The first 100 days of a new operator role at the VP or Director level are crucial. Getting these first three months right sets the stage for team productivity, process efficiency, and faster learning.
However, many operators fail to get this period right. Without the proper context, support, tools, and mindset, they spend their first 100 days (and each subsequent one) putting out fires that could’ve been avoided with a bit of planning.
At FreeAgent CRM, we believe that B2B businesses benefit from proactive planning. We invited Carmeanna Eberly, Director of Operations at Refine Labs, to share her secrets.
Carmeanna is a three-time former chief of staff and now runs operations at one of the foremost B2B demand generation agencies.
Carmeanna shares her playbook for VP and Director-level operators, gives plenty of examples from her time in the trenches, and offers valuable insights for those who plan on becoming the operational glue in their new companies.
What’s the difference between a Chief of Staff and a VP of Operations?
The VP Ops role and Chief of Staff role might sound similar in scope, but there are subtle differences worth noting.
A generalist Chief of Staff might handle strategic operations, admin teams, events, internal communications, and assist with quarterly planning.
Like a Swiss army knife, their mandate cuts across several parts of the organization, giving them the power and insight to influence decisions.
Meanwhile, a specialist Chief of Staff for a CTO might be well-versed in the operational needs of the engineering or technical teams, doing a more defined version of what a generalist Chief of Staff would do.
For example, a VP of Ops might build out the HR department and oversee hiring, onboarding, benefits allocation, payroll, and employee management.
After a few months of building out the function, they might recommend a new leader from within or outside the company to run that department.
They’d then work with that new leader to ramp up hiring, improve onboarding, manage vendors, and grow the company culture.
The result, says Carmeanna, is that VP-level operators end up consulting for and auditing other departments.
How should either of these two high-level operators navigate their first 100 days? We advise watching the full video above for all the insights – but if you’re pressed for time, here’s the high-level summary:
- Align with your leadership team on vision and direction
- Gather historical context to inform future strategy
- Set priorities and use automation, delegation, or deletion to preserve bandwidth
- Understand the company’s planning cadence and use that for forecasting
- Know who’s accountable for reporting and which metrics to use
- Create psychological safety, champion your team’s needs, and lead with empathy
Let’s dive into the VP Operator Playbook and unpack those points separately.
#1 Align with your leadership team on vision and direction
Before taking on a high-level operator role, it’s important to align with the team’s leadership on the vision and direction the company will take.
Backing the wrong leadership team or wrong approach to growth can lead to operational failure, team rifts, and career frustration.
It’s difficult to fully assess who you’re getting into bed with at the interview stage because everyone is putting on their best behavior.
However, there are ways to gain insights into your future operational partners. For example:
- Do their views and vision align with where the market is going?
- Do their team metrics regarding hiring, retention, and growth match their operational needs?
- Does the management team have a positive reputation among their peers?
Answering these questions early on can save you a lot of frustration and misdirection.
#2 Gather historical context to inform future strategy
Strategy determines the future state of the company — but mapping out the future without understanding the past is a recipe for disaster.
As a new high-level operator, you want to familiarize yourself with the company’s history, challenges, products, stakeholders, previous solutions, and results.
This gets you up to speed so you can plug into — and eventually influence — the company’s trajectory.
Gathering context helps you avoid suggesting solutions the company has previously tried and failed at. This saves you precious time and resources.
Beyond historical context, new Ops leaders need to assess the company’s direction to determine its viability.
For example, does the product roadmap look realistic? Could you implement the desired additions or improvements given current constraints?
Even better, says Carmeanna, companies should document all this into an operating playbook that everyone can access. This aligns everyone on the business’s processes and potential gaps.
#3 Set priorities and use automation, delegation, or deletion to preserve bandwidth
With context in hand, a strategy in place, and goals to reach, operators can prioritize which goals to tackle first.
Ops leaders touch every aspect of the company, but their time and bandwidth are finite. This is where automation, delegation, and deletion come in.
As an Ops leader, you’ll juggle a combination of glass and rubber balls. You can’t drop the glass balls — or else they’ll shatter and stall progress.
You can safely drop the rubber balls for later pick-up, throw them to someone else to handle, or ignore them completely.
Some tasks may be ripe for automation, requiring minimal time and oversight. Managing leave days, for example, can be automated, as can expense management for purchases under a certain threshold.
You can also automate project updates, customer communications, and marketing campaigns through tools like CRM software and marketing automation platforms.
Other tasks can and should be delegated to others within the company. This leaves you accountable for progress but gives them ownership.
However, setting priorities is not just choosing what to tackle and what to drop — it’s also about communicating these priorities to everyone involved.
This means setting up a meeting cadence with upper management, departmental peers, and direct reports to build rapport quickly, understand their communication and working styles, and align on expectations.
#4 Understand the company’s planning cadence and use that for forecasting
It’s also vital for new Ops leaders to understand the planning cadence of the company.
Whether monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually, knowing how often plans and priorities get reviewed and introduced helps you with timelines, forecasting, and reporting.
Your departmental budget will determine what you’re able to do and what resources you can bring on.
Forecasting helps you be more proactive and less reactive in planning hiring, marketing, and sales initiatives.
#5 Know who’s accountable for reporting and which metrics to use
As a VP or Director of operations, a huge component of your job is auditing, tweaking, and refreshing internal processes. This requires visibility through timely reports.
Reporting is usually a pain point for executive teams, which prompts them to bring on an operator in the first place.
Your job is to figure out what needs to be reported, what metrics to use, and how to turn that data into insights that power each department you work with.
However, ownership of reporting must be clearly defined. Having too many owners may result in disparate figures and haphazard strategies.
Ownership and accountability go hand-in-hand, and operational leaders should know who they’re accountable to and who’s accountable to them.
#6 Create psychological safety, champion your team’s needs, and lead with empathy
As a new Ops leader, you might have joined the company because of their leadership team, company trajectory, market growth, diversity, or challenges. Most likely, it was a combination of one or more of the above elements.
As you ramp up hiring, include those elements in your hiring strategy and employer branding to attract the same high caliber of people.
Psychological safety also involves creating space for failure, learning, growth, and integration from non-traditional backgrounds.
Job descriptions that over-emphasize winning and success, for example, may imply that failure isn’t tolerated or that there’s no room for experimentation.
Similarly, job ads that require specific schooling or career backgrounds may exclude great candidates that graduated from a different school or started their careers in a different field.
Carmeanna was employee #12 at Refine Labs back in November 2020. The agency now boasts 112 employees and aims to hit 250 employees by the end of 2022.
That kind of growth brings new challenges, and operators at scale-ups need to bolster a company’s foundations to accommodate all those new faces, spaces, and working paces.
And where there are humans, there is friction. Dealing with difficult personalities is part of the job, and the correct approach is to lead with empathy.
This means understanding where the other person is coming from, what their role entails, and what challenges they may be facing — before casting judgment or taking action.
In the end, you are on your team’s side as an operational leader. Your job is to champion their needs, boost their morale, and remove blockers from their way. This incentivizes your team to bring their best selves to work.
Be the glue
As an Ops leader, you’re the glue of the company. Your work serves to bring together disparate systems, coach people to produce their best work, influence stakeholders to align with the vision, and champion the needs of your direct reports.
People come to you for guidance on building on top of your set foundations. You’re a cross-functional member of the company, called on to get approvals, build plans, prioritize goals, and improve people and processes.
Gluing a new workforce requires strong communication. Dive into our guide to internal communication to master this crucial aspect of your new role.