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  • The Evolution of ‘The Operational Journey’

    October, 2019

    By Rex Frank, CEO and Founder, Sea-Level Operations

    One thing that makes Sea-Level different than other coaching and consulting firms that specialize in helping IT Solution Providers (ITSP) is our unwavering commitment to our vision: to make a measurable positive impact on people and companies which inspires the industry. 

    From 2010 to 2017, we did this through community presentations like Operationalize Your Operations, which organized 87 operational focuses into Sea-Level’s 10 Pillars and makes organizations more efficient. (You can find a recorded version here.) In 2018, we changed our main topic to The Four Levers that Control Service Gross Margin and helped businesses understand how bill rate, engineer pay, billable utilization and fixed-fee agreement profitability affect their margins.

    Defining Your Operational Journey

    In 2019 we wanted to help businesses grow and chose to evangelize The Operational Journey which gives guidance about the 4 stages of growth and maturity. 

    Growth Stage 1: All employees report to the business owner(s) 

    Growth Stage 2: The owner realizes they can no longer manage EVERYTHING and begin to hire or promote one or two managers

    Growth Stage 3: Managers begin to get overwhelmed by business growth and start to reinvent the way the company operates and introduce more team leaders

    Growth Stage 4: The business has matured, and the owner(s) are no longer needed for the operations of the business

    In Growth Stage 1, one person likely does all the tasks in any given operational focus. But many have more than one focus. Often one person will have several focuses, like proposals, purchasing and dispatch. Because one person manages everything, data isn’t stored in systems and lives in their heads instead.

    As the company matures to Growth Stage 2, more people become involved, and a tracking system is needed to share information, like telling the buyer when a proposal has been approved so they can place the orders and updating the dispatcher so they know when the parts are arriving.

    In Growth Stage 3, there are likely multiple people creating proposals, purchasing products and dispatching. 

    At each stage, less and less can be kept in your head which means more and more data needs to be input into a system. The business will plateau until they realize they have reached the top of their current stage and actively seek to reinvent the way they operate.

    Managing Change and Expectations

    The hardest part of increasing operational maturity requires change in process. Employees hate change and, at least temporarily, employee satisfaction decreases. Here’s the problem: You can’t achieve the next stage of maturity until you operate as if you were already there. For the employees, it’s hard to understand why they need to perform all the extra steps now when it’s arguably not needed at your current size and maturity level.

    This is where the Sea-Level 5 Phases come in. They are designed to reduce the dip in employee satisfaction. 

    1. Understand the Best Practice. Learn from others who have already figured out how to operate in the next stage of maturity.
    2. Document Your “Way.” You can’t train or hold anyone accountable unless you document your processes.
    3. Train Your Team. Publish your “Way” and spend time teaching both the How and the Why. (Example: This is how we are going to start doing “it” next Monday because … ) Keep an open mind and be willing to update your documentation when your team shares great ideas.
    4. Make the Operational Change.  Start doing it the new “Way.”
    5. Inspect What You Expect. This phase is by far both the hardest and most important. You have to measure if everyone is properly following the new process and enter a seemingly endless cycle of teaching and coaching until everyone is on board.  This phase will test every ounce of leadership skill in your management team.

    Operational Excellence is a daily journey with no final destination. You must be deliberate about making a consistent amount of organized progress every day, even in the face of the tyranny of the urgent. Please contact your Sea-Level Coach if you have any questions about your Journey.