist can be summarised into three main categories or pillars.

1) Business Fundamentals

These are all the little things that an operations professional needs to master so that the company continues to run legally and effectively. The legal aspect of ops is about making sure that there are up-to-date terms of service, an accurate privacy policy, shareholders agreements and so on. This can include really basic things such as registering the company.

There is also a financial aspect to operations: making sure that you are paying people on time, communicating profit and loss, filing for taxes, etc.

Additionally, the fundamental aspects of the company’s HR policy also fall under the remit of operations: having a holiday pay policy, sick leave policy, maternity and paternity cover as well as documentation like an employee handbook.

Needless to say, without these business fundamentals in place, it is unlikely that you’ll be running a functioning company. Good operations management means having a birds’-eye view over all of these legal and procedural concerns and making sure that they are updated over time.

2) Company Process

As well as installing the basic structures, documents and rules that are key to the functioning of a company, operations can ensure that the business can improve and thrive. Good operations managers go beyond making sure that an organisation conforms to existing standards, they also establish the business’ very own standards and processes.

This is an iterative and analytic task that consists of looking at the company as a whole and adopting a consultative mentality. It’s about assessing what works in the business and what doesn’t and then coming up ways to solve those problems.

Those solutions are often reflected in the processes that the person responsible for operations will design and institute across the company: should the team be holding daily stand-ups? Is company productivity being measured against KPIs or OKRs? Are employees working according to an Agile framework? How is investor reporting being conducted?

3) People

People management is another core part of an operations role. This goes far beyond the legal aspect of HR we mentioned earlier and instead focuses on the wider consideration of how the company relates to the people who work for it. What sort of people do you want to hire? What is the company’s culture? There’s also the less talked about but just as crucial side of making sure that these well thought-out messages and philosophies also come across when you have to part ways with people. How do you fire people? When do they get fired?

For Charlie HR’s COO & Co-Founder, Ben Gateley, this ‘people’ pillar of ops is the most rewarding and stimulating, but every operations manager will have a different skillset and a different set of preferences.

Why is operations important?

Operations management is important because without it, all that a company can ever be is a collection of people working towards what they each think is a common goal. Without having a clear, purposely designed ’way of working’, there is no way of ensuring that a group of people, no matter how talented, will actually be effective. If you’ve previously worked in an organisation which had an ops team and you are still wondering “What is operations?” then that probably means they were doing a great job by being invisible. Operations management is the thread that links an organisation together and pulls everyone to work towards the same goals. With good operations management your business can become more productive and effective.

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