In efficient companies, operations run like a well-oiled machine. With computers and other tech appearing to effortlessly handle so much of the process, it brings a sense of ease to the proceedings. It is easy to take smooth-running operations for granted without giving it much thought, as it is assumed that it will be always running efficiently in the background. While this may be what the company is aiming for, this assumption discounts the hard work of the numerous people who keep operations running smoothly. While plenty has been written about the technology involved in operations, it’s time to consider the myriad of roles played by humans, without which the smooth running would very quickly grind to a halt.
What is ‘operations’?
Operations is a broad term used to describe everything a firm or organization does on a day-to-day basis. The exact nature of what operations covers will depend on the firm or organization in question. Operations may include manufacturing, supply chains, human resources, marketing and sales. In short, it oversees the building blocks that can make a business successful. While there are factors that can be automated, operations requires skilled and dedicated staff and management to ensure everything continues to run smoothly.
The operations manager
Operations manager is a position of considerable reasonability that works closely with the CEO. They generally work behind the scenes of an operation, overseeing all the activities necessary for delivering the service or goods of the company on time and to the standard expected by the client. To become an operations manager, you typically need to have a degree; however, education on its own will not qualify you for a management position. Becoming educated would help you attain an entry-level position in operations where you can work your way up, gaining experience so that you could be considered for a managerial role. You can boost your chances of success by considering a Master’s degree that will further prepare you for leadership in operations. If this is a career path that interests you, it is worth learning more about it.
Many people are not able to put their financial and social commitments on hold to attend a university for a Master’s degree course, and in some cases, there may not be a suitable one nearby. Additionally, in the fast-paced world of business, it may not be advisable to take time away from the workplace. Fortunately, for those wanting to earn a Master’s degree, there is a more flexible option. Online courses can be studied from home at a time convenient to the student.
While many students worry that an online degree is not as prestigious as a degree acquired in person, this is not the case. Online degrees today are typically of a very high standard, and just as rigorous and challenging as their in-person counterparts. A good example of this can be found at Kettering University Online, an institution that regularly ranks highly.
If you are considering why operations management would be a good career option, it would be advisable to contact Kettering University Online to find out more about how their Master of Science in Operations Management can prepare you for advancing and leading operations across a wide variety of sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, education, government and finance.
While an operations manager will need to have good technical skills to manage the technology and programs that streamline the operations process, they also need to have many other skills that reflect who they are as human beings.
The skills of an operations manager
Despite the technology involved in the processes, an operations manager must be able to work well with people both within the company and elsewhere in the supply and retail chain. This means they require good communication skills both in person and on the phone or via video call. In addition to being able to explain aspects of the operations clearly and concisely, they will also need to know what questions to ask. Listening is a key part of communication, and the operations manager will need to be able to absorb information from conversations with various personnel in the operations process.
An operations manager needs to expect the unexpected. In good times, it is not too difficult to keep operations running smoothly, but when something unexpected happens at any point in the supply, manufacturing or retail process, it can disrupt the entire operation. This a key time when any automated processes may not be good enough and the operation needs a human mind to set it right. The operations manager will, at times, need to act quickly while under pressure and be good at problem-solving to bring the operations process back on track.
With so many people involved in the operations process, the operations manager will need to be both a team player and a leader. They will need to work well with others, but also know what tasks to delegate. Good organizational skills are a must to keep every part of this complex process running smoothly. When working with so many people, disputes are inevitable. A good operations manager should be able to mediate any disputes and endeavor to see that all parties have an outcome they can work with.
Who else works in operations?
As operations cover all the day-to-day aspects of a company, there are many different people who are part of the operations process. These people are involved in all parts of the process, from supply through to retail, and they operate at all levels of the business and beyond.
There may be many different suppliers providing the raw materials and equipment needed for the manufacturing or service of the company in addition to delivery services, including the drivers who ensure the materials and equipment reach the correct place.
In manufacturing, there may be a factory to run or a warehouse to staff, requiring staff at all levels to manage the process and confirm the quality of the end product. Once completed, the product or service needs to be sold, involving retail and marketing teams to ensure the product or service reaches the customers to their satisfaction.
The finance department is also part of the operations process. Company accountants and finance officers need to see that investments are well spent and profits realized, as well as ensuring that the correct money goes to the suppliers and employees. With the need to recruit and retain high-caliber employees, human resources is also one of the key departments in the operations process.
Managing those who work in operations
Each manager has their own style for how they work, with some preferring to keep themselves fully involved in the various areas of the operation process, while others prefer to delegate. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, generally, it is best for even the most involved manager not to micromanage too much.
An effective recruitment and training program should mean that employees do not need overly close supervision and may come to resent it. Part of good staff management is keeping high caliber employees happy and motivated; causing resentment is best avoided. Instead, look for ways to give them more autonomy and empower them to make decisions for themselves.
To encourage the best from their operations employees, many employers are harnessing a strategy called employee empowerment. This encourages autonomy in their staff and gives them more control over their day-to-day activities. Exactly how this works varies from business to business, but it can mean allowing them to create new systems or providing less high-level management over those running smaller departments.
There should also be ways provided for employees to comfortably give feedback on the business and suggest how it can be approved. This should never be considered a box-ticking exercise. It is vital that managers give genuine consideration to these methods and give credit to the employee when their suggestions are incorporated into the operations process. Done properly, this will result in a highly motivated workforce where there is not only no reduction in quality and efficiency but where it is actually improved. From the point of view of employees, this makes work a more satisfying experience and enhances the quality of their work life.
Job enlargement and job enrichment
Two ways to give employees more autonomy is through job enlargement and job enrichment. Job enlargement generally gives employees a greater scope over their work at their current level, so they gain a greater knowledge and control over work through additional responsibilities. Job enrichment also involves taking on greater responsibility, but these are responsibilities that have traditionally been carried out by higher ranking employees.
Both these methods are valid for motivating employees. Job enlargement allows employees to see more of the process, giving them greater ownership of it. Job enrichment demonstrates a confidence in their abilities that they can successfully take on higher-level responsibilities. This can also encourage them to be more ambitious, making them eager to take on an even higher level of work.
Making employee empowerment work
There is much more to employee empowerment that simply delegating greater responsibilities either at the employees’ current level or at a higher one. Throwing unprepared employees into additional responsibilities would not be good for either the company’s efficiency and profit or for the job satisfaction of the employee. To make sure employees are ready for additional responsibilities, there are several steps a business can take.
A key one is good training programs. Through these, the employee can gain confidence in their abilities and higher-level managers can be certain that the employee has the ability to take on additional responsibilities. Once employees are trained and confident in what they are doing, supervision can be eased back as the employees manage themselves.
As everyone needs help at times, it is also vital to make sure employees know how to access any information they may need to support them in their work. While there may be times when management needs to step in, employee empowerment means that initially employees should be given a chance to sort out any issues themselves.
Employee empowerment also relies on employees who want to be empowered and who relish the thought of being able to act with autonomy. This is a step that needs to be considered in the recruitment process as employers actively seek out those who are eager to work without close supervision and who would enjoy seeing their own ideas put into practice.
Employee empowerment does change the power structure in a business, as it requires managers to relinquish some of their powers. It also means the manager’s role changes, although it is not reduced, as they invest time in creating a workplace that fosters the trust that is essential for employee empowerment. It can also free managers up for different responsibilities of their own, which can help guide the direction of the business towards greater efficacy and profit.
Advantages of employee empowerment
When done well, employee empowerment can give employees a sense of ownership in the business, allowing them to share in its success. It also eases the burden on the operations manager and others in management positions, who in the past have often felt they have too many decisions to make and not enough time to adequately assess them.
Employee empowerment facilitates remote working. Remote working truly took off during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many employees enjoyed a better work-life balance and the lack of time-consuming and costly commutes to work. If working away from the office, it is even more essential that employees feel empowered to make decisions and supervise their own work.
It has also been shown that employees with greater autonomy have a more positive attitude toward their managers. This can create a more positive atmosphere in the workplace.
The psychological benefits of employee empowerment help create greater job satisfaction and better mental wellbeing. This can motivate employees, resulting in greater and higher-quality productivity.
Employee empowerment can inspire greater loyalty to the business, aiding in employee retention. This is a huge advantage to a business that has invested time and money in training employees as they are more likely to work for them for longer. They may also be more encouraged to seek promotion opportunities within the business, rather than taking the skills they have developed elsewhere.
Are there disadvantages?
When employee empowerment is done well, there is little in the way of disadvantages. Problems are only likely to arise when the process itself is ineffective, such as granting an employee additional responsibilities without sufficient training, which may result in costly mistakes and a demoralized employee.
It does require acting from a position of trust. Employee empowerment in operations will not go well if it is given in name only, as is the case if managers are monitoring carefully and are ready to swoop in and take over at the first hint of a problem.
Making decisions can often involve an element of risk. With employee empowerment, the decision of whether to take a risk is up to the employee. Part of employee empowerment is empowering staff to be able to make mistakes and to take responsibility for rectifying them. It is through this that employees learn and are driven to work even harder.
The human side of operations
Looking in from the outside, it is hard to see everything that takes place to ensure the smooth running of operations, but effective operations are at the heart of every successful business. If operations is a career path that interests you, it is never too soon to start considering your training options, such as making plans to start a degree or post-graduate degree to kickstart your career either in person or through high-quality online study.
When looking at the operations process, it is easy to marvel at the machinery, programs and other technology that helps the process run so smoothly. It is truly a wonder of our modern age, but just as impressive are the many human employees who work every day in a wide variety of roles to keep operations running smoothly. Without them, both the business in question and life itself would be very different.
If you already occupy or aim to occupy an operations management position, it is worth remembering how valuable the employees are and taking the time to show them they are appreciated. Employee empowerment is a good way to do this, providing many advantages to the company and giving employees a higher level of job satisfaction. Any operations manager can tell tales of when things went wrong in operations and the effort needed to put it right, with faulty tech being just one of the possibilities. When something does go wrong, it is the other people who work in operations who will help put it right. Through employee empowerment, they will have greater skills and confidence to do whatever it takes to get everything back on track.