Why do so many CEOs have no idea what operations people do?

Secret Service bodyguardSo, you are a newly-minted CEO of a company. You got your investors to bet on you and now everyone wants to see how that roll of the dice will play out. You know what a COO (Director of Operations or Ops person) is, but if I asked you what exactly his/her “magic” is, I know I will hear plethora of musings. Close… but no cigar. That is too bad, because your operations head and his/her team are the backbone of your organization. So, let me enlighten you with what drives us, and why we are probably the most valuable and loyal members of your executive team.

The best way I help others understand the value of an operations expert is by telling a story. Back when I was a 20-something punk full of ego and bravado, I was working for a great company as an operations manager. Jan was my boss and mentor. She never spared me candor or sugarcoated anything, and I felt respected by her. But, at the same time I felt that I had not received enough praise and back-slaps on my shoulder (refer back to my age at that time). So one day I strolled into her office and after making a case for all I had done for the organization, all those 80+ hour weeks, and [fill this with stuff for a 15 minute monologue], Jan took off her glasses, looked at me and said something that still rings in my ears. She said:” You know what is your ultimate recognition? No one knows what things you make happen every day! If they do, you failed! Your job is to catch someone from messing up, your job is to make sure everything is running smoothly, your job is to clean up after you know what hits the fan. Your job is to make sure the government is happy, and most importantly is to make sure your people think that this is the best company EVER!” And I got it! Smart leaders of companies know the value of the COO, Director of Operations, or operations manager.

Operations people are the “moms and dads” of the companies. The best ones are “Swiss army knives” with battle scars and ingenuity. At the end of the day, the job of a true operations leader is to make sure that no problem gets big enough to become worth reporting to the CEO or the board. It is that plain and simple. The best ones will be there no matter what time of the day, with their army of co-workers, vendors, and contractors. When things need to be done, they will be there in the trenches. One thing you will never hear from head of ops: “that is not my job”.

We find no higher high than knowing that our clients are happy, our staff are not looking when that “cliff” is for their equity, and our CEOs is sleeping well at night. Limelight is for the CEO, we are the Secret Service making sure the CEO does not get taken out.

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