Business Operations as the playmaker

I’ve struggled over the years with articulating the role of Business Operations in an organization. When I’m asked what I do and what I have done, it is a long list of behind the scenes wins, which contribute to the success of the organization as a whole. I have recently observed an alignment between the role of Operations in an organization, and the role of an integral member of a sports team.

Team members, Leaders, Drive, Success, Competition, even Big Data, are all key to winning in any sport. The roles of the forwards to score the goals, the goalies to stop the goals, and the defenders to stop the attack have clear and easily understandable contributions in most team sports. In business, there are CEOs driving the entire company vision and strategy; CFOs managing financial perspective, planning and execution; Sales and Marketing driving growth and revenue into the systems while maintaining customer relationships; IT maintaining the digital and communications infrastructure for continuity; Human Resources managing recruitment, employee happiness, and overall impact of the business on people; and all the rest of the team members with defined roles in an organization.

Operations is less easily defined.

On a soccer field, coaches usually put their most creative, fit, and resourceful players in the midfield. Although not necessarily the glorified goal scorer, the midfielder must anticipate the opponent’s attack, creating opportunities for team mates, defending, attacking, looking to where players will be rather than where they are, and placing the ball there in anticipation of their arrival; The midfielder is the playmaker!

Business Operations is a unique subset of most, if not all of the above. Operations is that playmaker, the role that has the opportunity to setup all the other roles for success.

Providing strategic business insight to the sales and marketing team

Working with the CFO for financial alignment

Informing decisions of the CEO and partnership team

Influencing and guiding HR decisions

Contributing to business continuity plans

Informing M&A, Investment and Partnership direction

Assisting all team members in the organization to ensure they have what they need to reach goals.

I look at Operations as the midfielder, the one ready to receive and distribute, with a constant eye on the entire team, and looking for who will need what support to score.

Throughout my career I have managed many teams, created and implemented many processes, driven business analytics, forecasted and reported on financials, procured tools and services, managed outsourced vendors, hired and fired team members, led due diligence in M&A transactions, evaluated and led investments, and stayed out of the spotlight while doing all of the above. Operations is not the headline grabbing, polarizing team member in the organization. Operations is the midfielder, a versatile member of the team. The versatility of the role creates the need for skills in finance, accounting, project management, creativity, resource management, vendor management, technology, and an overall keen interest in constant learning, and iteration of all of the above.

Business Operations is successful if the entire organizational team has the tools, the access, and the process, while experiencing the least amount of friction they can, to reach goals. Those goals in the organization may be growth, efficiency, cultural fit, flawless execution, customer service, business analytics, and overall corporate health. Operations is key to the end goal.

If you can set up the perfect play — the entire team wins. On the pitch, there’s nothing better than threading the needle of opposing players, sending that perfect ball laid into a teammate’s attacking path, and setting up a goal. In Business, the entire team performing their best with the systems and tools set up is a measure of success for operations.

That is how I have come to define Business Operations.

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