Owners of small and mid-size businesses face a significant challenge with their day-to-day focus: how much time can they spend on the activities they like and do best versus all the other work that needs doing?
Guess what? It depends.
When the company is starting up, every employee pitches in and does whatever needs doing. Without much staff – or money – the owner doesn’t get much choice on how to spend her time. Owners are responsible for developing, implementing, and selling their vision, but end up also handling hiring, marketing, HR, etc.
When those visionary-salespeople-business owners are phone-screening candidates and vendors, or writing marketing copy, or figuring out everyone’s schedule, they are not delivering the greatest value to the company, and are thereby inhibiting company growth.
At some point, and anecdotally I’d suggest when revenue is somewhere in the $1-2MM range, the leader must get help. And – are you ready for this – I recommend getting Operations help, even part-time. (Gasp!)
An Operations leader is a business generalist who will make sure the business delivers increasing revenue, solid profit, and – very important – an enjoyable work environment. For example, my approach emphasizes (in no particular order): structure, roles, and responsibilities; people and process development; pricing; messaging; and general business management. Others may have a different mix.
All great Operations people are rabid about results. We love to make things better than they already are.
An Operations leader enables the business owner to focus outward (what do clients want, need, dream of) because the Ops person is focused inward (what do employees want, need, dream of). When the organization is running in a smooth and thoughtful manner, it becomes easier for the business owner to play to their strengths and the company’s greatest benefit.
As a successful Ops Leader, I find the following five questions guide my actions:
- What can we do to drive revenue and profitability growth?
- How can we leverage current activities / data to help the company achieve better overall results?
- How do we keep all employees happy and focused on doing their respective jobs (more productive)?
- How do we keep improving (everything)?
- Am I providing upbeat, determined, and supportive leadership?
In the vast majority of cases, folks start businesses because they hope to achieve recognition and financial reward. The reward is greatest when the business is no longer dependent on the owner (or any single individual). The earlier that an owner can begin to build an organization to do the work, the easier it is to accomplish that important goal.
The job of the Chief Operating Officer is, in many ways, to build a freestanding, successful organization, and enable business owners to focus on the work they like and do best, and enjoy their lives even more.