The Pillars of Operations
by Leigh Nash
The greatest thing about working in operations is that it is a necessity in every industry. Your skills are transferrable. For me, getting into operations happened right after college. I started a career in mental health doing one-on-one support and casework at a non-profit. In my role as case worker I realized I was developing operational skills. Casework requires budget management, adherence to private and sensitive information, organizational skills, and great interpersonal skills. I found that I liked using those skills, and eventually, I chose to expand my experience in a different field, but with a focus on operations. The skills I’d developed in casework led me to an operational role with an advertising and branding agency.
Working in operations can mean a lot of things, no matter the industry. In the digital space everyone’s focus is on design, development, the user experience overall. As an operations professional it is easy to find yourself in the background, it may even be hard to explain what you do. You may find yourself describing your role using cliches such as “I wear many hats” or “I’m a jack of all trades.” But, however you define yourself, the bottom line is: “you’re the go-to around here.” You are the operational architecture that keeps the digital agency running, and here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years for success in an operations role.
Organize Your Organization
There are so many moving parts in this role: payroll to run, cash flow to monitor, PTO to track, and expense reports to reconcile (to name a few). In fact, oftentimes you need to organize what it is you’re organizing. I do this by setting reminders for myself on Slack, marking weekly tasks on my calendar, and handwriting “to do” lists to stay on top of things. We have recently started using BambooHR as our HR software. This helps track employee profiles across the board from personal information, salary history, PTO tracking and requesting, employee documents, benefits, time off and birthday reminders. You name it.
If you work in operations, you’re likely the person who knows who everyone is, what they do, what their pets’ names are, and what kind of personality they have. Be willing to work with others and their styles of learning. In ops, you need to be able to mold and shape to different types of people and personalities to get the best results. Processes are also ever-changing, so keep one foot out of the door and be open to trying new approaches. There are some major areas where I have learned to be flexible in my current role:
- Working with contractors to ensure that they’re submitting their hours routinely. Everyone needs a nudge from time to time.
- Client Invoicing. Some companies have accounts payable teams that operate differently than others. Learn their process and make sure they understand yours. The goal is to keep a consistent cash flow. Therefore, working with each other is crucial.
Let’s face it, in operations a lot can happen to throw off your routine. Be prepared, be ahead of the game.
In ops, you never really know what everyone’s role is. Never be afraid to ask for help. It’s one of those “help me help you” situations. Be independent in your work, but don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way. Be honest with yourself about your capabilities and you’ll see there are many cool learning opportunities in this role. Since processes change and there are always bigger and better solutions out there, you should always be thinking critically, and for the good of the company. Operations is a necessity in every industry.
However; you also must know the industry you’re in. Understanding who is doing what and why they are doing it is very important. When you know the ins and outs of a project, this allows you to understand the cash flow involved. Personally, I need context about what I am doing in order to do it correctly. Asking the important questions will help you understand your role in the bigger picture.
“Let me find out the answer to that then get back to you” is a good response to tricky questions, but it’s also sort of a cop out isn’t it? If you say that to someone, mean it. Don’t just say it and hope the person finds the solution somewhere else. Be reliable and make sure things are getting done. This builds trust and a more productive workflow. Make sure you are equipped to complete the tasks you are given and don’t leave loose ends for someone else to tie.
Be Person Centered
This starts in your office. Taking care of the needs of your coworkers makes a difference in productivity. Avoid having the “that’s not my job” attitude, although that can be challenging at times. Those little things that keep the company afloat make things easier for those creating something great for your client or customer. It’s also important to want to make people happy. After all, you want to be proud of the work your company produces because you’re part of that team too.
To me, working in operations means you’re the Atlas, the backbone, the glue, the cog (see what I did there?) that makes your company function. If you don’t take pride in your work, the entire place might just fall apart. Getting your day-to-day work done (and done thoroughly) ultimately ties together your business and keeps things moving.