Some businesses and business managers view Operations (the functions and people who produce revenue) as better than every one else. Some firms recognize the critical and complementary role played by those not directly involved in Operations. For most of my life, I worked in Operations, and it still influences my thinking. I always want to know the impact a decision will have on the operations and operators of the business. I make sure that our solutions at FireStarter Speaking and Consulting are focused this way.

Most of the leaders we work with are operators. Unfortunately, some of them don’t have a high opinion of non-operators, also called functional staff. This would include the departments of Accounting, Human Resources, Equipment, IT, Marketing, and Sales. There may be others; you get the idea.

In my experience, I’ve seen two types of functional staff people: administrative and operational. Let’s look at Human Resources. The administrative HR person is well-versed in the rules and regulations of the business. They understand employment law and benefits. They do what they are asked to do and may not step too far outside their box and the business can’t live without them. Operational HR workers are focused on keeping the company moving and growing. They want to improve the business, so they make decisions with an eye toward the future. Operational HR folks may show up in the field or on the shop floor at any time, working to build relationships with Operations personnel. In the short term, a business can live without them.

Operational functional staff personnel become strategic advisors to the leadership of the company or division. A good leader in Operations wouldn’t dream of making a decision without consulting his or her operational functional staff. Titles are illustrative here. For example, a VP of Human Resources compared to a Benefits Administrator. Over in Finance, we see the CFO as opposed to the controller.

Let me be clear that we need both types of functional staff for a business to be truly successful. The absence of operational staff doesn’t doom a business to failure, but it is almost a guarantee that it will not achieve all it is capable of. Those in Operations need the advice and counsel of operational staff so they can make better decisions, but they don’t always ask for it. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded to reach out to the very capable staff already on their team. But often, a functional staff member is able to offer only administrative support--not operational. This can lead operators to virtually ignore their staff. This creates a downward spiral of lower expectations of staff--which they will then live down to, thereby creating still lower expectations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Employees at all levels and in all areas of the business benefit from continued development. Operators need to lead not only Operations, but functional staff as well. Often, staff stays in the administrative role because their superiors haven’t informed them of the opportunities they were missing. Additionally, there are conventions and meetings of associations that focus precisely on the professional career development of functional staff. (The Society of Human Resource Managers is one of the best professional associations. If your HR person hasn’t been there in a while, or does not attend at the local chapter level, why not make that happen? It can prove advantageous for both of you.)

There will always be some tension between operations and staff, but it need not be negative. And it can be harnessed and used to further the company when dedicated professionals are willing to work together. But it will cause problems when there is a mutual mistrust or dislike between the two sides. For your business to reach its optimal success, these issues must be addressed.

Smaller businesses may not be able to afford certain types of staff and support, but the roles must be addressed. External consultants can help, as can industry peer groups or inside employees who wear multiple hats. The competitive and regulatory environment of the early 21st century demands a more enlightened and sophisticated approach. Recognizing the administrative and operational needs of the business is a key part of that new approach.

Author's Bio: 

Wally Adamchik is the President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, a national leadership consulting firm based in Raleigh, NC. You can visit the website at or email him at His book No Yelling ( was selected by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the best business books of Summer 2007.