The COO, The Operations Lead and The Queen Bee

The word operations isn’t quite sexy, is it? In a leadership context, the COO isn’t ordinarily a public figure. They are not the mythical founders or the legendary leaders who receive public acclaim and acknowledgment for going where no man or woman has gone before. Instead, they are the directors, cinematographers and engineers who get down to the nuts and bolts of it so that the business can actualise its true potential.

Without the operations guy or gal, entrepreneurs can get lost in an endless to-do list that saps them of their vital energy and creative vision. It takes a particular kind of person to create something from nothing.

Nevertheless, many of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with end up feeling bogged down with ‘success’. Adhering to protocols, managing (as opposed to starting) an enterprise, day-to-day operational stuff, scheduling, hiring and firing; I mean, this isn’t exactly what the entrepreneur signed up for, is it?

But there comes a point when even a startup has grown, stabilised… and is (gasp!) showing signs of stability and maturity. As to when a business actually arrives at this place–it is hard to say. There is, in my opinion, no hard and fast rule. It really depends on the industry and the operational environment in which a particular business is functioning.

Bringing in an operations lead is vital when an organisation enters a new phase of growth. Entrepreneurs are best when they’re focused on the fundamentals of what makes a business tick. After all, they are the mythical founders who go down in a company’s history as the one who started it all. But it is the operations person who transforms a messy startup into a streamlined success.

As long as you’re selling any kind of product, inventory management is key to an organisation’s success. This is all the back-of-house stuff that neither the customers (nor many of the employees) ever get to see. All they know is that if something goes wrong back there, it affects the front of house and that is all that matters.

I’ve always imagined the role of the operations leader as akin to that of a queen bee. They’re the ones who lead the colony to create that sweet, luscious honey that everyone absolutely loves. Without their industriousness, there is no productivity and nothing happens.

Sure, the word operations isn’t exactly sexy–but sometimes it’s not about how it looks, sounds, or comes across.

It’s simply about how it works.


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