Get the Best Candidate: Key Qualities in Operations Managers

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Effective Operations management is essential to ensure that your company is performing at peak levels of efficiency regarding quantity, quality, timeliness and profitability in the production and  delivery of the service or product being sold.  They deliver in the present and plan for the future operational needs of your organization.  The best operations managers will have an impact on an organization far in excess of compensation in the top percentiles for the position and compromising for mediocre talent to save 10-20% of the salary range is a false saving.

Goldbeck President Henry Goldbeck and Senior Recruiter Alessia Pagliaroli have a wealth of experience recruiting operations managers and executives across North America.  In the conversation below they share some commonly asked questions. 

Pressed for time? Skip ahead.

Section One: What Makes an Ideal Operations Manager?

S1A: Assessing Skill Sets

S1B: Strategy and Scope

S1C: The Importance of Technology

Section 2: Recruiting, Attracting, and Onboarding Candidates

S2A: Attracting Candidates

S2B: Promoting Internally

S2C: Overlapping with Previous Operations Managers

S2D: Attracting People to the Mining Industry

Section One: What Makes an Ideal Operations Manager?

What should companies be looking for in an operations manager? According to our two experts the ideal recipe includes leadership ability, industry-specific knowledge, strategic insight, and technological capabilities.

S1A: Assessing Skill Sets

Q: What’s more important for an operations manager, industry-specific knowledge or  general operational management skills?

AP: In an ideal world our clients want both. When we start a recruiting process, we try to find an operations manager with strong leadership abilities who comes from either their immediate industry or something very close.

Q: Is it sometimes possible to recruit from outside of the industry?

AP: If you’re looking for an operations manager in the food industry, you’re not going to look at someone from the tech world. They have totally different processes, procedures, and approaches.

HG: Some searches are more difficult than others. If the client is looking for someone in chemical manufacturing, then we need to look at a candidate’s background carefully. Alessia did a search recently for a company that manufactures an industrial product where the tolerances and metallurgy need to be within an extremely tight range and it is a partial continuous production process. The manufacturing  process is very precise and it has to be almost perfect, as well as within budget and delivery of course.  The exact industry niche is so tiny that it was virtually impossible to find a candidate from a direct competitor but we focused the search and found really good candidates from industries that are similar in that they were precise, high tolerance, and high value manufacturing. The specific industry itself was not  as important as the similarity in the essential elements of the manufacturing process.

Q: What kind of questions would you be asking in a situation like that?

HG: How are you making maximum use of the raw materials? How are you purchasing? Are you able to implement modern manufacturing methodologies?  The questions open the door to the candidate telling us their story of how they go to work everyday and make their operation run better.  A candidate answering questions is never as good as a candidate opening up and talking to you.  On the client side it is the same. The more we understand of the employer’s operation the easier it is to see what type of candidate will be excellent in the position whether from the same or a different industry. 

S1B: Strategy and Scope

Q: How involved will an operations manager be in setting strategic direction?

AP: It depends on the size of the company. In a very large company there will usually be a general manager, a VP of operations, and a director of operations; those will be the people that will actually lay down the strategies. In smaller companies the operations manager will report directly to the owner and have more involvement in strategic aspects.

HG: It also depends on the culture of the company. If a company is considering a change of direction, they’ll often consult the operations manager regarding the feasibility of the strategic shift and how best to implement it. What’s the feasibility of adding another shift vs. investing capital? What would need to be done in order to institute a particular change? Who would need to be trained? The more hands-on people within an operation often have really great insight. It’s wise to make use of their knowledge.  

Q: Is it important for an operations manager to understand the law? The supply chain?

AP: The simple answer is yes. On the legal side of things, they don’t need to be too technical, but they need to understand how the law relates to specific aspects of their business, such as importing and exporting at the international level. The operations manager is a key role that is involved in supply chain, logistics, purchasing, and so on.

HG: Again, it depends on the level of the position. A larger company will have someone who’s directly responsible for the supply chain and the operations manager will be communicating with them quite frequently. They should know what’s going on and be prepared to add input. Just look at what happened with Covid-19. The supply chain disruptions were severe and the corporations that thrived were the ones who really understood the landscape and were able to adapt quickly and reasonably.  Companies needed to make decisions regarding investment in inventory, alternate suppliers, and management customer expectations quickly.  These decisions had costs but could also ensured the survival of the business. 

S1C: The Importance of Technology

Q: What role does technological expertise play in the role?

AP: In order to forecast what’s going to happen in the future, you must understand technology. There is a gap between the older and younger generations that must be bridged. For this position you need senior people with experience, but you also need to understand all of the tools and be able to see strategic pathways. Candidates should be able to help companies understand what they have, correct mistakes, and create more value in the future.

Q: What do you look for in a candidate in this regard?

AP: Some managers like to rely on their knowledge or employee input, but sometimes that’s not enough. We look for candidates who have gone through an ERP system implementation or related operations management system with similarities to the employer’s.  Information systems related to operations can be sophisticated to operate but even more important is the ability to use that information to measure and improve operations.

Q: With technology moving so quickly, how can operations managers stay current?

HG: Large vendors are one education resource. Your suppliers and vendor reps should be giving you updates as to what they’re working on and what they’re looking at in the future. Obviously you know that they’re trying to sell you something, but they are a good provider of information and are seeing how their other clients around the world are leveraging their technology in new and effective ways. Industry groups and conventions are also important. Depending on the industry there may be thought leaders participating in group chats. These are worth taking advantage of.

Q: Do you have any examples of companies you’ve worked with that have done interesting things, technologically?

HG: We dealt with a company that was involved in drop shipping flat pack furniture. They used expanding gel bags as opposed to cut  Styrofoam, and were one of the first companies outside of the automotive industry to do so. I’m not sure if they learned about that through their own research or through a vendor but the cost of the technology was more than paid for by the reduction in returned products.

Section 2: Recruiting, Attracting, and Onboarding Candidates

Defining an ideal operations manager is one thing, attracting one is another. The opportunity to grow and make an impact are prevalent on the wish lists of top candidates.

S2A: Attracting Candidates

Q: What can companies do to attract a great operations manager?

HG: An employee’s number one priority for job satisfaction is to make a difference.  Will they be granted the authority to enact improvements to the operations for which they are responsible?

Some companies, however, are not interested in change, often employing those who will keep their heads down just to hang on to a job.  A good operations manager will not remain in that environment; the best need to make positive change.

AP: Growth opportunities are very important. Candidates are not only interested in vertical career advancement, but also what they’ll be able to learn and add to their curriculum in order to expand their career. What kind of training do you offer? What education do you pay for? Continuous learning is very important, but some companies don’t consider that.

Salaries are important too, especially in Vancouver, but that probably comes second to growth opportunities.

If they keep hitting roadblocks because the ownership or the board is very conservative, they become fed up and this is often their motivation for changing jobs.

Culture is another factor. How engaging is the team? What kind of activities are promoted within the organization? Candidates want to work for a company that respects and engages them.

Q: Is it easy to attract good candidates in the current environment?

AP: Candidates are currently a bit reluctant to move from one company to the next because the economic situation is not as safe as before. Particularly in the tech world, there have been a lot of layoffs, so people are hesitant to take a gamble on a new employer. Matching requirements with compensation is tough in some markets where SMEs are competing with larger corporations.

S2B: Promoting Internally

Q: Should companies be looking at internal talent to take on leadership roles such as the operations manager position?

AP: I think that’s happening more often. There are fewer candidates that can hit the ground running as a result of the increased competition. Therefore, companies are training more junior people, putting them on a leadership path.

HG: As much as we would like their business, companies should  seriously consider internal promotion in all cases before looking outside. If you can spot talent within the lower ranks and provide them with growth opportunities and education, they’ll be ready when opportunities arise.

S2C: Overlapping with Previous Operations Managers

Q: Should companies seek to have outgoing operations managers work side by side with those coming in to fill the role for a period of time?

AP: Ideally, yes. If the old operations manager can pass along relevant information to the new one and share their experience, this can help the transition go smoothly. There are some organizational dynamics that can’t be understood unless you’ve worked for the company, so it’s definitely valuable to share that information.

Q: Is this often feasible?

AP: Again, it depends on the situation. A lot of times when a company comes to us, it’s because their current person is not working out and they want to get rid of them as soon as possible. In other instances, the outgoing OM has already given notice. This doesn’t leave a lot of time to complete the search.

There are circumstances, however, when a succession plan is in place and an overlap is possible.

HG: There’s typically more lead time if someone is retiring or being promoted. In those cases it’s often ideal to coordinate the transfer of responsibilities and knowledge.

S2D: Attracting People to the Mining Industry

Q: How can mining companies, in particular, attract top talent?

HG: It’s the whole package: from the way that people are treated to how they’re trained and promoted, to their vacation and salary. 

A progressive culture in an old-school industry is helpful. It attracts attention when word gets out that a company treats people well and gives them the opportunity to work with leading edge technologies and operating methodologies. It’s just like the best free agents wanting to be part of a top notch sports organization that takes pride in doing things well. I think the greening of the process is also important. Companies need to tell the story that mining is important, not just for the economy, but in order for society to function. Companies that are legitimately decarbonizing their extracting and refining processes will be more attractive, especially to younger professionals.

AP: In order to attract candidates, mining companies need to refresh their policies, procedures, and internal ways of doing things. Executives in the mining industry can be very abrupt and straightforward. It’s a male dominated industry, so creating more diversity would increase the appeal.

Some mining companies have no branding strategy. There’s an old-school mentality with zero technology, no social media, and no approach to new ideas and techniques.

Candidates are saying, “fine, you can pay me a lot of money, but what else can you bring to the table as an employer?”

Q: Have you noticed any movement on this front?

AP: Mining companies are learning.  They’ve begun coming to us to look for a marketing manager, a brand manager, or a social media strategist, whereas previously they may not have even understood what these positions were.

In a tough labour market, so it’s good to have quality recruiters on your side, particularly with a position as critical as an operations manager. Understanding what your company truly requires is the first part of the journey. Finding the right candidate and attracting them to your organization completes the task. Those who approach the process with clarity, strategy, and good process will be rewarded with talent who can help their organization move forward.