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About This Resource

This playbook is a deep dive into the key operational needs of an employment social enterprise. Great for everyone, but especially for those new and growing in the operations field. This playbook:

●        Tailors its advice and guidance to early-stage ESEs: “Early-stage” in this instance is broadly understood as ESEs with annual revenue under $2M, but who have successfully demonstrated some product- or service-market fit and who also have a relatively well-defined target population with which they are already working. For these organizations, operations improvement is often a high priority and necessary for moving the ESE from a stage of exploring and refining where our mission and market focus should be (usually the highest priority for ESEs in the much earlier “launch” phases) to optimizing resource use in order to maximize impact, profit, and efficiency. In this latter phase, an early-stage ESE is likely interested in taking steps to improve processes, procedures, systems, and other elements of their operations.[3]

●        Is designed with a “newly-onboarded COO of an ESE” in mind: Most of the playbook is written to directly address the Chief Operating Officer (COO) or operations leader of an ESE (when I use the pronoun “you” that’s usually the person to whom I’m referring). This playbook is also designed in a timeline fashion starting with “day one” (and the corresponding “Step One”) as the first day of this individual’s work at the ESE or new role as the operations leader, and this playbook focuses its guidance on the steps and frameworks that will be specifically useful to improve the organization’s operations. Anyone who is not directly involved in operations may find this guide lacking advice or guidance related to marketing, strategy, or programs. However, these same individuals may benefit from this guide by using it to reflect on the interconnections between operations and their functional focus and can use this guide as a way to better engage in conversations with those focused on operations.

●        Incorporates an organizational change management lens on operations improvement: Improving or adjusting any aspect of an organization must take into account how to make those changes “stick” and be meaningful to the organization’s growth. This playbook therefore not only provides guidance on how to identify and prioritize operations challenges, it also provides critical guidance on how to go about engaging, aligning, and focusing key stakeholders and other resources during operations improvement so that any changes are adopted as seamlessly as possible by the organization.

●        Is not intended to reflect universally applicable best practices: This playbook is best used as a guide and reference – it should not be seen as a prescription for all ESEs. Given the broad variety of models, markets, and supported populations of ESEs, it would be impossible for any playbook to give guidance that’s relevant to all operations challenges or scenarios that any ESE may encounter. There may therefore be challenges and scenarios that an ESE encounters that could prompt updates or changes to this playbook. Those updates and changes are welcome and encouraged, and I would be thrilled to hear your thoughts and feedback! (I have in fact designed this playbook to be easily adapted over time, so your input could even find its way into a future version.)

What is “operations improvement” anyways, and why is it important?

It’s important for us to address a few definitions up front so that the playbook’s scope and purpose is well understood. When it comes to “operations” or “operations management,” there are a few ways we can define it. The following definition gives us a useful orientation for this playbook: “operations management is the administration of business practices to create the highest level of efficiency possible within an organization.”[4] “Efficiency” can be phrased in another way – “doing more with your available resources.” Therefore, operations improvement is about improving the administration of business practices within an organization in order to get more done and make more impact with your available resources. The “business practices” or elements that are addressed in some way in this playbook are:

Procedures, Processes, and Policies: These lie at the core of operations (and will almost always be impacted by operations improvement), as they guide and direct how things should be done in an organization. Procedures typically define specific tasks, processes usually define how several procedures fit together in order to take an input into the organization and produce an output from the organization, and policies define the standards or strategy that give direction to all of the above. As an example, a procedure might be step-by-step instructions for a single person, showing that person how to schedule a job so that it can be invoiced correctly. The invoicing process involves a number of steps starting with a customer’s job request and resulting in an invoice to the customer (of which the above job scheduling procedure is a part). An organization’s invoicing policy might state that all invoices will be sent to customers within 10 days of a job’s completion (setting the standard which the invoice process and procedures should follow).

Technology & Systems: Technology and systems in this context refer to the platforms, hardware, and applications that an organization uses to support operations. It’s important to note that any technology or systems that are used by an organization must fit with and enable efficient and effective execution of the organization’s procedures, processes, and policies. This means that whatever technology or systems are used must help procedures and processes flow more quickly and/or with more accuracy. Critically, any technology or systems must be usable by the individuals involved in those procedures and processes. This is a point worth re-emphasizing, as the “best” technology or system for a given process may in fact not necessarily be “high tech” and instead be pen & paper or a spreadsheet, as no other available (or affordable) technology or system fits for the situation or is most usable by the individuals involved in the procedure or process.

Communication & Training: Effective communication within an organization helps to ensure that all individuals have the information they need to do their job effectively, efficiently, and safely. When an organization surpasses effective communication and achieves excellent communication, that organization builds confidence that there is strong leadership and strong team cohesion, that the organization provides opportunities for development & advancement for its team members, and that the organization has the capacity to grow overall. Training often comes hand-in-hand with communication, as critical skills or understanding can be transferred even through simple or informal messaging. (See this appendix for more on how the RISE framework can be used to assist with informal messaging.)

Financial Management: As it applies to this playbook, financial management includes the operational elements that are concerned with understanding and controlling the organization’s finances to include having visibility into cash flow, understanding how operational funds are being spent on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, understanding the direct costs associated with producing and delivering goods or services, and setting up processes or controls to ensure that accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) are processed in a timely and accurate fashion. Within this playbook, raising external capital (of any kind – grants, debt, or equity) is not addressed.

Leadership, Management, & Team Members: This playbook does not venture into depth on topics related to human resources or workforce development (indeed, the REDF Baseline Assessment has “Human Capital” as its own separate Baseline Module).[5] However, definition of roles & responsibilities and setting job expectations often come hand-in-hand with parts of the above elements.

Ultimately, the target outcome of operations improvement is that the organization can do more with available resources. For an early-stage ESE that has already refined its mission and market focus, this can be incredibly important as increased operational efficiency helps the ESE to hire more employees, enables it to provide higher-quality skills development opportunities, and can even increase end customer satisfaction and loyalty through improved product or service delivery.

About Emerging Market Enterprises

Emerging Market Enterprises (EME) is an advisory firm based in Washington, DC, that works with startups, scaleups, and intermediaries in the impact ecosystem. EME provides a variety of services to its clients and partners to include market strategy, operations improvement, and leadership coaching.