What Does It Take to Be a Successful Director of Operations?

The director of operations is crucial to the success of national retail chains. Anyone who takes on this role is tasked with managing high-ranking staff such as district and general managers. In some cases, they’re also in charge of overseeing the high-level operations of multiple locations, as well as defining the operational strategy of the business.

So, what does it take to be successful in this role? This post discusses some of the qualities and skills that a director of operations should possess in order to thrive in their position. If you’re planning to become a director of operations (or if you’re looking to hire one), the expert-backed insights below will point you in the right direction. 

Long-term and large-scale thinking

Anyone stepping into the director of operations role must understand the importance of long-term thinking. 

“Whilst district managers are thinking a quarter ahead, the director of operations is planning the next 5 to 10 years of structuring and growth,” says Hannah Blackburn, director at The Hawker’s Club.

As such, individuals vying for this role must be able to present their long-term vision of where the company should go in the succeeding years. Having a high-level plan of how to execute that vision is also critical.

As Lynda Farley, co-founder of Numlooker, puts it, “the retail managers focus on overseeing regular operations and the directors focus on long-term planning for the organization. Retail managers do scheduling and enacting policies, whereas the director of operations supervises bigger-scale projects.”

In addition to a long-term mindset, a director of operations should also think at a larger scale. The ability to “think globally, rather locally or regionally” is a must, remarks Blackburn.

“Like the butterfly effect, a port shutdown on the other side of the world could throw your day upside down as a director of ops.”

To that end, people in this role must keep abreast of new developments in their industry and market as a whole. It also helps to have a deep understanding of global supply chains as well as the impact that national (and even international) events would have on the company.

A keen understanding of systems and how multiple components work together

A retail director of operations also needs to implement a big picture mindset when overseeing the inner-working of their stores. Having immense knowledge of the company’s systems and how they work together will help them direct and orchestrate the many moving parts of the business. 

“In order to work efficiently, the director of operations should know everything from employee relations to delivery,” says Cindy Corpis, CEO of SearchPeopleFree.

“The successful director of operations has an impeccable understanding of how systems match together and can maintain a powerful focus on leading values while staying open to transformation.”

As such, the director of operations must orient themselves on the various systems and departments of the business, and they need to be fully aware of how these different moving parts function together. 

Leadership and people skills

“As an operations management professional, your primary responsibility would be to lead a team of people while also ensuring that the business’s best practices and procedures are implemented across the company,” states Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group LLC.

He adds that one of the top qualities that the director of operations must possess is the ability to “help people grow.”

The director of operations shouldn’t be intimidated by the staff they manage. Rather, they should “aggressively promote their top team members and present them with possibilities, even enabling them to move up into the operations manager job during vacations and trips.”

“They will feel confident in delegating decision-making authority to their staff and accepting full responsibility for all elements of the firm,” states Mains.

A good director of operations must also pave the way for strong interpersonal relationships that allow various teams to collaborate and execute more effectively. 

“They will put a considerable effort to establish peer connections and solicit input and participation from their peers,” he continues. 

Mains also states that a successful director of operations will not support an “us versus them” mindset in their team because they understand that this way of thinking hinders collaboration, which can ultimately lead to a negative customer experience. 

Ability to balance

“The ability to balance people, direction, and finances is one of the best abilities a director of operations can have,” remarks Boye Fajinmi, Co-Founder and President of TheFutureParty.

As someone who looks after multiple areas and teams, the director of operations must ensure that they give adequate attention to each component. Failing to do so can lead to an imbalance of resources and performance issues down the line. 

“This role includes aspects of both logistics and empathy, and leaning too hard in one direction can be a struggle. The ability to balance all of these things is something that is practiced, learned, and that will include mistakes and lessons,” adds Fajinmi.

“This moves even further to the ability to understand the balance between the personal and the professional. Balance, in all of its ways, is crucial to success as a director of operations.”

Strong familiarity with other people’s roles

Effectively managing teams starts with understanding what everyone actually does. This knowledge is critical to keeping team members accountable and ensuring that they have the tools and resources to do their best work. 

As Nicholas Rosenfeld, Director at Making a Will puts it, “Being a director of operations entails knowing what each member of a functional team performs, how they perform their duties, and how they interact with others.”

He continues, “Understanding these factors is critical to comprehending how each department interacts with one another. There may be a lot of politics involved, so keep that in mind while deciding whether or not you want this job.” 

Data and analytical skills

As the director of operations, you must have access to retail data and analytics platforms that enable you to view info on everything from the store and staff performance to stock levels and customer satisfaction. Having the ability to slice and dice data per region, store size, etc. is also a must. 

Armed with the necessary data, the director of operations must then analyze that information to identify trends and insights that can be used in defining the strategies and tactics to implement across different locations. 

Strong communicator

“The main pressure as a director of ops in retail is from internal stakeholders; learning to effectively communicate and set expectations is key,” says Blackburn.

To that end, anyone who wants to be a director of operations needs to develop strong communication skills. Make sure you’ve honed the art of active listening and empathy, so you can meet people where they’re at and understand where they’re coming from. 

At the same time, learning to relay information clearly and succinctly will allow you to coordinate better with various team members and stakeholders.

A robust internal communication and collaboration tool will make all of this easier. See to it that you and your team are communicating using the same platform to minimize information silos and ensure that everyone is on the same page. 

Final words

The director of operations is a challenging role that comes with a lot of pressure. That being said, it can also be an incredibly rewarding and meaningful position. With the proper skills, traits, and mindset, the director of operations can build strong teams, shape the customer experience for the better, and implement a strategy that benefits the business over the long term.

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.

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