The changing face of the operations leader

One of the developments we are witnessing on the digital transformation journey is that the term ‘back office’ has been turned upside down and inside out. With data now seen as the most precious business asset, its guardians are now under the spotlight. The back office is now seen as the intelligence engine of an organization as we strive to put customers first.

As a result, operational leaders are facing new challenges as they work to reposition their teams. Entrenched in legacy systems, their people may lack the technical skills to meet the new demands of a target-driven, data-led culture.

We recently led a successful executive search for a client in the Financial Services sector that was seeking to deliver a new type of operations team. We met many individuals that had previously delivered operational transformations, and had the privilege of learning how they overcame significant obstacles. These conversations uncovered five interesting themes:

1. Budget availability

We found that many individuals tasked with operational transformations had joined companies in good faith, believing that financial investment was committed.  It was disappointing for them then to be stalled by a lack of budget; finding themselves leading teams working on legacy systems with little chance of any meaningful business shift.  The learning? Ensure approvals and budgets are in place before announcing the project. 

2. Lead from the top

The most successful projects clearly communicated the value of Operations such that everyone in the organisation was fully behind the project, engaged and ready to change.  Typically, these projects were based on a sensible business case and clear strategic vision from the leadership team.

3. Remove the fear

Many organisations undergoing digital transformation employ large teams that are nervous of change and fear job losses.  The most successful transformations addressed the issue of redundancy head on, instead offering reskilling and training. As a result, they created great employee engagement and new opportunities.

4. Respect legacy systems

Change takes time. Leaders need to ensure that existing systems and teams are treated with respect and that customer experience remains positive at every stage.

5. Build teamwork

Operations Leaders must delegate effectively if they hope to land successful change. There is too much to do without a strong team. Without clear direction and well-defined roles and responsibilities, the transformation will fail.

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