Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

What Working in an Early Stage Non-Profit Taught me about Operations!

Constantly operating on a tight budget?

Always being in need of adding new talent (and not necessarily being able to)?

Continuously seeking to gain support for the service that you provide, while riding the ever-revolving door of problem solving?

Sounds like a great crash course in Operations as a whole. Or is it really just years of experience in an early stage company that also happens to be a Non-Profit?

Both are true.

For the last three years, my role has taken on more of what I’d now consider an Operations role, rather than strictly management. How so?

First, what is operations about?

Operations: What is it & What can one expect?

Simply defined, Operations is all about the internal workings of a company — making sure each department is functioning as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Do you enjoy building systems & solving problems? That’s operations for you. From my experience, working closely with our company’s COO, it’s such an all encompassing aspect of business.

Any given day you can be spanning from tracking marketing numbers, to building customer success systems to managing payroll to HR. I witnessed in the same breath our COO speaking on a new system being implemented regarding a company car insurance policy to the next moment spear heading the charge on meeting this year’s recruitment goals.

When it comes to operations though, it’s better to think about it first broadly than get to the niches therein. Here’s what I mean.

New companies tend to display a more “all hands on deck” mentality just to survive. If starting out in a newer company in operations is the route you’d like to go, expect to get a deep exposure to every aspect of the business. That’s not just because that’s your job title; it’s because that’s what is needed.

At a company’s early stages, it can also mean a lot of face time with people who make decisions — like the CEO, CFO, and COO, or other executives. Ironically enough, this is a department that will run lean — which will again offer a ton of opportunity early on to wear different hats.

What does it take to excel in Operations?

As I said earlier, if you’re apart of a company in the early stages expect a lot of different hats. This is something that caught me off guard, yet presented me with a unique opportunity to learn…and fail.

Quickly I realized where I needed to grow and what I actually brought to the table in terms of the skills necessary to create systems and solve problems.

Here are some skills needed to thrive:

  • Strong organization Skills
  • Time Management
  • Understanding of other Departments
  • Product Knowledge
  • Proficient Written & Verbal Skills
  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Proficiency with tools such as Excel

And more!

You may be thinking, “There’s no way that all of this would be needed right out of the gate”. Think again. The amount of varying different projects that I will be working on at any given moment is slightly ridiculous. (And I don’t even directly work in Operations)

But that’s the gig. Company’s need that. Operations is about making a business run more smoothly. Versatility is so key. Whatever the biggest problem is, you go and work on solving it.

Trust me, these skills & the knowledge stemming from each is essential to your success in operations.

How do you know if you’re a fit for Operations?

I can tell you right out of the gate, operations is not a fit for someone who’s baseline default is, “I’m strictly a creative person”. The reason is because more often than not, you’re looking for a solution to a problem & a system to ease the chaos. Things don’t need to be perfect, they (at least initially) just need to be done.

Why? Frankly, because there’s five other fires needing to be put out.

Rather, someone who is more “I need to get this done, perfection is secondary” is ideal.

Are you someone who desires efficiency? Curious to find the answers to unique problems? Have the drive to fix problems..all the time? You’re probably going to be a good fit for operations.

To me, I think of the need to constantly adapt. This is one of the most exciting aspects of my job. The variety of different situation that come up any given day is exciting.

For instance, getting a phone call from one of my teams and needing to walk through one of our team leaders how to better hold a team member accountable to meet goals; immediately following that up with jumping in a meeting to discuss marketing strategy. This actually just happened the other day.

Does that sound like something you’d enjoy? Operations may just be the right fit for a successful career launch!




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