The ability to prioritize is one of the most important skills for any operations leader. But how do you develop the ability to say no, without becoming public enemy #1? This issue was tackled by one of our panels at Elevate 2022. Moderator Bridgette L. Smith, Senior Executive at Google, was joined by:
- Aubrey Sabala, Founder, Aubvious
- Bronson Lingamfelter, COO, One Earth Rising
- Ryan Agresta, CEO, Candidate.co
- Julia Kim, VP Revenue Operations, Electric
Find out what they had to say in the video below, or keep reading for the session highlights!
What is the first step to streamline processes and improve productivity for Ops teams?
Aubrey says data-gathering is a crucial starting point for Ops leaders. “Before you even think about which processes to streamline, what information do you have? Even from a hiring and resourcing standpoint, what are people spending their time on? What visibility and transparency do you have?” With this layer of information, you can begin to tweak processes and make informed decisions about resourcing requirements.
Julia encourages leaders to include their team in developing Ops processes. “Keep it simple when you start, but iterate, because you’re not going to get it perfect the first time around. I believe it’s really important for your team members to be actively participating and engaged… Being able to translate all of that internal knowledge to your processes is an important step.”
“Many companies, big and small, have a difficult time documenting processes,” added Bridgette. “One of the first steps, in order to be efficient, streamlined, and improve productivity, is to document what processes you have so you can streamline from there.”
Ryan says leaders must “always look at the tools and technology that support the people who execute those processes. There can be a lack of standardization or a lack of investment in that underlying foundation supporting people.”
How can Ops teams prioritize when dealing with competing demands?
Julia says prioritization starts with knowing your objectives, so you can determine whether a request contributes to your organizational goals and brings value to the business. It can also be helpful to ask, “is there an intermediate solution that’s potentially a smaller step in getting to that final solution? People can get caught up in the big picture, but can you break that problem down into a phase one? Maybe that is a lower level of effort that you can do while dealing with higher priority issues.”
In the end, Julia says it comes down to managing expectations. Communicate early, align everyone involved, reinforce expectations as needed, and hold teams accountable.
“I found reframing the question can be helpful for some executives,” added Bronson. “Not asking if something is a good opportunity, but asking if it’s core to the primary business objective at that time.”
Aubrey says the question she likes to ask is, “what happens if we don’t do this? Because when there are competing demands, sometimes you get to a stalemate. Asking that question can add clarity.”
How can we keep stakeholders informed without spending time in unnecessary meetings?
Bronson says his organization uses the Scrum methodology to help tackle this issue. “The Scrum methodology is fast moving and allows you to iterate. One of the great outcomes is everybody sees the priority list and has input going into each sprint session.”
He also practices radical transparency where all meetings are recorded and shared with participants. “Recording everything forces accountability…Our philosophy is, if you want to change anything, you have to change everything. Toxicity can’t breed in daylight.”
It’s also important to strike a balance between giving employees access to the knowledge they need, and forcing it on them. “People don’t want to feel out of the loop, but that doesn’t mean you have to force meetings on them. We believe in providing the information to access as needed, meeting when we need to, and treating company-wide meetings as a luxury.”
For essential meetings, Bronson recommends scheduling for 25 or 55 minute blocks, so attendees have time to process and prepare for their next meeting. Bridgette added that agendas and documented action points are also crucial to use everyone’s time efficiently.
Julia shared Electric’s approach using the RACI matrix, which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. “It helps you understand who your stakeholders are, who should be invited to meetings, and who should be kept informed. It really clarifies roles and responsibilities, and is one of those activities you should do at the beginning of a project.”
How can Ops leaders say no in a way that maintains good working relationships?
Ryan echoed previous points by saying it all comes back to common goals. “Once you can center the conversation around those common goals, you can paint the picture of why you are saying no right now. In turn, this helps your teams see the ‘why’ behind the no. This should result in a partnership where the analysis of saying yes or no is transparent and mutually beneficial, which ultimately results in an effective working relationship.”
“Even before the request is asked, you need to know what your strategy is for managing these requests,” added Julia. “If you don’t have a framework or process in place for your internal team, that’s going to be a problem.”
“I don’t think about it as saying no, I think about it as negotiating the best outcome for everyone involved…It may look different to when you started, but the idea is you’re going to collaborate and work together to figure it out. I also like to play devil’s advocate sometimes, there’s an argument for challenging your team to achieve more and be creative to find solutions.”
Having a centralized ticketing system to catalog and prioritize different stakeholders’ needs is also helpful, says Ryan. “Any time you can find a common tool that the most people in the company are interacting with, it’s always going to be a great way to standardize and categorize those requests.”