Someone asked me recently, “How did you win an award for ‘responsible growth’ while in an Operations role?” I loved the question for a number of reasons, but mostly because it came from a sales guy and because he seemed genuinely perplexed. I had a good answer, but it wasn’t entirely thought out and has been on my mind ever since.
Many non-Operations people don’t really think about Operations as driving growth, and I have been considering how to change that. I think we have to start with understanding success in Operations. Over the years, I have used a lot of different analogies when defining success for Operations. The two that follow are the easiest to connect to sales.
First analogy: When you go to a sporting event you are paying to see amazing athletes compete with drama and heroism in games that society has come to love. Maybe that is a little dramatic, but something in the description probably resonated with you. Did anyone say, “I am going to see the referees?” Probably not. The referees are expected to do a good job. They are expected to be consistent, predictable, reliable and fair. Referees are only noticed when they fail to be any of those things. Operations, like referees, are successful when they do their job so well that no one noticed.
Second analogy: Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you probably drive a car. When you get in your car, is your first thought, “What a dependable engine?” Again, probably not. Most people are first struck by the comfortable seat, the style of the finishes, the technical features, the sporty look, or the capability to haul all of those soccer players. The engine is just expected to work. Always. When you turn the key, it starts. When you step on the accelerator, it goes. The only time you actually think about the engine is when it fails. So if that engine fails and strands you on the highway, do you still want that car? At most companies, Operations is the engine and failure is not an option.
When selling products and services we often engage in conversation around features and capabilities; around business value and improved growth. We should focus on these things because I suspect few salespeople will get face-time with the pitch, “We have the best Operations!” But ask yourself this: would you buy the car with the coolest features if it had a reputation of stranding you on the highway a few times a year? Would you pay $75 to go to the next football game if your last few games were marred by bad calls that changed the outcome of the game? While great Operations may not get you in the door, failures in Operations will keep you locked out.
Operations is a core capability of every great service provider. We differentiate from our competitors when we don’t just say “we can” but also “we will”. Operations must fulfill the promise. Consistent, predictable, reliable delivery protects our reputation and fulfills the client’s needs. So my answer to the sales guy is this: my vision for Operations is to make it possible for our clients to see every feature shine and every capability deliver value; to only feel confidence and never wonder if anyone else can do it better. With that reputation we will sell, we will re-sign, and we will grow!
On a personal note, I drive a Honda Accord. It’s not a flashy car. It is comfortable and the features are adequate. I have had it for seven years and it just went over 325,000 miles. The maintenance is inexpensive; I have never made a major repair; and it has never left me stranded. Can you guess what my next car will be? Can you guess what I tell my friends to buy?
Blog contributed by Brad Rathbone, SVP of Technology Operations at Scivantage.