8 Tips to Move from an Operational Role to Strategic Role

One of the biggest frustrations many ops pros face is being told that they aren't strategic enough. By nature, an ops job drags us deep into the weeds in order to keep the business running smoothly. Here are the top 8 tips to navigate a more strategic career in operations.
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Aubrey Morgan
July 27, 2021 . 5 min read
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“It sounds super simple to go back to basics,” Rosalyn Santa Elena says, “But that’s the way to achieve a ‘nirvana’ data state—accurate, comprehensive, real-time data—available to the right people at the right time.” She knows all too well how the pursuit of growth and shiny new tools, blinds Ops pros to one of the most important principles of operations—consolidation.

Wise insights like these are why Rosalyn, Darrell Alfonso, and Jeff Ignacio are leading the RevOps movement with no signs of stopping. Out of a conversation with these three Ops legends, we bring you invaluable tips on becoming a more strategic, growth-minded xOps pro yourself.

1. Meet the rising demands of data consumers

Rosalyn, Head of Revenue Operations at Neo4j, has had a long career in operations. Naturally, she has some theories on what spurred this Rev Ops renaissance.

“Consumers have been getting smarter—they are expecting more from us. We’re seeing the rise of revenue operations and the need for accurate, comprehensive, real-time insights at the speed at which business is changing,” Rosalyn says.

Though the landscape has changed, it never caught Rosalyn by surprise. “Companies are realizing that competitors with strong operations have a huge advantage over those that don’t. We have the data and the insights—we’re able to make decisions quickly,” she says.

“It sounds super simple to go back to basics. But that’s the way to achieve a ‘nirvana’ data state—accurate, comprehensive, real-time data—available to the right people at the right time”

– Rosalyn Santa Elena, Head of Revenue Operations at Neo4j

2. Operational thinking is for every role

There’s room for everyone in the xOps movement. And no one embodies that spirit like Darrell Alfonso. Darrell manages the technology that powers over 1,000 marketers as the Marketing Operations Manager at Amazon Web Services

The love and attention that RevOps is receiving right now doesn’t dim his Marketing Ops shine. In fact, he welcomes operational thinking in every team. “The focus on operations is great for the overall industry, regardless if it’s Marketing Ops,” Darrell says. 

He explains that historically, Ops folks have been relegated to back-office work. But the recent boom in operational thinking has shifted ops career trajectories too. “We’re seeing ops roles transition into strategic partners and advisors,” he says.

3. Build a foundation of clean and clear data

With a background in sales finance at Google, Jeff Ignacio—currently Head of Sales Operations at AWS —knows his stuff.

So, I asked Jeff how to improve revenue data quality. He suggested two things: uniform definitions at each level of the organization and systems synchronization.

“Ask yourself, is everyone’s definition of targets the same? Until we have aligned definitions and targets, we won’t be able to forecast. Not to mention organize and pull accessible, secure, and up-to-date data,” Jeff says.

To synchronize your systems Jeff explains, “There will always be investment and talent constraints. It’s important to seek a uniform data stack. That’s how you scale predictably and grow sustainably.”

From there, Rosalyn suggests building a data map. “Look at all the people touching the data—all entry and exit points. Where’s the data coming from? Who’s touching it? Where is it being edited and updated? And for what purpose?” she says.

Creating a data map will ensure you know exactly where data is manipulated, where potential inefficiencies lie, and where dirty data enters your systems. You can’t build macro-level strategy unless you understand your data on the micro-level.

4. Automation—the secret for moving past tactical to strategic

“If you’re fighting fires all the time, you’ll never be proactive. Once you have a good solid infrastructure you have more time to be analytical,” Rosalyn says. 

Similarly, Darrell urges xOps pros to streamline, templatize, and automate their work. “If you want to make a shift from the ‘order taker’ to a strategic advisor, you need to spend more time on more strategic objectives,” Darrell says. 

It requires a mindset shift—instead of thinking about how quickly you can execute on a specific request, take the time to templatize the approach so you’re able to manage more of these requests as they come in. 

If you have the privilege of working with other xOps pros who can share best practices, this process can go smoother. But according to Darrell, you often have to strike out on your own. “As you progress in your career, you’ll find you’re tackling problems many people have never encountered before,” he says.

“At Amazon, our scale is unique. The key is to ask the right questions in order to coax the solutions out—we often figure out how to approach the problem, if we have enough time to think about it,” Darrels says.  

It’s a transition point—from just presenting data to interpreting data and offering recommendations—that acts as the fundamental difference between a tactical xOps pro and a strategic one.

“It’s a transition point—from just presenting data to interpreting data and offering recommendations—that acts as the fundamental difference between a tactical xOps pro and a strategic one”

– Aaron Landgraf, Head Of Marketing at Syncari

5. Become your leader’s data confidant 

Jeff suggests that winning early and often will set you up to be noticed by your boss and theirs. “Make sure you’re delivering on the requests brought to your team. Then go above and beyond. When you earn that credibility, executive stakeholders and frontline folks learn they can trust you,” he says.  

Once you earn credibility, Darrell suggests offering to assist with high-level reporting. “Because you’re at the table helping them dissect these reports, you’re asked about the issues that are surfacing. You’re now a part of the conversation,” he says. 

Start small, prove incremental value, and you’ll start getting invited to more and more of these conversations.

Soon you’ll realize that you’re uniquely suited to providing insights that the executive team otherwise wouldn’t have.

6. You don’t need the right answers. You need the right questions.

One thing Jeff, Rosalyn, and Darrell all have in common is the importance they place on context, curiosity, and communication. Every great strategic xOps pro could benefit from applying these words of wisdom:

  • Don’t jump to conclusions—slow down and understand the context

“Oftentimes when an executive asks a question there’s a tendency to answer it immediately. But strategic, thoughtful xOps folks know stepping back to understand the context of those questions is the best place to start. 

Only after you understand the underlying context of their questions and why they’re asking them, can you start to anticipate the answers. 

So, when we walk into meetings, we’ve thought about the questions they’re likely to ask—we have the answers—because we spent the time meticulously on what’s between the lines to guide us towards valuable insights,” Jeff says. 

  • Understand topline business objectives and how your work supports them

“Seek to understand the corporate strategy and how it translates to GTM. You’ve got to know your product better than anyone.

Never stop asking questions. Become a student of demand gen, creating pipeline, and your own competition. Your strategic wisdom will flow from knowledge of the business,” Rosalyn says.

  • Become a translator from ops jargon to plain English

“Every xOps professional must master translating their work into simplified terms. Many executives and sales leaders don’t quite understand how database hygiene, data accuracy, and completeness connect to revenue. It’s your job to show them. 

With good communication, a great xOps person learns how to secure buy-in from stakeholders who have little functional knowledge of operations,” Darrell says.

“Many executives and sales leaders don’t quite understand how database hygiene, data accuracy, and completeness connect to revenue. It’s your job to show them.”

– Darrell Alfonso, Marketing Operations Manager at Amazon Web Services

7. Fancy new tech =/= strategy and process

“There are tons of great tech out there, but they will only work with good processes. Look at your goals, your use cases, and your obstacles. Start with a good foundation then buy the tool that helps enable you to execute upon your process,” Rosalyn says. 

In the pursuit of consolidation, Rosalyn suggests purchasing a platform to solve two or more of your business cases.

8. Develop a growth mindset

Jeff implores xOps pros to shift into a growth mindset. Oftentimes xOps folks are solving from a position of constraints—a never-ending list of data they cannot manage and infrastructure they cannot afford to update. 

What would happen if they believed—even naively—that all things were possible? “When you behave from an ‘abundance mindset’ you unlock some powerful, creative problem-solving you were incapable of beforehand,” he says.

Want to learn more?

The full panel discussion is now available on demand. Check it out!

Written by Aubrey Morgan
Aubrey is the Director of Demand Generation and Operations at Syncari. She brings over 10 years of digital marketing experience, leading GTM Ops teams across email, marketing operations, lifecycle (right time/right message) and integrated campaigns.

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