Operational Scalability: Amanda A Russo of Cornerstone Paradigm Consulting On How To Set Up Systems

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Operational Scalability: Amanda A. Russo of Cornerstone Paradigm Consulting On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale

Enhance Customer Experience: To thrive in business, it’s crucial to understand the customer’s perspective. This entails gathering insights from your team about customer needs and dislikes, mapping the customer journey, and leveraging tools such as surveys, exit interviews, and secret shopping to evaluate your organization from the customer’s viewpoint.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, scalability is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurs often get trapped in the daily grind of running their businesses, neglecting to put in place the systems, procedures, and people needed for sustainable growth. Without this foundation, companies hit bottlenecks, suffer inefficiencies, and face the risk of stalling or failing. This series aims to delve deep into the intricacies of operational scalability. How do you set up a framework that can adapt to growing customer demands? What are the crucial procedures that can streamline business operations? How do you build a team that can take on increasing responsibilities while maintaining a high standard of performance?

In this interview series, we are talking to CEOs, Founders, Operations Managers Consultants, Academics, Tech leaders & HR professionals, who share lessons from their experience about “How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda A. Russo.

Amanda A. Russo stands as a testament to the transformative power of curiosity and hands-on experience in the realm of business operations. Her journey, which began innocently in the hustle and bustle of a local restaurant during her teenage years, is a tale of growth and discovery in the face of unanticipated industry challenges.

As a youthful aide to restaurant owners, Russo dealt intimately with the intricacies of supply chain management — though she didn’t know to call it that at the time. She recounts her early experiences with suppliers who would arrive with refrigerated trucks laden with poultry, often carrying surplus stocks to offer to unwitting vendors. This practice, which seemed to Russo like a savvy sales technique in her youth, she would later identify as a questionable business practice bordering on fraud.

However, it was through these early encounters that Russo’s interest in business operations was unwittingly sparked. After advancing her education and stepping into the role of a manager at various retail outlets post-college, Russo embraced her passion for the field. She became fascinated with the art of streamlining operations — a critical factor in the health and expansion of any business.

Today, Russo is recognized for her expertise in creating and implementing workflows that not only stimulate growth but also enhance efficiency and boost revenue. Her story is not just one of ascension but also an enlightening example of how professional purpose can stem from the most unassuming origins, and how a keen eye for detail can transform seemingly ordinary encounters into a lifelong career.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Much of my personal history has been previously shared in various articles, yet the origins of my journey trace back to my formative years, when I was a young child working a part-time job. It was during this period that the initial seeds of my entrepreneurial spirit were sown. Remarkably, my employer recognized my unusual sense of responsibility and maturity for my age, a recognition that ultimately led them to entrust me with increased responsibilities and ask my assistance in various aspects of their business, now referred to, operations.

In retrospect, my early resourcefulness and innate problem-solving abilities were instrumental in shaping the trajectory of my development. At a young age, I exhibited a tendency for diving deep into challenges, meticulously dissecting issues to comprehend their underlying details before formulating and proposing solutions. This inclination towards a comprehensive understanding of problems before embarking on solutions laid the foundation for the analytical and problem-solving skills that have become integral to my professional identity.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The value of a lesson often remains elusive until we reflect upon it in hindsight. As the years have added depth to my perspective, I’ve come to reevaluate the concept of mistakes. I’ve come to understand that what is truly meant for us will invariably find its way, irrespective of our actions. Likewise, those things not meant for us should not be coerced or forced into our lives; such endeavors typically yield unproductive outcomes.

One particular misstep that stands out in my entrepreneurial journey occurred during a consultation with a Fortune 100 company. Drawing from my experience in dealing with other enterprise organizations and my understanding of business, leadership, and scaling, I approached the conversation with a sense of familiarity. However, I quickly discovered that my assumptions were far from accurate.

Regrettably, I failed to acknowledge the significance of this difference in relation to their expertise and my experience. My most profound regret stems from my failure to provide comprehensive explanations of key concepts before delving into discussions.

One such concept was the notion of standardization and streamlining. I realized, although too late, that these principles did not entail constriction or stifling of creativity; quite the contrary, they fostered an environment conducive to innovation. Streamlining, in essence, granted team members the freedom to focus on what they were passionate about while simplifying the aspects of operations that were often met with reluctance — a lesson I now hold dear in my business endeavors.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

While I might be partial, I firmly believe that our distinctive approach to problem-solving sets us apart. In the early stages of my career, I often found myself inundated, struggling to keep track of myriad tasks and information, processes. This was a time when the modern computer as we know it was in its infancy; our office boasted just one computer, and the internet was a slow, dial-up connection.

Seeking a systematic approach to manage my burgeoning workload, I began by drafting lists, with step-by-step instructions. Though this method provided some relief, it soon became overwhelming. It was years later that I found a method called process mapping. Admittedly, I initially dismissed it as simplistic — using visuals and diagrams seemed elementary. In fact, I kept my use of this method under wraps, fearing it might reflect my struggle to keep up with the demands of my job. But to my surprise, this ‘juvenile’ technique turned out to be a game-changer, allowing me to visualize and handle the multitude of processes I was responsible for.

Fast forward to today, I leverage both process mapping and technology stack mapping as indispensable tools. These methodologies enable us to help businesses gain clarity about their current operational landscape and facilitate transformative insights for enhancing processes, technology integration, and team collaboration. We use these maps throughout the project to help us identify solutions, implement, and integrate technology and of course improve customer experience. Along with our vast experience in operational excellence, it’s what differentiates us from other consulting firms, factual, thorough, and end-to-end.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

One of my most vital character traits is undeniably tenacity. Some might label it as stubbornness, but when my conviction aligns with a cause, I refuse to surrender. Throughout my journey, there have been numerous instances where the odds seemed stacked against me, “No’s” were not on the verge of becoming “Yes’s,” and the situation appeared hopelessly out of reach. It would have been easier to throw in the towel, but instead, I chose to rise again and persevere. I make this choice everyday to keep going.

Another attribute that I believe has significantly contributed to my success is the recognition of my role within professional relationships, particularly when it comes to running a business. I’ve witnessed countless instances where the lines between client and friend blur, with consultants unintentionally crossing boundaries. I’ve even heard stories from my clients about these blurred lines in their own experiences, asking me why our relationship remains different. The answer is simple: I never lose sight of my position in the equation. While our interactions may be warm, encompassing details like their children’s birthdays, personal challenges, and triumphs, I remain fundamentally an employee. We are, in essence, working for them, even if our connection is informal and friendly. It’s crucial never to forget one’s place in the professional landscape; clients are not your friends; you work on their behalf.

Lastly, compassion is a character trait that has been pivotal in my journey. I’ve emphasized this before, but it bears repeating, I firmly believe in meeting people where they are, acknowledging the daunting nature of change, and actively listening to their needs and concerns. This empathy-driven approach fosters not only stronger professional relationships but also more effective problem-solving and collaboration.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

In my role as a solopreneur, a woman navigating the realm of small business, I carry the weight of every decision that shapes the future of my company and team. The path to making the right decisions can be a daunting one, especially when presented with opportunities for transformation, and the clarity of the “right move” is often elusive. I recognize that to some, what I do may seem exhilarating and captivating, as many already engage in some form of business problem-solving within their own professional roles. Conversely, there are those who venture into this world for misguided reasons.

Several years ago, I embarked on the exploration of potential partnership to distribute responsibilities, share the burdens, and facilitate business development. I was open to the idea and embraced it for nearly a year. However, in the end, I determined that the individual I had partnered with was not the right fit for our business or its culture. Our culture is an “all hands-on deck” environment, where every member of the team, regardless of title, readily extends a helping hand to support one another. This philosophy equally extends to our leadership. I remain unwavering in my commitment to nurturing a collegial culture, one in which everyone contributes their unique perspectives to problem-solving, and our clients’ best interests remain paramount. Any potential partner who aspires to join us must share these fundamental values.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Operational Scalability. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does Operational Scalability mean to you?

At its core, the concept of a company’s ability to scale a business entails the capacity to expand operations, increase product or service offerings, onboard more clients, and fulfill customer demands seamlessly, all while avoiding undue strain on human resources, existing systems, and the daily workflow. Desiring business growth is one thing, but being operationally capable of achieving it is entirely different.

To illustrate operational capability, one can draw a parallel with the phenomenon seen on the television show Shark Tank. When a typically small-scale business appears on the reality TV program, the instant exposure and visibility of their product often lead to a sales surge that eclipses the impact of any conventional marketing campaign. It’s this very appearance on the show that becomes the litmus test for a company’s operational soundness, as it determines whether the organization is equipped to handle the sudden influx of demand and growth opportunities or if it risks faltering under the pressure. In conclusion, being operationally scalable is the ability to take on a surge of business fairly seamlessly.

Which types of business can most benefit from investing in Operational Scalability?

As an expert in Operations, I firmly believe that businesses, from startups to large enterprises, stand to gain immensely from prioritizing Operational Scalability. At the heart of any successful business lies its operations, intricately woven around four pillars: people, processes, technology, and customer experience. Operational scalability emphasizes the vital task of business leaders to clearly oversee and harmoniously balance these core areas. Overlooking any single pillar can set off a cascade of challenges, much like a line of falling dominos. Business operations are interconnected.

Why is it so important for a business to invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?

Leaders with a genuine commitment to creating an exceptional business that caters to both customers and provides a thriving work environment comprehend the significance of not sweeping issues under the rug. It is absolutely vital to confront operational challenges head-on before embarking on any scaling endeavors; failure to do so can result in the dire consequence of losing valuable employees and loyal customers.

Operational Scalability is, fundamentally, a quest for equilibrium. When leaders dedicate the necessary time, effort, and resources to address operational intricacies, they not only strike a harmonious balance within their business but also extend that equilibrium to their personal lives and the well-being of their employees.

In contrast, what happens to a business that does not invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?

Operational Scalability is the cornerstone of a business’s capacity to expand seamlessly. Without a scalable model the company will find growth very difficult; while the bottom-line may reflect the numbers you want to see; other parts of the business will suffer ultimately causing a ripple effect.

An organization’s operational health becomes apparent when certain telltale signs manifest, such as elevated attrition rates, dissatisfied customers, data inaccuracies, perpetual overtime for employees, diminished engagement levels among the workforce, and financial setbacks. It’s crucial to underscore that investing in your human capital encompasses more than just the operational level; it extends to leadership development and training as well. Trying to scale a business that faces constant daily stress is a daunting task, indicative of an organization that lacks operational soundness and scalability.

Can you please share a story from your experience about how a business grew dramatically when they worked on their Operational Scalability?

One of my most memorable clients and favorite stories to share involves an interesting encounter on social media. While I’m not a frequent user, I occasionally check our online presence and monitor questions and comments, particularly those related to software. A few years ago, on a platform we no longer utilize, a prominent business leader from a sizable company began actively engaging with our content. Their keen interest in our work piqued my curiosity.

Eventually, this individual reached out to me directly for a consultation, which I gladly accepted. During our conversation, I delved into their challenges, realizing that there was a significant misalignment between their perceived issues and the actual problems at hand.

These unaddressed issues were already costing them millions of dollars if left unresolved they would have to close their doors.

Working closely with their team, we identified the root causes, automated manual processes, reduced technology debt, and optimized their human resources. We also tackled the issue of overwhelmed and overworked leaders, restructured their inventory levels to accommodate the projected surge in demand, and witnessed an astonishing 1200% scalability in just four weeks, with most of their stock selling out. The next challenge was swiftly replenishing inventory by air to meet customer demands, which was very exciting for both of us.

What made this project particularly exhilarating was the leadership team’s eagerness not only to change but also to learn. They valued our expertise and took our advice and suggestions to heart, contributing to the project’s remarkable success.

Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Most Important Things A Business Leader Should Do To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”?

  1. Process Optimization: I strongly recommend that every business leader prioritize process refinement and the elimination of manual workarounds. This involves actively engaging with your team, making judicious technology investments, and ensuring the chosen tools align seamlessly with your business.
  2. Technology Integration: “Stacking” your technology means creating a unified ecosystem where data originates from a single source of truth, incorporating all necessary direct and indirect inputs. Piecemeal integration, regardless of its quality or accuracy, is unsustainable in the long run.
  3. Invest in Your Team: Your team serves as the driving force behind your organization. Investing in their development benefits your business, your customers, and the individuals themselves. Instead of viewing this as an expense, recognize it as an essential investment for long-term success.
  4. Enhance Customer Experience: To thrive in business, it’s crucial to understand the customer’s perspective. This entails gathering insights from your team about customer needs and dislikes, mapping the customer journey, and leveraging tools such as surveys, exit interviews, and secret shopping to evaluate your organization from the customer’s viewpoint.
  5. Centralize Knowledge: Long-serving employees can be a valuable asset, but they often possess “tribal knowledge” that poses challenges when they are absent. Establishing a centralized document repository containing resources, process documentation, company policies, and procedures is essential. Regularly update and ensure compliance with stated practices and policies to avoid knowledge silos and promote consistency.

What are some common misconceptions businesses have about scaling? Can you please explain?

Scaling a business brings with it several misconceptions that can hinder progress if not properly addressed. One of the most prevalent is the belief that operational issues can be deferred until a more opportune time or until the company has more financial resources at its disposal. This delay in addressing operational challenges can lead to more significant problems down the road, potentially hampering growth and losing loyal customers.

Another common misconception is the inclination for business leaders to adopt a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach when it comes to understanding and resolving operational issues. Often, this stems from a desire to cut costs or the belief that the solutions are straightforward and can be managed in-house. However, this approach can be misleading, as operational complexities may not be immediately apparent and can require specialized expertise to identify and rectify efficiently.

Perhaps one of the most detrimental misconceptions is the notion that no one understands the business as intimately as the owner or leader does. While it’s true that business leaders possess valuable insights into their operations, this belief can sometimes lead to a reluctance to seek external advice or support. In reality, an objective and experienced perspective, such as that offered by specialized teams like mine, can provide fresh insights and solutions that may not be apparent to those deeply entrenched in day-to-day operations.

In many instances, I’ve observed business leaders attempting to maintain tight control over the process or believing that their own judgment supersedes that of external experts. However, this resistance to external collaboration can, in some cases, prove detrimental to the business’s growth and success. Recognizing the value of collaboration and expertise, particularly in the realm of operational scalability, can ultimately yield more effective and efficient solutions for long-term success.

The true potential for scaling a business to limitless heights is unlocked when a leader embraces the responsibility that comes with it and demonstrates a high level of business acumen. It requires the leader to prioritize the welfare of the business, the team, and the customers above their personal interests and ego.

How do you keep your team motivated during periods of rapid growth or change?

Maintaining an open and continuous dialogue is a cornerstone of our operations. With our team spread across the globe, fostering this open communication is paramount to our business’s success. I actively seek feedback, ideas, and encourage brainstorming from every team member. I firmly believe that the strength of our team lies in our collective intelligence. While I may not be the smartest individual on the team, it’s our collective intelligence and collaboration that makes us an unstoppable force.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have shared this in the last and I still firmly believe it to be one of the most fundamental pieces of advice I have ever heard, be careful who you share your dreams with. I heard this advice many years ago, long before I started my business, and it is something that is applicable in almost every situation. When anyone shares their dreams whether it’s starting a business or going to the moon

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I issue a challenge to every leader: step away from your desk, open those closed doors, and set your status to available on collaboration platforms like Teams. Take a walk around your organization, not just to your fellow leaders or those you regularly meet with, but to the true doers in your company. Engage them in conversations that transcend business matters; inquire about their well-being, how life is treating them. Genuinely get to know them as people not just employees.

Make it a habitual practice to connect with the individuals who directly engage with your customers, handle complaints, and are dedicated to the work, arriving early, and staying late. Building meaningful relationships with these frontline workers should be an integral part of your leadership approach.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We’ve dedicated substantial time and energy to curate an array of online resources tailored to address the needs of business leaders seeking insights and solutions. Our commitment to empowering these leaders with knowledge is evident through our weekly blog posts, which offer a steady stream of invaluable information, equipping them to better understand their business landscape and instigate meaningful change.

In addition to our blog, we’ve taken the initiative to publish several eBooks, each a comprehensive resource designed to deliver maximum value to business leaders. Moreover, our business strategy survey serves as a valuable tool for gaining a deeper understanding of their unique challenges and opportunities.

Our engagement extends beyond written content. You’ll find me actively participating on LinkedIn, where I consistently share a wealth of supplementary materials. This includes informative articles, compelling charts, insightful graphs, and occasional video content — all curated to enhance the knowledge and proficiency of business leaders in understanding and optimizing their business operations. Our aim is to provide a multifaceted resource hub that empowers leaders to make informed decisions and drive positive change within their organizations.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Operational Scalability: Amanda A Russo of Cornerstone Paradigm Consulting On How To Set Up Systems was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.