Business Operations Managers Specialize in Being Generalists

Tech companies love biz ops pros. Here’s why.
Hal Koss
October 13, 2020
Updated: October 14, 2020
Hal Koss
October 13, 2020
Updated: October 14, 2020

Business operations managers are like Swiss army knives.

“If you consider yourself good at everything, but not great at anything, this is the job for you,” Emad ElShawa, senior manager of business operations and strategy at Fundbox, told Built In about the role.

As companies expand and grow more complex, they often need someone who can work cross-functionally to align teams, steer projects and get stuff done.

They need a biz ops manager.

What Is a Business Operations Manager?

Business operations managers work across departments to align teams, set goals, execute initiatives and improve processes — helping the organization run efficiently and effectively.

About 165,000 business operations manager positions are expected to open by 2028, representing about 7 percent growth, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Built In asked several biz ops pros — including ElShawa; Sarah Ouyang, sales and business operations at Lattice; and Ayesha Jaggi, business operations at Plaid — to explain what they do.

 

biz ops gear
Image: Shutterstock

What Does a Business Operations Manager Do?

The responsibilities of a business operations manager vary by industry and organization. But there are some consistent expectations of the role.
 

Build Relationships With Everyone

Often, business operations managers collaborate closely not only with their own biz ops teams (if those exist; sometimes, biz ops managers are part of executive teams), but also with leaders from marketing, sales, customer success, HR, legal and more.

Jaggi: Our biz ops team has worked with pretty much every function at the company. Depending on the project, there is no limit to the number of functions you would work with or the people you would interact with. I report to the head of biz ops, who then reports to the chief operating officer.

 

Help Out Everywhere

It’s part of the biz ops manager’s job to support the various departments, drive visibility and guide them toward efficiency.

Ouyang: Were like internal consultants. If you think about a body, were kind of like the spine. We have access and knowledge from the C-suite level and understand those priorities, as well as the managers’ priorities. At the same time, we sit in the middle; we have access to the other moving parts of the body. We work on different projects, ranging from high-level strategy to operational stuff. We look at the company from two angles: what is the strategy, and what are the infrastructural and operational needs to execute on that strategy.

Were like internal consultants. If you think about a body, were kind of like the spine.

 

Create Alignment and Synergy

Business operations managers are uniquely positioned. They are often connected to top leadership, while also involved in — but distinct from — various departments. They leverage their positions to make sure department-level success is contributing to larger, organization-wide goals.

ElShawa: My job is to ask the right questions. Sometimes the manager of a department may not want to make a certain decision; it may be more work for their department, but it’s the right decision for the overall project or the company. Its my job to nudge them, to make sure theyre following that path, rather than making decisions specifically for their own organization.

 

Think Analytically and Strategically

Business operations managers look for ways the company can seize new opportunities and reduce costs.

Jaggi: Another big part of the role is having a strategic lens. The business is always evolving, so there are always new needs that come up. So we might assess, for example, where we want to potentially launch a new initiative, or figure out if there is a gap in the business or a problem we need to fix.

Say my company wants to invest in opening up an entirely new vertical. As a biz ops manager, I will try to assess what the market size of that vertical is, whether it makes business sense to invest in the vertical, what kind of investment that might require and how much we might get as return on that investment.

 

Get Stuff Done...

Yes, GSD is a vague, catch-all term. But biz ops managers really do have the explicit function of helping move projects along.

ElShawa: A lot of my time is dedicated to understanding the progress of the projects Im involved with. That means getting general status updates from team leads on whats going good, whats going bad and where they need me to leverage my influence throughout the company to drive something along that may be stagnating.

 

...but Occasionally Course Correct

Business operations managers typically have to pivot a lot.

ElShawa: Several things come up during the course of a project that you didn’t initially anticipate. A decision will have to be made often within a day. It’s important that you stay on top of how it’s going, try to analyze what the problem is and make the best decision to continue pushing the team to the ultimate goal.

When you put a project plan together, often youre looking at it from an overall company, strategic point of view and putting together targets without the direct input of the various teams youre working with. Sometimes well launch a project with broad goals in mind.

Let’s say, for example, the sales or customer service team tells us these revenue targets may not be attainable, based on an influx of customer feedback about our products. We would then need to make a decision pretty quickly on a number of things we could do. Do we want to adjust those revenue targets? Do we want to work with the product team to try to change the product as quickly as possible?

ReadHow 3 Startups Managed to Drive Business Growth During COVID-19

 

Improve Processes

Biz ops managers dive into the details to help smooth out day-to-day work.

Ouyang: Recurring responsibilities tend to be very operational. For example, if there’s a system error in one of our tools, if theres something a sales rep cant do that they normally can, they would ping me.

I think about how to help sales reps become more efficient. For example, I’ll try to find a way to push funding information into Salesforce, so reps don’t have to hunt for that. Or, let’s say they have a very manual contract-signing process, I’ll roll out a way to automate that as fast as the click of a button.

Im working, day in and day out, in the trenches with every member of that team to figure out how they can achieve those targets. So I’m pretty much accountable for that success.

 

Monitor and Measure Metrics

Measuring key performance indicators (KPIs), or objectives and key results (OKRs), as they relate to the business’ operational efficiencies, helps keep everything on track. The business operations manager may oversee this.

Jaggi: We monitor everything thats working on an as-is basis, and then we continue to improve the efficiency and performance of the business. Were setting targets every quarter. Were measuring metrics. Were seeing if the strategies we put in place are actually working to deliver the outcomes we expected.

 

Succeed When Others Succeed

Business operations managers are often involved in lots of different projects with various teams. They are considered successful when those projects and teams meet their goals.

ElShawa: I would break my KPIs into two — in-project efficiency and after-project performance. Getting each segment of the project delivered to the executive team on time is generally what Im measured on within a project. Then, after a project is completed — when we start seeing customers using the product — I’m measured on things like ROI and originations.

Jaggi: If I work extensively with the partnership function, our success is tied to the success of that function. Lets say the partnership team has eight OKRs, or 10 metrics, to hit every quarter. If they miss that number, I hold myself accountable for them having missed that number. Im working, day in and day out, in the trenches with every member of that team to figure out how they can achieve those targets. So I’m pretty much accountable for that success.

Ouyang: If we specialize in sales operations, we’re measured on the success of the sales team — if we were able to save reps time and make the process more efficient for them.

 

biz ops gears
Image: Shutterstock

Qualities of a Business Operations Manager

There’s no cookie-cutter personality that neatly maps onto the role of a biz ops manager, nor is there a common career path that leads straight to it. However, people who are successful in this role are often quick decision makers, good problem solvers and savvy relationship builders.

 

Quick Decision Maker

A business operations manager has to act — and adjust. It’s a role suited for people who can be decisive while at the same time considering the overarching goals of the business and the needs of various stakeholders.

ElShawa: The best biz ops managers generally have big-picture mentalities. They analyze situations and make decisions based on the companys best interest, not that of an individual person or department. Its important to have somebody whos able to pivot quickly and make decisions, who can stay level-headed, not get too high and not get too low. A lot is going to be thrown at you.

The best biz ops managers generally have big-picture mentalities. They analyze situations and make decisions based on the companys best interest, not that of an individual person or department.

 

Good Problem Solver

A successful business operations manager has a knack for knowing what to do in complex situations.

Ouyang: A good sense of problem solving is really important. When I think about all the different projects, or all the different pain points that I hear from the managers, a lot of it is vague. So being able to understand what that problem is and then internalize it, digest it and break it into specific projects is really helpful.

 

Relationship Builder

Business operations managers are constantly communicating with people — peers, managers, executives. The job is about supporting other teams, so a biz ops manager needs to be able to communicate effectively — and empathize — with them. The ability to forge relationships and create synergy within the organization is crucial to getting things done.

Jaggi: Relationships are really important — being a nice person, having positivity in the work you do, being intentional about talking with others. I think thats a very important skill for just being a good business partner.

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Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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