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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

What Does an Operations Manager Do?

‘I have the fortune of working with each department to bring ideas to life and to determine how to pivot when the data suggests it’s time to do so’

Woman looking through papers while sitting on a couch
Photo courtesy of Mathilde Langevin

This article is part of InHerSight's What Do You Do? series. This series explores the working lives of women by job title. Readers can get a glimpse of what it's like to work as an account executive, software developer, restaurant manager, and more.

Although operations manager responsibilities vary from company to company and industry to industry, across the board, the job descriptions for these positions point to skills aligned exactly with the job title itself: managing operations. Operations managers oversee the organizational activities of their companies, businesses, or agencies. And if you’re thinking “organizational activities” sounds ambiguous, you’re right—operations managers juggle supporting departments like finance, human resources, and IT in their efforts to ensure business continues as usual. That might mean hiring and training employees, managing quality assurance programs, and analyzing the effectiveness of current business practices. 

Operations managers are creative problem-solvers, excellent leaders, and prioritize productivity and efficiency. They can also be strong relationship-builders, as this role often acts as a “glue” between departments. Below, learn from three women about what it takes to become an operations manager and what the role is like day in and day out. 

Melissa Kandrach

Director of Operations at Buzzer with seven years of experience

What does an operations manager do?

The definition of an operations manager varies based on the company, but generally, an operations manager is responsible for driving efficiencies to achieve positive business outcomes and solving challenges for the business directly or indirectly. A successful operations manager excels in one or more of the following business areas: strategy development, data analytics, process development and or improvement, project management, or people management. A focus on operations is critical for a business to successfully scale, making this role critically important to a business. Regardless of the specialty(ies) that an operations manager applies, they must be cross-collaborative and solution oriented to ensure their strategies are adopted by key business stakeholders to measure results. 

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue your current career?

From my time at Babson College, known for business and entrepreneurship, I knew that I wanted to focus on solving problems across a variety of industries and functions for businesses. This is how I found myself becoming a consultant in Washington, DC at Kaiser Associates. I recognized over time, however, that I was missing the implementation stage of the strategies I helped to create. As a result, I became an operations manager for Uber Eats, responsible for the restaurant business for my region, which required strategies to improve restaurant performance metrics, oversight of the restaurant onboarding process, and scaling the account management team. Uber Eats was a crash course on operations management, which I carried into future roles in the ‘pet services’ space, and now, my role at Buzzer leading business operations.

How do you help the company?

By way of the company being less than one year old, my role in leading operations has frequently changed. In the first six months, I primarily focused on building business foundations like key vendor selection, HR (benefits, handbook development, payroll setup), early business modeling, process development, implementation of tools to enable a distributed workforce to successfully collaborate, and recruitment efforts. 

Now, I oversee three categories of operations: people operations (the employee experience from recruitment to steady state); product operations (go-to-market strategies; vendor relationship management, beta tester engagement) and general business operations (org planning, scaling team communication, licensing and registration, legal oversight). 

What does a typical workday look like?

As cliche as it sounds, there is no typical day. Generally, I split my time between the aforementioned operations categories (people, product, and general business). More specifically, I spend time analyzing business performance, identifying bottlenecks and data suggesting we need to improve in the upcoming days/weeks, and asking a ton of questions: 

  • How well did the team communicate in the week prior, and where did decision-making break down? What tools do we have in place to resolve this issue going forward and how do I make the team aware of them? 

  • What did the data from last week’s beta testers’ experience suggest about our platform? How can we more scalably collect this information and incorporate their feedback into our product ahead of launch?

  • What policies and practices do we need to invest in today to help our business continue to scale? What vendors should we hire versus talent we can bring in-house, and what is the right timing?

These questions represent the solutions-oriented attitude an operator needs to have. You don’t need to feel that your business is ‘on fire,’ but a little bit of doubt and curiosity about performance improvement could be what takes your business to the next level.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

  1. Ruthlessly prioritize. There will literally always be more to accomplish than you or your team can get to in a day. Plan your day based on the most critical challenges (i.e., how many customers will be impacted if this isn’t resolved) versus the time it takes to get it done. Equally important—build in a buffer time for chaos so you always have breathing room to pivot.

  2. Be data-driven. Whether you are solving for an improved culture or the monetization strategy for your business, you should rely on data. Build in mechanisms to collect qualitative feedback and tools that scale access for business stakeholders to visualize quantitative models and then measure, analyze, and react. Learn and fail quickly, then move onto your next hypothesis. 

  3. Move quickly, but try your best not to break things. The typical tech industry lexicon would tell you to break things, but I believe one can be reasonably efficient and cognizant of the impact they make in their business and the industry. At Buzzer, we are extremely partner-minded, constantly applying the lens of our partners’ perspectives before shipping a product feature or structuring a deal. It’s important to build a business case and move quickly on decisions to be competitive, but maintaining this empathetic approach is an equally important anchor in honoring business principles should something ‘break’. This has been the biggest change in paradigm from my experience in operations from Uber to Buzzer. There is merit in efficiency and speed to market, but there is also merit in building complementary solutions that preserve legacy stakeholders to engender trust. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Buzzer, in particular, has a unique culture as a fully remote organization born during the pandemic. Most of us have never met in person, and those who have could probably count the number of times they’ve been face-to-face on one hand. As a result, we are constantly assessing our culture and how we can maintain a warm, trusting work environment from our respective homes. We constantly assess the tools and channels we have to foster communication and collect feedback from the team on what is/isn’t working. 

That said, the hardest part is taking a step back and looking at the team as people, rather than productivity measures (a tip often shared by our CEO). We spend time as a team reflecting on how we can be a truly empathetic culture that doesn’t always seek to find a solution to our peer’s problems. We practice sitting in the silence and respecting what each of us may have going on in our own lives without judgment. As an operator who has a bias for action, I find this to be the most challenging piece of my job, but something I am thankful to get to work on each day.

What’s the best part of your job?

My CEO has often called me ‘connective tissue of the company,’ which is a metaphor I’ve cherished. In practice, this means that I have the fortune of working with each department to bring ideas to life and to determine how to pivot when the data suggests it’s time to do so. I’ve always respected the ‘collaborative leader’ style of work, and find that being an operator in a growing business is the best way to hear perspectives across the business to find even ground.

As we scale the business (from what was 2 people to now 52) and prepare to bring our product to market, I continue to learn from my peers who come from different companies and educational backgrounds. As a result, my toolkit for current and future operational challenges continues to grow, which energizes me to take on the next big challenge: in our case, getting to market while continuing to foster a warm, compassionate team culture.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being an operations manager?

Becoming an operations manager requires you to be nimble and solutions oriented. Whether you are building out a new program to solve for faster customer support ticket resolutions or defining a go-to-market strategy, your north star will be ‘being fearless, remaining humble.’ Don’t turn away from a challenge that you haven’t specifically faced before, but also recognize that you won’t have all the answers. This combination of having a risk appetite (i.e., fail, but fail fast) and comfort in asking for help will enable you to solve challenges for your business, and will help you to build long-standing relationships across the company, serving you, your business, and ultimately, your customers.

Elyse Exposito

Senior Operations Manager at The Zebra with 10 years of design and five years of operations experience

What does a senior operations manager do? 

I identify and optimize processes that increase efficiency, collaboration, visibility, and alignment.

What's your professional background and why did you pursue your current career? 

My professional background was originally in communications, then I transitioned into graphic design upon further education, and now I've used both those disciplines to pursue and grow my career in operations. The shift was intentional as I was interested in and had an affinity for cross-functional collaboration, building and driving processes, and combining my visual and analytical skills.

How do you help the company? 

I pinpoint efficiency gains, blockers, and opportunities for leadership and teams among projects, programs, and company planning.

What does a typical work day look like? 

It's balancing the expected with the unexpected. My role naturally operates with many recurring meetings where it's expected to report on status, progress, and upcoming work that maps to an identified goal. It's an ever-evolving cycle of prioritization, iterations, and communication to be sure the right people know the right information at the right time to make informed decisions and/or be aware of potential impacts.

What are the three most important parts of your job? 

1. Disseminating timely, concise communication in all directions

2. Having a high-level and granular view of active work

3. Sequencing and forecasting what is next to support the company's initiatives and business decisions

What's the hardest part of your job?

Change management

What's the best part of your job?

I get the pleasure to work with incredibly talented people who have high emotional intelligence and are extremely driven.

What's one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a senior operations manager? 

The only constant is change—when things shift be nimble, resilient, and diplomatic.

Kara Meadors

Director, Enterprise Operations Strategy at Brighthouse Financial with 18 years of experience

What does a director of enterprise operations strategy do?

The exciting part of this role is that the responsibilities change from day to day. At the highest level, my team and I are responsible for ensuring that, operationally, Brighthouse is prepared for transformative events such as major technology updates, product launches and new distributor relationships. This often entails working with subject matter experts within Enterprise Operations to understand the scope of such changes to the business and develop a path forward to ensure that the required activities are completed in a timely manner. Importantly, my team is also responsible for identifying potential risks to the company as a result of such changes and ensuring that they are properly mitigated with oversight controls. Lastly, this role is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Enterprise Operations team: aligning specific goals and activities to overall corporate objectives, conducting regular business reviews to monitor progress toward goals, coordinating employee-engagement activities and identifying and nurturing top talent.

What’s your professional background and why did you pursue your current career?

I hold both an undergraduate and master’s degree in business administration and have worked in the insurance industry since 2003, when I started my career at MassMutual Financial Group. I have held a variety of positions in marketing, sales and, most recently, operations and have always enjoyed the challenge of developing strategy and identifying opportunities for improvement within a business. I have a natural tendency toward process improvement and relationship building, which lends itself well to my current position where I liaise between Enterprise Operations and other key functional areas such as Product Development, Marketing and Internal Audit.

How do you help the company?

This role is critical in viewing the operations deliverables holistically and ensuring that milestones are achieved on an appropriate timeline. An important aspect of this job is to point out potential risks and pull together the appropriate stakeholders to work through solutions. 

What does a typical workday look like?

Because this position interfaces with so many internal and external stakeholders, much of my day is spent on meetings—project planning, status updates, brainstorming and troubleshooting. Time between meetings is spent working on deliverables and ensuring that the team has the tools and resources it needs to complete its deliverables. I try to carve out time specifically dedicated to development as well, both for myself and my team members.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

Open and transparent communication, attention to detail and accountability.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Ensuring a clear understanding of all dependencies and downstream implications of a proposed change. For example, if a new product is introduced, it is imperative that we know all the details of how that product will be issued and administered and the related technology requirements to do so. Similarly, we need to have a clear view of any associated risks and ensure that we have proper controls in place to mitigate those risks.

What’s the best part of your job?

The finished product! Completing a product rollout or other operational change event is very satisfying, knowing all the work that went into it behind the scenes. I also enjoy the ability to view the organization holistically to see where learnings might be gained from one area and applied to another to find efficiencies, both within and outside of Enterprise Operations.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a director of enterprise operations strategy?

Be humble but confident. You may not know everything that a subject matter expert knows, but that’s okay. Know enough to identify inconsistencies, look for improvement opportunities and find ways to clearly define processes. Helping to develop a strategy or streamline a process makes a significant impact in the proficiency with which a business is run.

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