Both of my children are athletes, and while they play a variety of positions on the field or ice, they are both pretty defensive minded at their core.  My nieces (also great athletes) are the same way.  Why are all these Maxwell kids defensemen, I wondered.  It occurred to me one day that my brother and I both have careers in the operations side of our respective businesses – and I started to see the link between the operations of a company and the defense of a team.
1. Defense and offense must work together.
Operations is defense; sales is offense.  They are both critical to success, and need to work together at all times, constantly refining the transition between the two to keep the team in sync. Teams where there is a mutual respect and genuine support between these two groups are the ones that are most successful.
2. You need a solid defensive coach.
If the CEO is the head coach, the COO is your defensive coach. Your Chief Operating Officer watches over all the day-to-day aspects of your business and keeps things running so you can focus on external items (sales, marketing, industry trends, fundraising, etc.)  Having someone in a leadership position who has a strong background in operations means you have someone who not only understands how things work but someone who will also have the respect of their employees because they have ‘been there’ and understand your employees’ needs.

3. A strong defense lets you focus on offense.
The sign of a good defense is when you barely notice they’re on the ice.  They do their job, block the shots and get the puck back to the offense with little fanfare. Similarly, the sign of a great operations team is that your processes, equipment, and delivery systems and teams run like a well-oiled machine and don’t require a lot of your attention.  A wise boss of mine once said if the only thing a client is complaining about is the format of your reports, then you’re in good shape – everything else is working. Operations teams are usually incredibly strong and knowledgeable people focused on their  goal of holding down the fort. The sales team is often made up of equally strong professionals who are focused on their one goal – getting the deal.   In the overall health of a company there is more of a focus on sales (goals/assists) than there is on avoided problems (blocked shots, protection in the neutral zone) and that’s OK as long as you have a defensive coach keeping an eye on those aspects for you.  When more issues in operations are rising to your level, you – like any good coach – need to address it head on and correct those issues so you can get back to scoring more goals.

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.



10/27/2014 1:51am

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