Momentum Podcast: 205
Two Types of Operators
by Alex Charfen
One of the questions I get most often from entrepreneurs is, “How do I hire an …” and then insert whatever title it is for the operational position they're recruiting for. By operational position, I mean the people whose job it is to operate and help you make things … get things done, like executive assistants, operations managers, project managers, directors of operation, and chief operating officers.
Operators, in general, have a range of titles, but when you look at what a executive assistant does in a small business, helping an entrepreneur grow the business, and what a COO does in a larger business, it can be very similar types of activities.
There are two distinct types of operators. Putting one type in the wrong place can make all the difference. Type 1: The operator who loves to do the same thing everyday and fine tune processes. Type 2: The operator who likes new challenges and wants to do something different all the time. Which operator you choose is dependent on the type of business you’re in and at what stage you are in The Billionaire Code. There are a few simple questions that will help you determine who you’re talking to and ensure you get the right person in the right place.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trail blazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off, and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum, so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.
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Two types of operators.
One of the questions I get most often from entrepreneurs is, "How do I hire an ..." and then insert whatever title it is for the operational position they're recruiting for. By operational position, I mean the people whose job it is to operate and help you make things ... get things done, like executive assistants, operations managers, project managers, directors of operation, and chief operating officers. Operators, in general, have a range of titles, but when you look at what a executive assistant does in a small business, helping an entrepreneur grow the business, and what a COO does in a larger business, it can be very similar types of activities.
So, when it comes to operators in general, whether you're hiring, and if you're someone right now who's hiring an assistant, or a project manager, or a director of operations, or someone who's going to help you operate your business, then one of the most important things that you understand is that there are two distinct types of operators, and if you put the wrong operator in the wrong position, it will be a complete disaster.
Now, let me share this with you, and you're not going to hear this anywhere else. I don't know that a lot of coaches or a lot of consultants have been through seeing enough people hire operators, bring on people to help them grow their business, and then struggle to actually have this perspective. I think it's crucial, because here's one of the biggest challenges that I see in entrepreneurship, is that hiring the assistant, the operator, the operations manager, the project manager, it has a success rate of less than 50/50 in most cases. In fact, when I've talked to entrepreneurs about hiring assistants, just in anecdotal feedback they give me, it feels like about one out of four work for most entrepreneurs. That's brutal. That means 75% of the time we're failing as entrepreneurs. I want to help you get past that, and I know that this content, this information, this understanding of operators is crucial.
Because here are the two types of operators. See, operators exist on a spectrum. The people who like to operate things, the people who like to get things done in a business, they operate on a spectrum, and there is two completely different sides to that spectrum. On one side is the operator who loves to do the same thing every day, the operator who loves to refine a system, drive that system, make it better, refine it, fine tune it, and polish all the edges so that a system runs incredibly well. That is the type of operator that wants to do the same thing daily. And then the second type of operator is the one that wants to do something new, solve new issues, figure out processes, figure out challenges, but doesn't really love doing the same thing over and over again. But they love building, creating, and making things new.
Now, both operators are completely valid and have their place in businesses. I mean, in every business, you're going to need a little bit of both. However, you need to figure out in your business, what is it that you need most of? Are you in a startup business where you're creating everything new, where you have brand new processes, brand new procedures? You need someone to help you nail all those down? Then you're going to want someone who wants to do something new every day. If you're in a business that's process oriented, like real estate or mortgage or title, or something where the process is the same, it happens over and over -- often in medical it's this way -- if you're in a business where you just need the trains to run on time, you need everything to happen the same way, you want to make sure that all the files are closed, all the Ts are crossed and Is are dotted, over and over again? Then you want an operator who's wanting to do the same thing daily.
When you look at these two, they both have a dynamic function in a business. However, if you have a position where you need someone who's going to do something new every day, and you put someone in that position who doesn't have that operational personality, who is the opposite, it will destroy you, and vice versa. It is brutal. In fact, dozens of times I have worked with entrepreneurs, and gotten to know their executive teams, and then had to point out to them that the operator they had wasn't the right operator for their business, and that's why the business felt like it was plateaued, stopped, or standing still.
I think of one example, a client that I had in Dallas, Smile Magic, a large dental chain. They had, I think, seven or eight locations when we started working together. They were around $20 million. The CEO is an incredibly talented entrepreneur, a talented entrepreneurial friend of mine named Emmet Scott. When Emmet and I started working together, the assignment, what I was going to help with, was coming in to help with some annual strategic planning, and then helping to onboard a CEO in a CEO/COO ... or sorry, COO in a CEO/COO relationship with Emmet. So, helping the two of them build a relationship over time, really understand the communication system they were going to use, and then grow the business.
Now, here's the challenge. Within just a couple of meetings, I realized that the COO that Emmet had in the business, the person who was supposed to be helping him grow the business, wasn't comfortable. I could tell. She was uncomfortable at meetings. She expressed her discomfort. She didn't seem like she was on the team or ready to push forward, and she didn't seem like she was really ready to do what was necessary to grow the business.
I sat down and I talked to her about it. What the issue really was is that she was an incredibly talented CEO in a ... or sorry, COO in a franchise organization. She was a crazy talented operator in an organization where they did the same things over and over again. In fact, she worked for a large dialysis company, and had grown regions and territories of that company like crazy, so she was clearly a successful operator. However, she was a successful operator in a company that had established processed, established procedures. It wasn't very entrepreneurial. In fact, it was a company that had gone through the initial growth stages, and the initial clarifying stages, and they were more in that maturity stage of just perfecting the model and growing it even more, or growing the model and making it even bigger.
As a result, because she was someone who wanted to do the same thing every day, there was this inherent base level insecurity being in a company where things were always changing. In fact, that's how I identified that there was an issue was, each time that Emmet, in one of his executive meetings, would say that something was going to change, I could see her get uncomfortable. Then she would indicate that she was uncomfortable with her questions.
Here's the challenge. The business was a business where they were doing new things every single day. They had a C level operator, the top level operator in the business, wasn't comfortable doing new things every day. And so, the business really was struggling. It was plateaued. Emmet was struggling. He was having challenges with the entire executive team with growing the business.
So we had some discussions. The operator who was in the chair was actually an incredibly intelligent and very self-aware professional. After some discussions about her being uncomfortable in this role, she decided to leave the company, and gracefully, in a very ethical way, in a very graceful way. She realized it wasn't the position for her. Emmet was able to bring in another COO, with military experience, someone who was used to not having enough resources, doing new things every time, having to solve problems in different ways. He was a do-something-new-every-day operator, and as a result, the company exploded. I think it took him about 18 months before they doubled the business. If I didn't say it before, Smile Magic was over $20 million a year. After they brought in the new operator, about less than two years later, they were over $40 million a year. That's what happens when you have the right operator in the right situation for your company.
Now, here's how you go about doing this, because the question becomes, "Okay, great. I believe you. I understand. There's two types of operators. One just wants to do something new, and one that wants to create processes. You have either the person who wants to go discover processes, or you have the person who wants to refine processes. How can you tell?"
Well, when you're interviewing for an operational position, first, determine what's going to be most likely in that position. What type of position is it? I'll give you an example. Right now, for me, in the last couple of weeks, I brought on Leanne Anderson as my Executive Assistant. I'm really excited about it, because when you talk to Leanne, she is somebody who's used to doing new every day, and that's exactly what I need. I have new programs, new projects, new structure, new systems. We're hiring new people. We're probably going to go from a team of under 10 people who are direct to a team of probably over 40 people who are direct in the next 12 to 18 months. We already see the growth pattern. I need someone who is absolutely comfortable doing something 100% different every day. In fact, I don't think Leanne will ever have the same day twice, but she's exactly that personality type. She loves it. She thrives on new. She thrives on challenge. She wants new things to work on every day. So, we have the operator and position fit.
So, first, you determine what type of position you need, and ask yourself ... If you're a real estate agent, and you need someone to help you with closings, you probably want someone who does the same thing every day. If you are an attorney, and you want ... or, a title company, and you want somebody who's helping you get files closed, you probably want somebody who does the same thing every day. If you're in a doctor's office and you want somebody who comes in, opens the office, gets everything ready, does all the appointments, makes sure everything happens, that's somebody who does the same thing every day.
If you're building a doctor's office, you want somebody that does new stuff every day. If you're a real estate agent who's exploding a team, and you're going into new markets, and trying new projects and you have new marketing, you probably want somebody who does something new every day. If you're a title company who's not looking for a title agent, but you're looking for an executive assistant that can help you go out, do marketing, figure out projects, put things together, then it's someone who does something new.
Here's how you determine which type of operator you're sitting with. In the interview process, share a hypothetical situation with them. Now, I want you to understand something about the directions I'm going to give you. The way that you present this will be everything to the answer, so it will mean everything to the answers you get, and here's what you want as far as answers. You want to know the person's real preference. You don't want to give them any indication of what you're looking for in a position.
So, when you present this hypothetical, here's how you do it. In the interview process, you just say to someone, "Well, I just want to ask you a quick question, and it's hypothetical. Here's the scenario. In the next room, there is a table, and on one side of the table, there's a project that you get to work on every day, refine, make better, really fine-tune, and get the best outcome you possibly can over the course of the next month. At the end of the month, you're going to show us the best way to create ... or, to get the outcome for that project. You're going to have an entire month to focus on it and make it as refined as you possibly can. But you'll be doing the same thing every day.
"Or, on the other side of the table, there's a project where every day, for the next month, you're going to come in and work on something new. You're going to solve it in a different way. You're going to create a different outcome, so you'll be working on something completely new daily. You won't have to do the same thing twice. In fact, you really can't do the same thing twice, because it'll be something new every single day.
"So, on one side, you have the same thing every day. You get to refine. On the other side, it's something new, and you get to solve it in a different way every day for the next month. Which side do you choose?"
When you ask the question, just pause and let the person think about it and answer you. Then ask some qualifying questions, because typically, people will say, "I probably ... I think I want to do the same thing every day." And then ask them why, and ask them what their job history is where they did the same thing every day. If someone says, "Oh no, I definitely want the project where I do new," qualify it. Ask them. Ask them about how they work. Ask them about the positions that they were really excited about in their life. Ask them what evidence there is that they know that they want to do something new every day. Then you'll see which type of operator you have in front of you. Let them indicate to you which one they are, and then just know what you're looking for.
In the world of executive assistants and operators and directors of operation and project managers, where there is such a huge failure rate, this is a game changer. Because it doesn't matter what operator you talk to, it doesn't matter what position they're in, from assistant all the way up to COO, or general manager, every operator has a preference here. When you match the right preference of work style with the right position, when you match doing something new every day with a position where that's required, when you match refining and working over time with a position where that's required, you will see an operator thrive.
When it looks like some people are so good at hiring operators, and so good at working with their assistants, and you might be struggling with that, I want you to know that a big part of that is finding the right person for the right role. And now, you are armed to do that exactly. Use the hypothetical question. Figure out what type of operator you're talking to. It doesn't matter whether it's an executive assistant, project manager, director of operations, general manager, COO, make sure you have the operator that is right for the position you have, and that they are ready to come in and help you move things forward.
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And when it comes to operators, make sure you know what side of the spectrum you're dealing with.