Business operations teams are no longer “nice to have.” The pandemic has made urgent the need to solve several business challenges that, for a long time, we’ve largely been able to sweep under the rug. One is the need to find a way to make our companies more efficient — to streamline the complex ecosystems of imperfect, inefficient and haphazardly stitched together processes and systems that we’ve allowed our companies to become reliant on. Investing in business operations — the only function focused precisely on that task — is a means of doing that.
Business operations involve a wide manner of professionals who claim a variety of titles, including dedicated IT, analysts and COOs. These titles don’t really matter; I call business operations professionals “makers.” What does matter, at least for our context here, is the work they do, which can be boiled down to strategizing and implementing more streamlined and efficient business processes, and bridging the gaps between IT and business development.
Never have these tasks been more important. Prior to the pandemic, it was possible to ignore the inefficiencies that resulted from our imperfect systems because the conditions under which they’d arisen remained static; it was possible for our businesses to grow without being all that efficient. Today, however, as serendipitous creativity and strategic collaboration have become things one has to actively plan for and that we can no longer so easily rely upon as means of making up for wasted time, systemic inefficiency is no longer so easy to accept.
This is why we must begin to lend more credence to the business operations function. What’s needed in order to set our organizations up for success — both in the changing present and the unpredictable future — is not more of the same, nor is it simply some technological Band-Aid. Rather, what we need is to perfect a more holistic approach to optimizing our operations, one that appreciates the necessarily symbiotic and cross-functional nature of a given company’s processes and systems.
And investing in business operations is one of the best ways to do that. Here are two primary reasons.
This is a business function equipped to use technology to put people first.
One reason so many organizations are systemically inefficient today is their processes unintentionally strip agency, time and happiness from their people. They do this by insisting that employees conduct lots of manual workarounds in order to complete tasks such as chasing follow-ups or manually updating data across platforms. And they impose upon employees many task-oriented apps that take lots of time and effort to learn how to use but don’t always create obvious personal value. That often doesn’t offer holistic gains in efficiency or employee happiness. This makes employees unhappy. And unhappy employees are very bad for business.
There’s a better way to implement tech, and that’s where business operations comes in. Business operations professionals, because of their uniquely holistic understanding of company processes, are well equipped to approach this work more empathetically, and with an understanding of the importance of putting people first so as to unleash their potential as generators of innovation and productivity.
One way to put people first in this context is to seek technology that doesn’t require change management — that works for employees, as opposed to the other way around.
What kind of new technology doesn’t require change management to implement? The answer is technology designed not to complete individual tasks but optimize processes. Solutions designed to effect change on a task level usually just shift labor and change management to other areas of the organization or other elements of the impacted workflow. Process-level solutions, however, such as platforms capable of consolidation, adaptivity and customization, help business operations teams improve the workflows themselves, optimizing the apps their company is already using. Such technology allows process designers to improve workflows holistically and to conduct all the heavy lifting behind the scenes. This in turn allows business operations teams to create workflows that empower and accommodate employees.
Business operations is critical in making companies more adaptive.
The dangers for business leaders of inefficiency and not putting people first were evident before the pandemic. It was just easier to ignore them. One risk people are newly aware of is designing processes that aren’t adaptive or strategic to withstand abrupt changes in circumstance or routine. For both individuals and companies, our ability to thrive in the future may depend on our capacity for handling unforeseen disruptions.
But how, exactly, do you optimize your organization to be adaptive? The same way, ultimately, you work to make your organization put people first and function more efficiently.
Your company’s relative adaptivity is a product of the adaptivity of your processes and systems: whether they can work under more than one static condition and whether they continue to empower people when conditions change, such that they can continue collaborating easily and spending their time wisely. And a function that thinks so seriously about processes, systems and people is, once again, business operations. Business operations professionals spend their days thinking about how employees across departments and functions can work more efficiently together, interconnected as their workflows and responsibilities so definitively are. By empowering these teams to better orchestrate processes internally, you’re likewise investing in your ability to put flexible, adaptive systems into place.
There are more reasons to invest in business operations teams today, to be sure. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good place to start. As my team and I witness every day, the performative gap between organizations that prioritize their business operations and those that don’t is only widening. The companies that do invest in this function can make better use of automation technology and increase their efficiency, and they can also engender happier, more inspired employees as they’re safeguarding themselves with greater adaptivity. Those who aren’t are only taking on more risk.