Know This: Operations & Strategy Go Hand-in-Hand

Where’s the disconnect in YOUR organization?

There are often two distinct languages spoken within the organization—Strategy and Operations. We all know what these mean. And we all know how Top-Down and Bottom-Up dialects can turn any business into a Tower of Babel. Everyone hears everyone else—but nobody’s really listening.

Leadership is focused on strategy and what’s best for the business. Practitioners are focused on the tactics that get daily operations done. Somewhere in the middle, the lines of communication breakdown. Left alone, this leads to serious disconnects within the organization.

Why is this so difficult?

Surprisingly few people invest in ensuring translation between the two warring factions. Management, taking the bottom line to short- and long-term goals, is speaking strategy. The CEO doesn’t necessarily care how you reduce costs—she just wants you to reduce costs. Meanwhile, the frontline, call center rep doesn’t care about costs—he just cares about helping the customer.

This disconnect is such a common problem, the average company with at least 100 employees spends over $300,000 on employee development (source). This number continues to grow, with more and more organizations leveraging training to bridge the gaps between the internal languages of business.

How do you identify the key areas ensuring this alignment?

Onboarding and on-the-job training only go so far. Cramming new hires’ heads full of This-Is-How-We-Do-It PowerPoints merely teaches them execute their operational requirements. While this is certainly mission critical stuff, two very important skills are too often left out of front lines curriculum.

  • Understanding Operations’ role in business Strategy
  • How to best communicate Operational improvement idea up the chain

At the top of the ladder, Management is used to interacting with powerful investors and stakeholders, it’s all too easy to leave execution open for interpretation the further down the line it goes. This is where lines of communication break down. Similar to above, management training tends to treat the following skills as ancillary.

  • Keeping Operations’ role in business Strategy in mind
  • How to best sell Strategic value to Operational players

The results are all too familiar to anyone who’s ever worked in a large enterprise—everyone feels like nobody’s listening, nobody understands, and nobody cares. Management’s painstaking strategies fall flat on disjointed tactical execution. Frontline tactics hemorrhaging revenue go unabated because “It isn’t worth the hassle” to bring them up. (And “Nobody’s listening, anyway.”)

What does true success look like in this regard?

I’ve always held that true success comes from helping others achieve success for themselves. Chalk it up to a couple decades as a faceless cog in said larger enterprises. So how do you help others in your organization achieve success for themselves—and thereby help the organization achieve success?

It starts with a culture of listening. We’re all marketers, here. At the core of what we do is understanding what makes people tick, right? That’s why we come up with personas. That’s how we segment. That’s how we target; getting the right message in front of the right person at the right time.

How much effort goes into understanding your internal personas?

Management needs to understand what makes front line staff tick. (There’s a good chance management might remember, having walked a few miles in those shoes.) And while leadership is right to be focused on the big picture and strategic navigation, you have to be able to issue marching orders that include clear requirements to communicate how Operations fits into the larger strategy—as well as how said strategy stands to impact Operations. “What’s in it for me,” afterall.

Operations needs to understand its role in executing strategy. When those marching orders come down, the culture has to be such that if it isn’t crystal clear how the new strategy stands to help Operations, they can speak up and get what they need to execute correctly. And not just because it’s their job, but because they see the value in personally executing. 

And, for crying out loud, put systems in place to collect ideas and feedback from Operations, already. Everyone wants to be better at what they do. Given a channel to report things in need of improvement, most front line employees are happy to raise the alarm—but only when they see reasonable action taken as a result.

That’s not my job.

At the end of the day, none of this is rocket science. It’s just another facet of the Golden Rule. Treat others in your organization how you’d like to be treated. It’s as simple as that.

Understand this: Operations and Strategy go hand-in-hand. They’re two distinct languages, and both must be spoken if you’re going to keep the doors open. The only way to bring them together effectively is by making time to listen to each other. 

Management has access to the business intel that informs strategy. Operations has the hands-on, experiential intel on what actually works and where the strategy breaks down. Build a culture around the open, honest exchange of information within your organization. Help each other help each other.


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