There are four key moments that will tell you when you need to hire your first ops manager.
If you’re running a small business or you’ve founded your own startup, then you’re thinking about growth—you’re thinking about getting your hands dirty. The company culture, the early hires, the accounting—it’s all part of embracing that bootstrap mentality. But if you really intend on finding long term success as a business, should probably be looking into hiring someone whose direct impact will be taking work off your plate: an operations manager.
Hiring someone to make sure the company is running nicely and smoothly might strike you as being particularly unnecessary, especially if you take pride in being able to run the show by yourself or with a co-founder. But if your business is growing and you care about the future of your company, then your personal work time is best spent away from the minutiae of operations.
This is a difficult jump to make. I’ll bet that until now, all of your hires have been people whose contribution to the company can be seen and felt. Their very presence will be reflected in the faster shipping of code, a more streamlined marketing strategy and so on. They are helping you sell more stuff. The first ops hire however will feel like something of an indulgence. Instead of helping with the company’s output, they will be working on the business itself. In real terms, you’ll fear that nothing more will get done. Indeed when an operations manager is most successful, they will seem invisible.
But that perception shouldn’t matter, because good operations professionals will get more out of the rest of your team. As well as helping the rest of your employees gain that extra 5-10% in productivity, they will free up your time to think creatively and strategically about the business. Don't get bogged down in operational details, focus on the business critical activities that will lead your organisation to success.
Here are four tell-tale signs it’s time to hire an ops manager:
1) You’ve reached 15-20 employees
There’s no way that with 15-20 people in the room all processes and admin tasks are automatically taking place as planned. You just need there to be a single person who is in charge of making sure they are happening. This could be an office manager who has operational tasks as part of their retinue or a dedicated specialist. The management of business resources is critical and can’t be diluted by being spread across too many people.
2) Team leaders and key employees aren’t spending time doing what they’re best at
Your marketing team is having a breakout session after hours in order to meet a big deadline. The team leader goes out of her way to order pizza for the rest of her team. It’s a kind gesture and could provide exactly the sort of motivation boost that is needed. But does it really need to be her who finds out what flavours people like and then makes the order? Is her time really not better spent elsewhere? People work best when they feel recognised. They resonate when they get to excel at what they were hired to do. Effective operations management will allow the rest of your team to do what they do best without being distracted.
3) You’re nailing all your processes but business goals aren’t being met
New hires are being on-boarded exactly how they should be, payslips are being processed on time, you have a team stand-up every morning. It’s all working well, everything is operating as planned, but somehow you’re not hitting your business targets—the company isn’t selling enough and you’re not generating profit. Maybe you’re spending too much time as a company on getting processes right. Having a dedicated operations professional allows everyone else to really focus on keeping the company above water and thriving.
4) You don’t have enough time to be selfish as a founder / CEO
It’s your company, so you want to be doing your utmost for it to prosper. But a big part of being a good leader is knowing when to delegate. The first piece of delegation is deciding when to hire an operations manager. Ego cannot rule over every decision and there will come a point where you cannot do everything by yourself. Your own time becomes more and more valuable. Those rare moments of reflection will allow you to ground yourself and become a more effective leader. Take inspiration from the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who regularly leave days in their calendars completely free of any meetings. You don’t need to feel busy all the time to justify your leadership. You need to be able to make meaningful top-level contributions and take decisive action. Though central to the success of your busy, the execution of operations tasks can and should be allocated to someone else.