We have all been there – despite all your best efforts and planning some days are just plain tough when you are running a business.  Whether you are an
executive at a Fortune 500 company or just starting your own company from a home office, these simple rules still apply:

Cut yourself some slack – There are incredible demands on your time and energy and you simply can’t get to it all some days. You are going to make mistakes. Whatever is causing your tough day, you are probably beating yourself up about something you should have done sooner/differently/etc. 
Stop doing that… just move forward. 
Remember what you are trying to accomplish – Remembering to look at the big picture can be helpful on those not-so-great days.  When was the last time you read your company’s mission statement?  Or looked at the strategic goals you set for the year?  Tough days are a good opportunity to take 5 minutes to review your bigger plans to put things in perspective and keep you focused on your

Make your to-do list, and do one thing at a time – Task lists can really help keep you on track, but can also be a bit overwhelming when you start to write down a very long list of everything you have to do that day. Prioritize your list; I like to put the things I MUST get done that day and some things that I know I can do quickly at the top of my list. That way I stay focused on the time sensitive items and also give myself some ‘quick wins’ so I can feel good crossing off some of those tasks.  
Do something good for yourself – Sometimes the best thing to do on a bad day is to get away from your desk and regroup.  Take a walk.  Go to the gym.  Get an afternoon pick-me-up at Starbucks or have an ice cream for lunch.  It really doesn’t matter what it is, but do something that will make you feel good.  You would do something nice for your spouse or best friend if they were having a bad day – why not do something for yourself?  

Keep things in perspective and find a way to get yourself back on track.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.
Any growing company is bound to have its share of chaos.   Maybe it’s an  organizational structure that evolved over time but it isn’t working any more. Maybe one day you take a step back and look at how your departments are interacting and realize they aren’t interacting at all the way you thought they were.  Perhaps you realize it is taking your team 3 ½ weeks to complete a monthly task and you panic when you calculate how much it is costing you. Then of course there’s the ultimate chaos – the clients aren’t getting their products/services when you said they would – or worse, they are late and full of errors - and you are starting to get a bad reputation.

Any of that sound familiar? 

Step 1 – Acknowledge the Chaos
Here’s the good news - you are NOT alone.  Fantastic companies with equally
fantastic products and services inevitably hit a spot in their growth where doing things the same way just doesn’t work anymore. You are starting to see that things could and should be running more smoothly.  Well done – you’re on your way.

Step 2 – Embrace the Chaos
Here’s the better news – this is happening because your company is GROWING.  You have probably spent most of your time to date focused on sales, financing, marketing…all the typical things needed to get your company going. You were right to focus on those things, and the fact that you’re at this point now means all of that hard work is paying off.   You should actually be feeling pretty good about the fact that you have a company big enough to have chaos within it.  Take a moment to embrace it – but only a moment, because if you embrace it for too long it will start to hold you back.

Step 3 – Do Something About It
It’s time to focus on your operations – it’s that simple.  But that is easier said than done.  You still have all those other things to focus on (sales, financing, marketing, etc.) and you probably have a small management team, all of whom are working above capacity already.  Proceed with caution – creating too many internal projects and pulling people off their ‘regular’ jobs to address an issue can cause a direct hit to the bottom line, exacerbate your already existing problems, and cause your employees to be unhappy (that translates to ‘less productive').  You need to have your key team members involved in these discussions, but keep their assigned tasks to a minimum.  When looking at your operations, you also need to think about whether you will take a project-based or ongoing approach.  In other words, are there a few specific issues that need a one-time fix, or do you need a Chief Operating Officer to act as second-in-command on a more regular basis to tend to the day-to-day?  If you’re not sure where to start, bring in someone on a part-time or consulting basis to test the waters and help you figure it out.  Speak with your colleagues about their experiences, and talk honestly about the issues you are facing.  They may have already gone through it and you can benefit from their knowledge.   Always remember – you are not alone.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.

You’ve decided to take the leap and hire a Chief Operating Officer to lead your operations team.  It is a critical position to the future of your company, so take your time and avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Candidates are not senior enough.
You start out thinking you want an executive role, but during your search process you scale it back to something at a lower level because (a) you can’t afford an executive level person – or at least you think you can’t, (b) you don’t want to upset your existing senior managers by bringing in someone above them, or (c) both.  Be sure that you are bringing someone in at the appropriate level for your company and your situation – it may cost a little more and it may temporarily ruffle some feathers, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.

2.  Candidates are too senior.
This happens more than you might think.  You find someone with fantastic experience at Fortune 100 companies coupled with every certification and degree on the planet and naturally assume this person must be brilliant and will lead your company to greatness.  9 times out of 10 this person is trouble to a growing company.  These folks may not have rolled up their sleeves in a long time and may not be the right fit at all for an entrepreneurial company. They are also used to spending money as they please, and may over-engineer a multi-million dollar solution that you don’t need.  Beware of the impressive pedigree – be sure there’s substance underneath it and that they are going to fit in your culture.

3. You don’t listen to your existing management team.
You have hired your current management team for their skills and knowledge.  They know how your operations work – probably better than you do.  That’s ok, they’re supposed to.  If you like a candidate but the majority of your management team doesn’t think that’s the right person, do yourself a huge favor and listen to them.  Ask them why – they may have some insights you don’t, or they may not be able to articulate anything but a gut feel.  Don’t dismiss that.  You may need to sort through any politics that are feeding into their thought process, but in my experience people are often more focused on getting the job done than their own personal gain. Listen to them.

4. You limit your search to candidates within your industry.
This is often a very big mistake.  Of course there are some specific industries that require very specific experience, but that is the exception not the rule.  I’m guessing your job description has a line like this:  “__ years of experience in the ___ industry” - but you don’t really need that to be successful.  Any good operations person has skills that can be applied across almost any industry. As a perfect example – I know the owner of a company in a traditionally ‘closed’ industry that was looking for someone to lead his operations team for over a year.  He decided to open the search to candidates without the originally required industry experience, and he hired someone who was a great fit for the role in a matter of weeks.  Don’t limit yourself.  Find a good, smart ops person and they will learn your industry quicker than you think.

You are only looking for local, full-time candidates.
Many employees only visit an office a couple of times a week, if at all.  If someone has a computer and phone – and the right background – they can get the job done for you. Think about what’s right for your culture.  You might truly need a COO-level person, but only need them part-time.  Explore your options – there are a growing number of highly accomplished executives offering part-time or interim services. It may allow you to get a more senior level person than you could otherwise afford while lowering your overall budget.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.

Companies that have survived their first 12-18 months of existence have worked through some initial bumps and are ready to bring their business to the next level.  However, they might not know what that really means, or how to get there.  They need some experience and leadership to come in and get things in order.

One option to consider getting you to that next level is a part-time Chief Operating Officer - a very senior executive who serves as the #2 person in the company supporting the CEO either for a specific project or on an ongoing basis for a few hours a week.  The COO understands and helps manage the financial side but is deeply focused on your client delivery as well as internal operations, tools and processes.  This individual will help you articulate your strategic goals and lay out tactical steps to help you reach them.  There are a growing number of experienced professionals who are looking to step away from a ‘normal’ corporate role and service growing companies on a part-time basis.
Here are just a few of the benefits to you and your company by bringing on a part-time operations executive:

1. Get a highly experienced executive at a much lower cost – A good COO in a major metropolitan area will cost you between $30,000 and $50,000 a month with salary and benefits.  Most new and growing companies don’t have that kind of budget, but you still have the need for operational focus and discipline. A part-time COO gives you access to professionals that you couldn’t otherwise afford to hire.

2. Solve a one-time problem without recurring costs  - Often companies face a one-time issue or project that is incredibly important and requires a senior-level leader, but once that project is completed you do not need an ongoing full-time position. A part-time COO gets you that senior level person for 3 or 6 months to get things in order and you can have your existing staff run the operation from there.

3. Test out the role without committing to a full-time employee –Bringing in a part-time executive lets you test drive the role and the person.  If you are not sure whether you need a COO on a longer term basis, use the part-time approach to see first-hand if this position is the right fit for your structure - and it may even turn out that your part-time person turns into a great long-term hire. 
4. Get a different perspective – The head of your operations doesn’t need to have experience within your industry – in fact I might argue that it’s better if they don’t. Someone who is good at running a company can apply best practices regardless of what you are delivering and bring your business to the next level.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.