Operations Managers Make the World Work;
But There is a Catch

Operations managers make sure that the right thing gets to the right place at the right time;  but there is a catch. They work in all areas of commercial enterprise including manufacturing, transportation, construction, and warehousing as well as almost every other industry.

Think about what it takes for a commercial airliner to take off.  Crew, passengers, food, fuel, a well-maintained aircraft all must come together at a specific time for a specific destination. And, all additional logistics, such as air traffic control, are required to have the entire enterprise run smoothly. When you think about it, it’s actually astonishing.

Amazon has emerged over the last two decades along with Costco and other retailers as operations dynamos. The other day I ordered protein powder, a book and an electronic hotspot from Amazon and two days later they all came in the same box. How do they do that?

So we can say that as a general rule, most operations managers know what they are doing and perform to a high-level of excellence.

So what’s the catch?

Operations attracts individuals who are highly focused on task completion and get satisfaction from systems working. They have less focus on people. When those folks are promoted, there is a percentage of them that have challenges in having the necessary interpersonal relationship skills to manage people effectively.

Take a recent conversation between a human resources professional and an operations manager. The human resources professional couldn’t get over the fact that the operations manager couldn’t care less whether or not his employees liked him. He stated “I really don’t care whether they like me or not, they just need to get the job done.” This lack of empathy, where the focus is exclusively on task without an interest in how people feel, can become problematic.

Issues can arise, such as:

  • Employee dis-engagement
  • Low morale
  • Turnover
  • An adversarial culture
  • Fear responses that shut people down

These issues can have a significant negative impact on the organization and are a clue that the operations manager may need professional development.

If you are an operations manager and have gotten feedback that your people skills are problematic, then listen up. To avoid having these issues,there needs to be a shift in beliefs and behavior.

One belief concerns the definition of success. Success not only includes getting the right things to the right place at the right time. It also includes having highly motivated engaged employees and that requires an additional focus on people.   Until such time as we become so systematized and automated that there are no people in the process at all, the people component and all the leadership skills associated with it must be part of the task.

A behavior that needs to shift is “leading with the answer”. The manager’s belief is that they are the most competent and the only one that knows the right thing to do. All employees must do is follow specific instructions.

When a manager leads with the answers, employees have a tendency to check there brains at the door, becoming passive and  not bringing their full capability to bear. Why take the risk of being made wrong? People feel used rather than led.

All managers and leaders must behave in a way that respects other’s dignity.  Sometimes there is no awareness of their negative impact on others. Feelings get hurt. People get upset and angry and the under-developed manager does not even know it or care. They don’t care because the ultimate focus on task overrides concern for others’ feelings. This needs to change.

To become truly successful, operations managers must add the additional focus on becoming masterful at interpersonal skills; motivating and inspiring others to excellence.

To learn about leadership coaching for operations managers. Give me a call.

Bruce Anderson