In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Jhana Li. Jhana has over 4 years of experience as a COO and Operations Consultant for digital entrepreneurs. She specializes in executing scalable team, systems infrastructure, and harnessing the true power of operations as a lever for compound growth.
Today, operations is an underutilized lever for growth. Operations is any task or action required within a business to optimize its use of its core resources – time, energy, money, and human potential. In this episode, I talk with Operations Consultant, Jhana Li, about how to harness the power of operations, cultivate a company culture in a way that supports both the individual and an organization’s growth, and create systems and processes for all parts of the business.
Questions I ask Jhana Li:
- [1:25] What’s your definition of operations when you’re talking to a business owner?
- [2:41] Does operations still exist as its own department today, and how has the operations department changed?
- [5:12] What are some things that people are doing to develop their company culture with distributed teams?
- [10:12] How does a business balance outsourcing talent and hiring freelancers while maintaining and building their team culture?
- [12:59] Is there a breaking point where having an internal team works better than someone orchestrating a lot of external members?
- [14:55] How do you operationalize this idea of creating systems and processes for all parts of the business?
- [17:17] How do you invite innovation when you delegate processes?
- [20:15] How do you engage with folks with the work that you do?
- [21:25] How would you define an operator?
- [22:48] Can this operator or person run a company, or does a company need somebody who has strategic vision as more of their zone of genius?
More About Jhana Li:
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John Jantsch (00:01): This episode of the duct tape marketing podcast is brought to you by the Gain Grow, Retain podcast, hosted by Jeff Brunsbach and Jay Nathan brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network gain grow retain is built to inspire SAS and technology leaders who are facing day to day. Challenges of scaling Jeff and Jay share conversations about growing and scaling subscription businesses with a customer first approach, check out all the episodes. Recently, they did one on onboarding, such a key thing when you wanna get going, keep and retain those clients. So listen to Dain, Grow, Retain wherever you get your podcast.
John Jantsch (00:50): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Jhana Li. She is a COO and operations consultant for digital entrepreneur specializes in executing scalable team and systems infrastructure, and harnessing the true power of operations as a lever for compound growth. So Jhana, and welcome to the show.
Jhana Li (01:16): Thank you so much, John. It's awesome to be here.
John Jantsch (01:18): So I would guess if we ask 10 people, 10 business owners, even what operations is, we would get a number of answers. So what's your defin definition of operations when you're talking to a business owner?
Jhana Li (01:31): That's a fantastic question. And I would agree. I would generally get about 10 answers. I've run that 10. So I have, you know, it's actually funny. If you ask operators, you'll also get different answers. So I have my own, I define operations as, and any task or action required within a business to optimize its use of its core for resources, which is time, energy, money, and human potential. That is the broadest reaching definition that I can make that encompasses everything I believe opts to be. It is just about the efficient and streamlined use of resources, the board,
John Jantsch (02:06): And that definition's probably evolved a lot. Hasn't it? Over the last decade or so, I mean, I remember, you know, old school operation was, you know, managing the facilities and, you know, a lot of things that I suppose for a lot of companies are still relevant, but for a lot of companies sure. Just aren't even a part of the equation, right?
Jhana Li (02:25): Yep. Absolutely. I would say that if you have a physical operation, we would maybe add physical capital as a resource to be managed, but with so many businesses moving online and remote teams and remote work, becoming a new norm, I think the focus of operations has moved towards optimizing that environment.
John Jantsch (02:42): So I wonder too, if, if it's still even a department, if you think of about a company, you know, structure as a department, or is it almost a point of view or a culture or, I mean, how would you kinda say that part has changed?
Jhana Li (02:54): Yeah, that's a great question. I oftentimes say that operations is the only department whose job it is to live between departments. Right? If we look at where the inefficiencies normally crop up in a business, it is in the handoff. It because you have sales fully focused on sales, you have client success fully focused on client success. They should be that's their focus, their lens of the business, but nobody owns the space in between. And so that is always where balls get drawn. That is always where inefficiencies is introduced. And so the job of operations I really see is to look at the company horizontally and to live in between places and optimize for the inefficiencies that you find there.
John Jantsch (03:32): So I've been saying for years, that marketing is everything. And because I really do think that what you just described, you know, marketing to sales to service is really a marketing. I mean, when you drop the ball there, you are performing a marketing function for good or for bad, right. That's right. And so I've spent a lot of time in the last few years, operationalizing, or at least talking about operationalizing marketing because you know, the onboarding process, I mean, a lot of the things that we can quibble over what it's called, but I mean, a lot of the things that, that I'm sure that you end up doing with folks, I mean really do impact for good or bad marketing.
Jhana Li (04:05): Yep, absolutely. And I would say, I agree with you that at the end of the day, I think every role is just a lens, right? It's just a, a selective frame that you're taking of the company. You're looking at that data and you're processing it through that frame. So a marketer could look at the exact same set of data happening within a business and get a totally different analysis and outcome and deliverable from that than the operator then the salesperson. And I think that is the point, right? Like you want people to be focused through a particular lens and towards a particular outcome. And operations just happens to be one where they need to be looking more places than the average role.
John Jantsch (04:40): So culture inside of organizations has, you know, certainly been a buzzword for, you know, the last 10 years or so. But I think a lot of companies really are realizing, Hey, it, it has value to the bottom line. It has value to, you know, the customer experience, all those things, but more and more companies, especially some that were forced to be distributed during, during COVID and mean more and more companies feel like they're losing that, cuz you know, you think of company culture as the picnic and sitting around the sure. You know, at the water cooler and things that it used to be. And so you work with a lot of folks whose entire teams are distributed. So what are some things that people are doing to develop and, or at the very least maintain kind of that sense of I'm on a team?
Jhana Li (05:24): Yeah. That's a fantastic question. And I would agree just to address like kind of the first part here, as far as culture, as something that is necessary. Um, there's a reason that I added human potential as one of those four core resources. I see every company, it, it is this like wellspring that you are either tapping into or not, it's a bank account that you were choosing to get a return on investment for or not. Right. And culture is a very distinct mechanism and lever by which to tap into that resource, optimize it, maximize the return on investment or not cause it's there, whether or not you're using it. Right. And so culture is one of the ways of doing that. And I think that goes for any company remote or in person, right? I think in person, maybe you are able to rely on certain things, just kind of spontaneously happening, certain spark points and team camaraderie and these sorts of things that happen naturally when human beings get in a room together in a remote environment, you just have to be more critical around how you design it, but all of the same best practices apply.
Jhana Li (06:23): I think you just have to be more active in terms of how you cultivate that culture versus allowing for it to just kind of happen naturally in the background. But the reality is is that if you're really trying to maximize this as a lever for growth, you should be designing it either or way, right. Cultures that are allowed to evolve organically probably are not the cultures that are generating the highest levels of performance or the maximum level of alignment across the team. If you look at the world's best cultures remote, or otherwise, there is a critical design there. And I would say as far as best practices, there's a few, it's a very interesting thing, John, but the people that I always point to when it comes to the most amazing culture builders are cult leaders. Hmm. You look at a cult and the behaviors that leaders are able to get out of cult participants, it's astronomical, like the things that people will do, right?
Jhana Li (07:10): Like they will donate their entire life savings or they will move to Guyana and voluntarily drink poisoned. Kool-Aid right. If we are categorized, that is quote unquote performance, like that's the desired behavioral outcome, then what on earth are they doing to generate that kind of performance? And you can learn a lot that comes out of, uh, those leaders specifically shared language, shared ritual. Yeah. Right. I've seen really high quality corporate cultures or just business cultures in general are critically designed where things like the language they put in the core values or the rituals that they use to launch the meetings or wrap the meeting up, uh, wrap the meetings up are really designed and put in place to make people feel like they are part of in us. And if you're part of an us, then I will sacrifice for the us and the us is not them. Right. And so there's this very interesting dynamic where you have to build an identity around what it means to work at your company. Right. That's why Google has Googlers and Zappos has, Zonis like they've done this very intentionally to make being a member of this team actually means something very definable and very concrete. And if you're missing out on that definition, you're not actively cultivating that definition you're missing out.
John Jantsch (08:23): Or I wanna go way back to something you said before we went down that funky, uh, cult, uh, thing,
Jhana Li (08:28): Probably not the answer you were expecting
John Jantsch (08:30): Because I think a lot of people, when they think of culture naturally think about, oh, this is a place people like to work. You know, they like to come in here, it's friendly. It has perks. I mean, that's how people kind of think about, but you, something that I think might be the, one of the best definitions of, of sort of how to develop that and that idea of if you focused all of your energy on maximizing each individual's potential. Yeah. That would be a pretty great place to work. Wouldn't it? It
Jhana Li (08:55): Would be my definition of culture is what happens when you are not looking.
John Jantsch (09:00): Yeah. Right, right.
Jhana Li (09:01): Or at least that's the place that you can look to see what the culture is. Right.
John Jantsch (09:05): But I was gonna say, that's a measurement
Jhana Li (09:07): About you.
John Jantsch (09:07): That's a measurement of it. Right. But what I mean is this idea that, that cuz a lot of times people are like, well, how, and I think that this idea of how is, what if we focused on maximizing everyone's potential. I mean, some people would not, would not grow, would not, you know, but if, instead of, you know, your job performance being, you know, you did what I said you were supposed to do. It was more about did you grow? You know, that, I think that could lead to a lot of how
Jhana Li (09:34): I think the most effective company cultures are ones where it is every individual manager's responsibility to help the employees understand how their company represents a vehicle for that employee's growth when you can align the motivator and the why and the ambition of that individual and the growth capacity of that individual and help of them see that this company is really just like in expression of that. It's just a vehicle for them to show up and get better at something and do their best work every day. And you've cultivated an, an operational infrastructure to support that person in doing their best work every day. Then you get high performance culture.
John Jantsch (10:11): Okay. We just, we just outlined like dream state. But what about all the companies now that you know, are hiring freelancers that have, you know, offshore workers that have people that they're not really invested in the outcome of the company they're invested in doing what they agreed to do. I mean, how do you balance that? Because that is for live companies, that's a great way to get work done. But how do you balance that with keeping a, keeping a company kind of team cultural?
Jhana Li (10:36): That's a fantastic question. I would say it comes down to two things first off, it's the decision making of the company and who they choose to hire and how they choose to hire them. Like I've worked with quote unquote VAs, right? Virtual assistants that are often the Philippines I've never met them. I never will. Who I would say are emblematic of my culture. Like they're the best performers across the company by that standard. Right? And so you can choose as a business, is culture going to be a core facet of this company? If so, are we willing to make hires and fires around it? Are we willing to sacrifice maybe the cheapest labor for the labor that's in alignment with our culture? And that's a decision. I'm not saying there's a right or wrong. It's just a matter of again, how much are you tapping into the human potential within your team?
Jhana Li (11:18): Because the VA that feels aligned and bought in and like their work has purpose is going to generate a higher level of performance and productivity than the VA that shows up has to have every single second of their time tracked because that's how you build 'em and then they go off. Right? Yeah. So it's just, it's, it's a decision. And if you need to selectively bring in contractors, then you're bringing in contractors and they're filling a specific role. And that is kept separate from us. The core culture, the core group, right? We are still us and we can leverage the experts in our field to help us fulfill on certain deliverables without the expectation that those people be a part of us.
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John Jantsch (12:31): One of the things I see been quite often, or I hear a lot of talk about in the digital agency space or in marketing agency space in general, is that it's really easy to be that orchestrator and get a lot of work done without a lot of overhead and a lot of employees until you grow to a certain level. And then the word always is, oh no. Now you need your internal talent. You know, you, you can't really, you know, go beyond that, just with freelancers in, in your working with the types of businesses that you work with. Do you see that there is sort of a breaking point at which, you know, an internal team does better than somebody just kind of orchestrating a bunch of external members?
Jhana Li (13:09): That's an really interesting question. If I thought about it, I would say the breaking point wouldn't happen at a particular revenue level or anything like that, right? It would happen at the moment of growth where the decision making has to be delegated throughout the company where you, as the business owner can no longer be single handedly responsible for every action taken. Every decision made every task met when you have to trust your team, because there is simply too much complexity, creep and scale within the business to do otherwise. Then culture becomes a really important to bring it back around, right. Becomes a really important lever because those core values are the guiding benchmarks by which people make the decisions. And you can only trust the decisions being made and know that they're in alignment with the strategic vision of the company, if you have guidelines around them.
Jhana Li (14:00): And if you have this kind of Frankenstein monster of all of these white labels and vendors and all of these sorts of things, right, right. Those people have to be managed. That alignment has to be, uh, cultivated. It can't evolve organically and it can't be delegated because they don't really know care about the bigger thing that's being built there. And so at that point, it starts to break down and you require a lot of operational intensity at the top of the business like management in order to just make sure that people are constantly being kept in alignment manually because that's never going to happen organically on its own.
John Jantsch (14:32): So when I think about operational efficiency, I immediately think systems and processes, of course, documented systems and processes. In fact, there's a very popular book. People are familiar with atomic habits by James clear that one of my favorite quotes from that book is we don't rise to the level of our goals. We fall to the level of our systems. And I think that is so true from many of the people that, that I've worked with over the years. So how do you think about, and then how do you sort of operationalize this idea of creating systems and processes for, you know, growth for fulfillment, you know, for all the things, all the parts of a business.
Jhana Li (15:08): Yep, absolutely. It's a, I think that at the core systems and processes obviously are essential. Like it is a repeatable process that can have a single trigger and a reliable, desired outcome. And we can process out everything in between. And that creates consistency. It creates reliability. Like there's a reason everybody loves SOPs and that SOPs are, are needed and necessary. Right? The question I put to people when they are designing those systems is through what lens and towards what desired outcome are you building this? So P to tell every single person what to do every single day at every single stage of the business, because that can work. Like you can build a well oiled machine that way, but what you Rob them of is the opportunity to introduce their own creativity, their own innovation. Like if I was your employee, John, and you said, cool, here's the right way to do it.
Jhana Li (15:58): Well, that's the right way to do it. Why would I ever question that it came from John? Like, I'm not gonna put any time towards innovating or improving on this. Right. I don't care. Like it's his job, it's his deal. And so what I see is that if systems are being created from this place of like micromanaging, then you end up losing a lot of the human potential, which comes through in creativity and innovation and like human error. Right. And we have to balance those two things. If you build the systems from the perspective of am I setting my employees up to do their best work every day, right? Like that's the critical question. Am I supporting them to do their best work every single day? And every system that I put in place is either to take something off their plate or to clear a bottleneck in front of them, or to give them a more efficient way of accessing the information that they need to do their work. Those are the systems where you can still allow for them to take ownership for their roles and continuously innovate on them. Because now if it's been framed that way, it's like, cool, Hey boss, I, I need a change to this. So P because it's not allowing me to do my best work. Yeah. Cool. Now we can continue to innovate and move forward from there.
John Jantsch (17:00): Yeah. Cuz I mean the bottom line is, if you let's say you're gonna delegate some process that, you know, works and you're gonna bring somebody in who doesn't know, you know, anything about, you know, how to do it, that roadmap of here's the checklist we'll make them successful. I mean, you've get the result you want it won't be confusing. Right. But then how do you invite that innovation?
Jhana Li (17:19): Yeah, definitely. I think it starts with, again, are you transferring ownership? Yeah. To innovate on that SOP, like I roll out all of my SOPs from my team with the pre-frame that, Hey, I expect this to change and I expect you to be the one to change it. Right. Right. This is just the best practices that we figured out up until now there is nothing about this that is fixed. And in fact, I hired you to be the expert in this role. Yeah. You know, this role way better than I do, or you will in two weeks. So you tell me how can I better optimize this system or process around you to set you up for success.
John Jantsch (17:54): So we need a, we need a new term there. Everybody uses best practices, but it's really just current practices and we're looking for better practices. Right, right. Nobody has best practices or we're done. Right?
Jhana Li (18:04): Yes, absolutely. And I think if you wouldn't mind me going on a little rant here where systems are breaking and falling apart for people and companies right now, because like COVID was the perfect example of this. When you live in a world that is changing that fast, right. Where every single day is bringing a new set of data and the need to respond appropriately to that data. Then a well oiled machine starts to break down because there's not enough time for the people at the top to truly understand what's going on at the front lines, have that like chain of command go all the way up, have a decision made and then all the way back down, right? It's like actually a quite rigid unflexible and inefficient structure. And so where SOPs as this end all be all like desired result fall apart is when, what happens when they break, what happens when there's change.
Jhana Li (18:49): Right? And so in the places I draw the distinction between where is your business complicated? Meaning it's a series of processes that don't change all that much. We can break it down. We can build a machine here. And where is it complex? Meaning it's a dynamic environment that is changing every single day. That information needs to be taken in responded to. And without any kind of like top day, there's no chain of command there. Right? Where is it complex where it's complex? You can't have SOPs. That's like not a thing. Right? You have to rely on these other harder levers, like cultural alignment and strategic vision and transfer of ownership and autonomy to appropriately respond to those areas of the business. Because if you like make this desire for complication everywhere and making sure everything is complicated, those systems are going to fail in the face of complex dynamic environments.
John Jantsch (19:42): I think a lot of times too, because there's so many books out there that you can read on systems. It's like people get overwhelmed because they think, oh, well we have 474, you know, that we need to develop and document and they start developing and documenting stupid meaningless stuff. And it, it really, a lot, most businesses I've worked with, if they just had five or six kind of core things, you know, really locked down that they were always looking at. I mean, how growth happens, you know, how fulfillment happens, things like that, those engines, you know, are really the, the, the key drive, you know, from a process standpoint.
Jhana Li (20:14): Yep. Absolutely.
John Jantsch (20:15): So Jenna, tell us how, how do you engage folks? How do you work with folks? I mean, everything you've said is spot on and I'm sure people are out there going well, how do I get that? You know, as opposed to just it being theory.
Jhana Li (20:26): Yeah, absolutely. So I'm a big component guys that there are people who zone of genius. It is to think about the system and the process and where is it relevant and where is it not, where is it complicating? Where is it complex? Right. And so my big lever point is with those operators, the people who think that way, um, and that looks one of two ways I have direct consulting, right? So I'll come in, do an audit of your business, tell you all of the bottlenecks and challenges lying in the way. And then we can talk about whether it makes sense for me to help you solve those. That's on the consulting side. On the coaching side, I will work directly with your operator. I will train them up to apply, take it away from theory and actually into executable actions and skills that can be taken back and apply to your business. And that's a four month training program. I call it ops academy. So those are essentially the two ways to get in touch, or those are the two services. If you wanted to get in touch, probably the best way to do it at this stage would be email. My website is going live here in just a couple weeks. But as of right now, email would be the best.
John Jantsch (21:22): So we'll have your email and we'll have the website when we publish this. But maybe before we wrap this up, make that distinction of what an operator is. That may be a fairly new term, at least the way you're using it to some people.
Jhana Li (21:34): Sure, absolutely. So there is a single, underlying talent that I assign to somebody who can be really stellar in operations, whether they're in a ops role or not. And I call it level three, thinking it's a essentially just complex systems analysis. It's the ability to say, cool, I see problem a and problem B. And I see how actually neither of those are the problem and the root cause is all the way back here. And I see how that root cause is actually going to have ripple effects six months from now, right? There are certain people that when they look at the world, they break it down. That way. If you have that underlying world view that I underlying talent, that operations is just a set of skills and resources and knowledge and tools that can be layered on top of that to create world class operations in your business, whoever on your team has that world view that lens. That's your highest talent, your highest potential for an amazing operator, again, regardless of the role that they fill. So maybe they're currently employed in operations and they need additional training and support in that role. Maybe this is just how they've like, you'll notice that they're the people who have gone in their role and started fixing things up where they see that they're dirty or broken or like could be better because they just, can't not, that's just how they see the world. Those are the people to elevate into an ops position.
John Jantsch (22:48): Okay, here's the bone question then? Can, can that person be a CEO also, can that person run a company or does a company need somebody who has strategic vision as more of their zone of genius? So to speak
Jhana Li (22:59): Great question. I would say that there are a rare percentage of the population, actually it's about four to 5% of the population that can be both that strong charismatic leader, as well as the behind the scenes integrator. What I would say is that you should, if that's you first off, it's probably not. But if it is run with that, as long as you can, and at some point, your business will still ask you to choose. Because again, it's two different lenses of the same set of data and you need both lenses represented at scale. Both lenses represent a full time job and there's a time amount of work to be done within both. And so when you reach that point, you will have to make that decision. But if you are that rare few, you can get away with being your own integrator, being your own operator for much longer than the average business owner. If you hate systems and processes, you're not that person don't try and be that person you're actually costing your business money. If you try and fill that role,
John Jantsch (23:51): I have no problem telling you. I'm not that person, But I that's an amazing person. I have an amazing person that is that's the real key. There you go. Realize that and then get that person right.
Jhana Li (24:01): That's it? Yep, absolutely.
John Jantsch (24:04): Right. Jhana. It was great having you stop by the duct tape marketing podcast and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days when, uh, I'm out on the road or you're back in Colorado.
Jhana Li (24:13): I love it. Appreciate it. John, quit chatting with you.
John Jantsch (24:15): Hey, and don't forget. Vista Create is a graphic design platform where anyone can easily craft professional and unique content for social media and digital Mar marketing. It's a combination of graphic design editor and an ever growing library of customizable templates to suit any industry or occasion. Check it out @ create.vista.com. You can try it for free, that's create.vista.com.
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