Savvy operations managers have a nose for finding ever-smarter ways to improve operations management. Where others navigate obstacles with clunky workarounds, ops managers see an opportunity for leaner processes.
The trouble is that even the smoothest operations flows have a habit of falling back out of alignment. And gained efficiencies are worth little if not continually monitored and sustained.
For ops management teams—with countless workflows to oversee and not enough time to oversee them—losing time due to inefficiencies translates to 20% to 30% in business revenue losses annually, according to market research giant, IDC.
Those are pretty uncomfortable figures. But it’s not the worst part. Certain micro inefficiencies that add up—like admin between sales prospects and customer interactions—can go undetected or unchallenged year after year.
But don’t fret. There absolutely are smart ways of sustaining productivity in operations management, without needing to perform daily miracles.
According to a recent commissioned Forrester Consulting study, The Total Economic Impact™ of Aircall, a composite Aircall customer **recovered $31.7K in operational expenditure over three years—**all while saving eight minutes per hour per person in sales and support teams. We’ll get to that part later, in the final wrap-up.
First, What Is Operations Management?
Chances are, you know this already. But it’s worth unpacking to really understand how to improve operational efficiency.
Let’s go with the Investopedia definition:
“Operations management (OM) is the administration of business practices to create the highest level of efficiency possible within an organization.”
So far, so simple. If to “create the highest level of efficiency possible” is the golden goal of operational management, then what daily activities are required to achieve it?
“Operations managers are involved in coordinating and developing new processes while reevaluating current structures. Organization and productivity are two key drivers of being an operations manager, and the work often requires versatility and innovation.” — Investopedia: Operations Management: Understanding and Using It
Coordinating and developing new processes, reevaluating existing processes, being versatile, and finding innovation. That’s a lot! Ops managers can be the unsung heroes of progress. Ultimately, without productivity in operations management, there’s precious little productivity in customer support and sales departments.
Benefits of Effective Operations Management on Other Teams: The Impact on Numbers
Operational efficiency is the precursor to overall business efficiency. When ops run seamlessly, the benefits of operations management ripple outward, translating to team productivity in other departments.
But how does ops efficiency convert into team effectiveness? And what’s the impact on numbers? Part of it has to do with process management (BPM).BPM is: “a discipline that uses various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve and optimize business processes.”
“A business process’ coordinates the behavior of people, systems, information and things to produce business outcomes in support of a business strategy.” — Gartner: Business Process Management
The key takeaway here is people, systems information, and “things” such as work equipment. Strong BPM practices amplify productivity in other teams by assessing, measuring, and improving how those things contribute to overarching business goals.
Let’s take your sales and customer support teams as an example. What’s their goal? It’s either “acquire customers” or “keep customers happy”.
Effective operations management empowers those people to succeed by measuring and optimizing the systems, information, and things they leverage daily.
One of those systems is phones. Without efficient telephony, sales and support teams can’t be effective in driving revenue and customer satisfaction.
When we commissioned Forrester Consulting to discover the business impact of Aircall’s cloud-phone telephony, here’s what we found.
Before switching to Aircall:
Ops managers spent 25% of their time managing and reporting on their company’s customer calling activity.
After switching to Aircall’s “zero hardware” cloud-based phone system:
The same ops managers found themselves spending just 5% of their time on the same activities.
That’s a whopping 20% time efficiency gain—time that could then be reinvested into other operational workflows for helping sales and support teams increase productivity.
Putting the “Hyper” in Hyper-Efficiency to Improve Operations Management
“Hyper-efficiency” sounds intense, doesn’t it? Hyper-efficiency simply means “maximum productivity and effectiveness” or as close to that as possible.
Hyper-efficiency in operations management doesn’t require superpowers and it isn’t about working frantically double-time. It’s about working coherently and intuitively. That means fueling the right workflows at the right time and in the right order.
Here are our essential ops manager tips and takeaways for staying as close to hyper-efficient as possible.
Walk, and then run: Focus on your process before you automate it
When it comes to ways to improve operations management, the temptation to automate processes as much as possible is strong. Go for the low-hanging fruit first, right? That temptation can blind operations teams from one simple fact: To automate processes well, processes need to be sound.
Let’s remember that a process can be both effective and inefficient. Sales and support teams, for example, often implement workflow processes that achieve great results but consume a great deal of time.
To prepare a process for automation:
Address process waste
Start by removing redundant steps and addressing root causes. Some processes might actually be inefficient workarounds for something you haven’t properly solved. Repeat customer complaint escalations about the same issue, for example, can be a sign that something somewhere hasn’t been properly fixed.
Optimize and standardize
This involves designing processes that optimize interactions between people and their tools. It’s an opportunity to design ops workflows as you’d like them to be in future—not just for dealing with existing challenges.
Use your existing tech platforms and systems to make newly designed operational processes as lean as they can be and configured to accommodate your automation plans.
Now hit the “automation” button
Having completed the first three steps, you’re now ready to scale down manual processes and implement your automation tools.
Don’t wait until after implementation to provide the necessary training to the right people. Early adoption is about early communication and managing team expectations about planned process changes, long before any actual changes happen.
Automate intelligently: Stay informed on the latest tools and tech
You don’t need reminding about the operational efficiency gains made possible through automation. If you’re reading this after 2027, let us know if the workflow automation market really did witness a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 9.52% between 2022 to 2027 as market researcher Mordor Intelligence forecasted in this 2022 report.
Automating your way to operational productivity, cost reduction, and time-saving has become more popular, available, and scalable. But don’t be lured by the boom and hype behind automation.
Automating intelligently is about:
1. Matching automation with the right skills and realizing that AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics require the right talent for decision-making, creativity, and learning.
2. Automating now for future needs: In a study entitled The Work Ahead, professional services leader Cognizant forecasts that businesses will increasingly apply “sophisticated automation toolsets across business functions and focus on supporting employees in the new way of work.”
3. Staying informed on new developments in automation: We recommend bookmarking the “automation” page of The Harvard Business Review that’s often the first to circulate new developments in smart automation.
Go undercover or embed yourself at the heart of the process
Operations leaders need to view relationships and dependencies between different workflows and processes top-down from a distance to make sure things gel.
For example, sales operations rely on interconnected phone systems, IT systems, tools, and CRMs all underpinned by team training schedules for each—plus maintenance cycles.
Although necessary, this 30,000-foot view can create efficiency blind spots. To close them—in pursuit of hyper-efficiency—it’s useful to zoom in on processes. If you’re familiar with the hit TV series Undercover Boss, you’ll have seen how business owners adopt disguises, secretly working right alongside their teams.
You don’t need to go to the lengths of wearing a disguise, but getting hands-on alongside teams can challenge operational assumptions about the kinds of challenges teams face and their impact on efficiency.
For example, operations managers monitoring utilization and via tool dashboards can make mistaken interpretations about team productivity metrics.
How can you increase team productivity in this situation?
Should you apply pressure on teams by communicating that they’re taking too long to complete certain tasks? That’s not a fix. It’s pressure.
Instead, sit with the team. Watch them work. Sometimes, just a couple of hours shadowing sales teams can reveal the underlying process pinch-points behind performance friction.
Create OKR frameworks that work hand-in-hand with your KPIs
If you’re not familiar with OKRs, you’re surely familiar with KPIs, or key performance indicators, that come in unlimited varieties across industries. In sales and support teams, KPIs range from the total number of daily prospect interactions to customer satisfaction scores (CSAT).
OKRs, or objective key results, are a little different and are suited to companies heavily focused on accelerating growth.
Where KPIs usually provide performance metrics, OKRs are more of a strategic framework. Inside that framework, KPIs can exist as key measurements of progress toward overarching OKR goals.
With OKRs, a planned objective is tied to a series of key results that work toward that objective.For example, your OKR might look something like this:
Objective: Reduce time spent on operations tasks **by 20%**Among other results, your key results might include:
Key result #1: Replace high-maintenance telephony with a zero-hardware cloud-based phone system
Key result #2: Reduce repeat team training requirements by 30%
Key result #3: Increase the use of automation for capacity and utilization planning.
Then, your KPIs should be designed to fit inside of your OKR framework to track progress toward these key results.
This is just one loose example. Remember that OKRs should be designed top-down with collaboration between management teams.
To actually achieve the hyper-efficiency part, it’s critical to avoid designing OKRs in a vacuum without clear visibility into what other areas of business are doing.
Once an effective OKR framework is in place—complete with new KPIs geared around planned objectives—you’ll have a true north and a fixed course of progress. Overall, you should witness a reduction in operational waste and inefficiency.
Wrapping up: Hyper-Efficiency in Operations Is About Netting the Marginal Gains of the 1% Principle
The 1% principle simply means increasing operational efficiency in all business areas 1% at a time. It may not sound like much, but it’s all about cumulative marginal gains.
In other words, ops efficiency is about finding micro efficiencies in processes ranging from IT and worktools implementation and setup, maintenance, reporting, performance tracking, and so on. As small efficiency gaps are spotted and dealt with in all of these areas and others, big impact benefits are felt in business-wide KPI figures.
Needless to say, you don’t have to limit yourself to 1% marginal gains of efficiency. Especially when it comes to sales and support team productivity and performance.
When we commissioned Forrester Consulting to measure the operational efficiency gains of implementing Aircall’s cloud-phone solution, here’s what we discovered:
When switching to Aircall, ops managers participating in the study:
Operations managers who switched to Aircall’s cloud-phone system saved 20% time on Aircall implementation, setup, maintenance, and reporting compared with their previous telephony solution.
Operational efficiency improved by $15K each year for three years running.
Their total cost savings on implementation alone from switching to Aircall came to $31.7K
Why such significant savings? It was partly down to how easy Aircall is to set up and maintain. But also the ease with which sales and support managers using Aircall can create numbers, users, and teams in just a few clicks, getting teams up and running that same day—without major operational interventions.
Read more on the role of operations in building your tech stack
Read more on how to become an operations manager
Read more on Smart ways of streamlining operations management
Published on January 2, 2024.