Overseeing the operations of any business is a career in which the right business-minded individual can truly succeed. An operations manager is tasked with ensuring that operations are both efficient and effective. However, this requires not only understanding a business’s overall goals and objectives, but using that information to run the business successfully. At its core, the skills needed for a successful career in operations include the ability to think analytically, communicate effectively, and execute efficiently.
Today’s business structure differs greatly from past standards and modern companies are focused on pinpointing the most effective operational practices to leverage against the competition. IKEA, a global business that provides low-cost, functional home furnishing products, is a prime example of an organization that has developed a plan to increase the effectiveness of their operating procedures, thereby attracting customers and increasing revenue. Through a variety of methods, IKEA has become a leader in best business practices including controlling the value chain to set them apart from the competition.
Establishing an effective operations process involves strategy development with some trial and error, but skilled operations leaders can shape efficient and effective business processes by employing a few important traits.
1. An Operations Manager is Realistic
A strong operations leader understands that employees are a valuable resource and can effectively communicate with operations staff. That not only means delivering the hard facts and providing thoughtful and constructive feedback, but listening to empowered employees who are part of the same team.
Results showed from a 2007 study “The Relationship between Transformational Leadership and Leader-Member Exchange in Different Cultures” 1showed that teams with strong and trusting leadership positively impacted team members' individual and collective performances. As an example, if an operations leader realizes that production is slowing down, costing the company revenue, communicating directly with employees might be a better approach. Effective organizational leaders can impress upon employees the need to improve and explain the reasoning behind the request. If a goal cannot be reached, employees are empowered to share with management the necessary information for developing alternative, achievable plans.
2. An Operations Manager Looks for Efficiency
An effective operations manager is defined as the master and commander of managing the input and output of resources. These professionals optimize processes to decrease the cost of goods per unit, making it possible to sell at a lower cost and leaving a margin just high enough to remain agile in competitive business environments. Processes executed in this fashion are typically able to reward the hard work of the teams involved in production. What is the secret weapon? Efficiency.
Today’s efficiency models date back to the 1950’s when Toyota shifted to a “just-in-time (JIT)” model, focusing purely on production costs, product quality and delivery, and worker involvement to minimize excess time and overall costs. This model became the foundation for today’s more commonly used efficiency model, lean manufacturing. Production from a system pushing out products in batches is taken to a flowing system that systematically produces single units as needed, at an optimum cost.
An operations manager need to make sure focus remains on the organizational objective, rather than the narrow focus of different department and division goals. In order to accomplish this, operations leaders must implement areas of flexibility into all stages of operations and facilitate cross-functional communication, enabling adaptability between teams and departments.
3. An Operations Manager Focuses on Quality
In today’s marketplace, the focus on quality has progressed to ensuring value at the source. Rather than use a supplier that has a rejection rate of 5% with provided parts, an effective operations leader might go with a supplier who charges slightly more but has a lower rejection rate to ensure the products lifespan and consumer satisfaction.
When operations leaders pay greater attention to quality, it helps to inspire their employees to strive to meet leaders’ expectations. Anyone who has studied the way Steve Jobs operated at Apple understands how his demand for perfection drove his people to do everything possible to meet those demands. It was well-known that Jobs took tremendous pride in the equipment and devices that his company developed. By setting high standards for himself and everyone around him, Jobs was able to take Apple from a company once in decline, to the most valuable company in the world in 2012 at $623.5 billion – exceeding the previous record of $618.9 billion set by Microsoft on Dec. 30, 1999.
Not only does focusing on quality help operations leaders maintain productive teams by fostering pride in a product or service, but it can also drive down costs thereby helping an organization gain an advantage over the competition. For example, investing in quality improvement ultimately drives down internal and external failure costs. This increase in profit provides an organization with the flexibility needed to meet the price reductions of its competitors, keeping it on par or even ahead of the competition.
4. Operations Leaders are Effective at Supply Chain Management
Supply chain management plays a vital role in the success of a company. Operations leaders within an organization are working to design and execute supply chain strategies that maximize productivity, minimize risk and effectively respond to fluctuations in demand. Supply chain management encompasses the shaping of supply and demand along with the optimal design of products themselves, creating a wide range of responsibilities. Operations leaders have begun to treat their supply chain networks—consisting of logistics providers and contract manufacturers—as partners, in order to align goals and effectively orchestrate collaboration across these groups.
As an operations leader, having effective approaches to supply chain management requires knowledge of manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and transportation as well as customer service. Products need to be delivered to consumers in timely, cost-effective ways that also meet demands—in other words, the right products, in the right place, at the right time!
5. Operations Leaders Do Not Manage; They Lead.
It is only when goals are not met that leaders delve further into operations to determine where problem areas might lie. For leaders that feel the need to maintain a close eye on certain operations, setting up periodic meetings with various managers and department heads allows for close monitoring without manifesting an overt presence among staff.
Strong operations leaders work to make sure that staff is encouraged to perform to the best of their abilities by providing the tools necessary to make tasks seamless. Maintaining healthy and motivated teams is more than just applying strategies and project management tools to create an optimum output result; it involves thoughtful leadership and management of each level of involved human capital.
One of the hardest parts of being a great operations leader is identifying when a team member is struggling to meet performance goals and addressing sensitive issues. Employees who aren’t performing only reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of their co-employees, and identifying possible solutions as a remedy is the difference between building trust in leadership and building fear for one’s position in tactical positions. Operations leaders need to make sure their management team keeps them informed of individuals who are excelling and individuals who are falling behind. The ultimate goal should be consistency – encouraging top performers to perform at their peak, and finding ways to bring underperformers up to standards.
The online MBA with specialization in Operations Management from The University of Scranton is designed to provide a rich educational experience, along with the analytical and problem-solving skills needed to apply in multi-layer organizations.
1 Yu Xiaomin; Wu Yang; Shan Wei "The Relationship between Transformational Leadership and Leader-Member Exchange in Different Culture: A Meta-Analysis", Wireless Communications, Networking and Mobile Computing (WiCOM), 2011 7th International Conference on, On page(s): 1 - 5