12 Operations Experts Share Their Key Learnings From 2011

To close out 2011, I surveyed top operations experts across the globe and asked them to share their most impactful learning or most important piece of advice for The Operations Blog’s audience. Read on for interesting commentary on service operations, sales operations, leadership and operational excellence. Please add your own advice in the comments section.

1) Developing Leadership Skills Must Be Intentional
“This past year I’ve learned the value of continuous learning for the development of leadership skills. Far too may business executives believe leadership skills stem from some sort of wondrous epiphany or other such flash of insight. Sure, great ideas can come to any of us, but being a bona fide leader also means study. It takes reading books and online articles on all sorts of subjects, attending workshops/seminars, and learning from others for instance to develop leadership abilities. It can be a long education, but one with rewards that multiply with the more knowledge you have under your belt.”
Tim McMahon, Founder of A Lean Journey Blog, www.ALeanJourney.com, @TimALeanJourney

2) Alignment Drives Sales Operations Effectiveness
” A key factor in maximizing  the efficiency and effectiveness of the sales operations functions is close alignment with, and accountability to  the specific  parts of the sales force they support. For example the SLA for operational support of a the “enterprise” segment of the business focused on large multi-national accounts may be fundamentally different from the Inside sales force concerned with the SMB segment.  While the “what needs to be accomplished” may be the same, the “How it needs to be accomplished”  is often very different.  Alignment with and accountability of the sales operations team to  specific managers /reps allows the ops team members to work more closely with sales to improve processes and measure results.”
James LiVigni, Vice President, Sales Operations, Kronos

3) Failure Is Not An Option… It’s A Requirement
“People are afraid of risk.  They don’t want to rock the boat; they want to preserve the status-quo… and as a result, many of the greatest failures we see (in business & life) are caused by inaction.  The larger an organization, the more true this becomes… so leaders must create a culture that puts failure in its proper place: a useful tool for learning, and a natural part of iterative experimentation.”
Bryan Sander, Vice President, HELP24, ACI Worldwide, KnowBSBlog, @BryanSander

4) Process Improvement Can Be Simplified and Accelerated- Not Always Resource IntensiveFresh Ideas From Operations Experts | Image Courtesy Of jscreationzs
“The recent meltdown and slow recovery has sucked the oxygen out of most strategic improvement initiatives such as Lean Six Sigma.  Organizations have placed a “freeze” on improvement when they need it the most and the longer organizations postpone improvement, the larger the hidden waste, cost, time, and risk of removing it.

One of the largest problems is that we have not changed the “process” of improvement (e.g. top-down, train-the-masses, mandated, token agreements, part time, etc.) in three decades. It is important for leaders to know that process improvement does not have to be about big bang, resource intensive approaches. Instead, there are simplified, sustainable infrastructures that weave improvement, process thinking, and root cause analysis into daily work and the fabric of culture. Check out “Accelerating Lean Six Sigma Results: How to Achieve Improvement Excellence in the New Economy,” (sponsored link) for more information.”
Terence T. Burton, President, The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. burton@ceobreakthrough.com

5) Attendance Is Not Synonymous With Performance
“In 2011, I discovered the need to ask the question, “Why are we here?” in the operational sense.  A tremendous amount of waste is produced from the belief that being in attendance is the same as, or necessary for, producing results.  How much of this waste could be avoided if we shattered the assumption that attendance is synonymous with performance, and managers followed the principles of the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) to measure people only on results?”
David M. Kasprzak, Author, My Flexible Pencil Blog: Discussing management excellence and the pursuit of work/life synthesis, @FlexiblePencil

6) A Board Of Directors Does Have A Role In A Lean Journey
“I have engaged in developing more clarity for the role that a board of directors has in the lean journey. Many people believe it is the same as any other leadership role, but the role of a board in the organization is unique, and its role in the lean journey is unique. The first role of the board is to ensure sustainability, and the primary threat to that is leadership turnover. Therefore the board must be engaged in long-term succession planning and leadership development. Secondly, the board must define some of the rules and tradeoffs in advance of having to make them; for example, under what conditions would a company do a layoff. Having these defined in advance do a great deal to maintain the path forward. Third, it must define how it will engage the management team in both the development and rollout of the strategy. There is much more, including how the board uses lean themselves, but this is a good foundation. And it’s more than just being supportive of the lean journey in general terms.”
Jamie Flinchbaugh, Lean Learning Center, @flinchbaugh

7) Sales Operations Has Value For Small Sales Teams Too
“My key learning is an observation about the role of Sales Operations. Sales Operations is becoming more and more prevalent in smaller sales organizations; it is no longer just for billion dollar, global companies or teams of 100 or more salespeople. In many instances, a sales team of only ten people can cost effectively leverage a sales operations function. The primary driver is the advances in Sales 2.0 technologies. These technologies administered by Sales Operations can dramatically impact per rep productivity.”
Brian Geery, Managing Partner, Sales Productivity Architects, The Sales Operations Blog

8 ) Understand Future State Vision, Then Work Backwards
“In 2011, through my extensive involvement in self-directed work teams it struck me that operationally you really need to establish your key strengths and any gaps between where you are now and where you want to get to, in terms of your vision and/or mission. To do this you need to not only add value for your internal and external customers, but map and manage your business processes. Finally, all of this is only achievable if you really value your people and create a culture of empowerment for the balanced achievement of organisational and personal goals.”
Rob Thompson,  http://www.learnsigma.net

9) Sales Ops Is Best Positioned To Drive Sales/Marketing Alignment
“Sales Operations professionals need to serve their customers (i.e., sales organizations), by improving integration with marketing.  While sales/marketing alignment is a frequently discussed goal for many organizations, sales operations is in the best position to make this happen.  Great places to start include the lead-handoff process, using pipeline metrics to improve lead scoring/nurturing strategies, and development of consistent sales/marketing messaging.  Also, the rapid growth of marketing automation solutions can create as many problems as it solves unless we ensure tight coordination with sales automation/CRM systems by beginning the integration process early.”
Thomas Barrieau, Managing Partner, Sales Productivity Architects, The Sales Operations Blog

10) Social Media- Also About Customer Support
“This past year I’ve continued to learn how powerful social media and inbound marketing has become over more traditional means of marketing and supporting customers. In almost all aspects of our business and our clients business, communicating in the social space has become a daily event to improve sales as well service clients. Social media has presented an opportunity to shape a bad client experience and make lemonade out of lemons.”
Jim Ward, CEO BrainSell Technologies LLC

11) Sales Operations Is All About People, Not Processes
“As a sales operations professional it is easy to get caught up in process optimization, CRM adoption, sales metrics and reporting. These are all very important, but only because they empower sales people to succeed. Without the people even the best processes mean nothing. Remind yourself everyday, that processes enable people, not the other way around.
Michael Hanna, Sales Operations Leader, Teranet

12) My New Year’s Resolutions

  • I will listen to calls before I decide what the solution is
  • I will stop believing that moving easy tasks to cheap suppliers is a clever thing to do
  • I will listen to my boss, even when I think he’s a fool, and even if I am right
  • I will attend my team’s weekly huddles
  • I will manage call handle time by fixing the system, not targeting the agent
  • …….Of course, I didn’t mess up with any of these things last year. And I didn’t smoke either. Honest

James Lawther writes about Service Improvement at www.squawkpoint.com, @squawkpoint

Bonus Learning) Practice Process Improvement – Before Executing Process Improvement
“In 2011, I learned the value of teaching and helping others practice new process management skills, as an alternative to traditional training and immediate implementation. Professional athletes practice their moves over and over again, before they actually compete. The same can easily apply to the process of learning new business skills.  If we practice first, we will be much more successful when we begin to apply them. I described this in more detail in my earlier post “A focus on learning will fuel more doing”.”
Marci Reynolds, Director Global Customer Operations, ACI Worldwide, The Operations Blog, @marcireynolds12

I encourage you to share you personal key learning or piece of advice in the comments section.

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About Marci Reynolds