How to Recruit a Great Operations Manager

selecting and operations manager cartoon

My two recent blogs about how to stop the management revolving door and the ten characteristics of a great Operations Manager have been very popular. Based on these articles we know the characteristics of a great Operations Manager and we know what we need to do to retain this person in our business for the long term. So how do you recruit a great Operations Manager in the first place? I put my head together with George Dimopoulos from Persona Executive, one of the most experienced and capable manufacturing recruiters I know. We came up with some simple steps that will hopefully enable you to find the right person for your business:

Decide What the Job Is that You are Recruiting for.

Often, I find companies recruiting for key line roles are not exactly clear what the role is that they are trying to fill. Is the person expected to be a hands-on leader on the shop floor or to lead and develop a team below them? Will the person be expected to manage all operational functions including maintenance, supply chain and quality or will these fall under others? Therefore, the first step is actually to define the role. How does it fit in your organisational structure, who will report to the role and what are the boundaries of the Operations Manager’s responsibilities? What are the objectives of the role and how will you measure success against these objectives?

George suggested. “Think about your business plan and the improvements you would like to see in the next 1-2 years. Then tie the critical skills and experience to these outcomes.”

In defining the role there are several key mistakes to avoid. Don’t create too wide a span of control. Ideally, a maximum of six or seven direct reports enables the Operations Manager to give all his team enough support and avoids creating paralysis whenever the Operations Manager is not around. Don’t expect your Operations Manager to also be your Lean Coordinator, Project Manager, Production Manager or Buyer. The Operations Manager is a key leader in your business who is primarily responsible for the safe and efficient running of your operations. If they are bogged down in tasks like those I describe it will reduce their effectiveness in leading your team.

Be Clear About the Kind of Person You Need.

Once you have defined the role, it becomes a lot easier to decide the kind of person who will meet that role. Think about technical qualifications such as level of experience, academic qualifications and industry expertise, but also think about the kind of person you want. What will be their personal attributes? My article on “What Makes a Great Operations Manager” can help here. What kind of things might be “red flags” that show you that the candidate is unsuitable? Think about your business culture and the kind of people who have been successful in your business in the past. What were they like as individuals and what specifically made them so successful? If you can define these characteristics it makes it easier to look for them when you interview potential candidates.

George suggested that you think about two concepts to help identify an achiever mentality:

  1. Scope, scale and resources – when screening candidates, look at the scope of their control in previous roles, the scale of the operation they managed and the resources available to them to achieve the desired outcomes – these need to align with your business to ensure a successful fit.
  2. Trend of growth over time –look at the candidates achievements over time – do they trend upwards? Are they driven through individual contribution by the candidate? Or by candidate’s leadership of a team? Or a combination of both? Getting the mix right will ensure a successful fit.

Don’t over-emphasise industry experience. Everyone’s industry is unique, but when you get too specific you reduce the available candidate pool too much. Therefore asking for “a minimum 10 years’ experience leading a sheet metal fabrication operation” or “a minimum 5 years’ experience in hardware wholesaling” might seem like a good idea, but will eliminate the overwhelming majority of potential candidates.  It can also mean that you are recruiting from competitors, which can be problematic. An experienced operations manager should be able to learn your industry and so it is better to keep the net a bit wider at the start.

New call-to-action

Consider What You Can Offer a Potential Candidate

Why would a good Operations Manager want to join your firm? What do you have to offer? This is not just about salary and benefits or career opportunities, but it might also be about the work environment, your business’ culture or the unique challenges of the role or industry. Be honest about what you have to offer. One of the key problems that companies have with new hires is that the reality of the role often does not match the promises made in the recruitment process. If you are a small, privately run business and cannot offer a career path, be open about that. Not everyone wants to be the CEO and you don’t want that ambitious person anyway if you can’t offer them that role. However, an Operations role can offer many challenges and perhaps the plans that you have for your business will offer the right person the learning opportunities and career growth they need within the role.

George emphasises this point by saying, “Top candidates will likely have a couple of opportunities available to them and you need a strong value proposition. This is even more important than salary.”

Be Realistic About Salary

It is nice to save money, but as the old saying goes “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys”! Get advice on the appropriate salary for the role and don’t try to save money by offering less. They candidates that apply will probably be unsuitable, if you get anyone applying at all. Even if you are successful, a good Operations Manager will soon work out their true value and you will find them either demanding you pay them what they are worth or (more likely) they will just leave.

Use a Recruiter Who Actually Understands Operations

You can manage the recruitment yourself, but in most cases a senior role, such as an Operations Manager, will involve the use of a recruitment consultant. Recruitment is one of those industries that does not get a lot of respect and much of the criticism is deserved. Many recruiters do not understand the roles that they are trying to fill and simply aim to “sell” a candidate in to role to “close the deal” and move on. Therefore, it pays to do some research and select a recruiter who has a proven track record and understands the role you are recruiting for.  Often this might be a smaller boutique recruitment company, rather than a big company. When you find this recruiter, then treat them with respect and don’t run a beauty contest pitting multiple recruiters against one another for the same role. All this will do is that the serious recruiters will stop focusing on your role, while the high-volume recruitment companies will just throw candidates at you in the hope that one suits.

New call-to-action

Make the Most of the Interview.

If you are not highly experienced in recruiting, it pays to do some interview training. Learn how to ask questions that get the candidate to open up about their actual experience, rather than just talk in generalities. Get them to share specific examples and make sure that they tell you what their role was in the achievements they describe. Look beyond what they achieved and notice how they talk about the way they achieved it. This will reveal their management style and personal values.

Be prepared for the interview and make sure you have read the candidate’s resume thoroughly. It pays to have more than one person in the interview, and to have more than one interview. That way you provide the candidate more than one opportunity to reveal themselves and you get different people’s perspective on the candidate. When two of you are interviewing a candidate, prepare beforehand and be clear on what your respective roles will be in the interview. It can pay to have one person asking most of the questions and second person mainly focused on observing the candidate.

In a good interview the candidate does about 70% of the talking so keep the background about your company brief and focus on what they have to say. Always ask whether they have any questions as this will reveal how much they have thought about the role and your company.

George suggests opening a conversation with the candidate about the specific outcomes required and ask the candidate whether they have achieved anything similar and how they would approach it? What problems do they foresee and would they get around it?

Always Check References.

Never hire someone without speaking to referees. Clarify the relationship of the referee to the candidates and make sure that they are someone qualified to give you good insights on the person you are considering. Ask the referee open questions, rather than ones that can be answered by a yes or a no. Referees will usually be reluctant to tell lies, so be prepared to ask them whether they would re-employ the candidate and if so, why. Ask the referee to be specific and give examples of the way the candidate has worked in their business. Double check the candidate’s reason for leaving as well if you can.

George says, “Remember to verify the achievements stated in the resume or at interview. Don’t rush the reference, Ask about how development needs were identified and how the candidate developed over time.”

George also points out that when evaluating reasons for leaving it pays to remember two likely scenarios: – some people are running FROM something and some people are running TO something. So it is worth trying to work out what they are running from or running to!

New call-to-action

Take your Time and Get the Right Person

Often recruiting seems “urgent”. You feel that you simply cannot go another month without the role being filled. However, never rush recruitment. If you find that a recruitment cycle has not yielded a suitable candidate, don’t hire an unsuitable one, start again. Review the role, the advertisement and the salary and try and see what you can do to make the role more attractive. Perhaps open the role up in terms of length or type of experience or qualifications. Re-write the advertisement if necessary and consider using other recruitment channels or perhaps another recruiter for the second round. However, keep going until you get the right person. Hiring an interim manager can often take off some of the pressure  to hire someone.

Once You have Found the Right Person – Act Quickly

“Playing hard to get” might seem like a good approach on the dating scene, but it is a disaster in recruitment. Once you know the person you want to hire, act swiftly. Keep communicating to the candidate regularly – even daily, giving them updates on the progress of approvals, contracts and starting dates. A communication vacuum or excessive delay can lead good candidates to take matters in to their own hands and accept another role – sending you back to square one.

Plan a Good induction and Introduction to Your Business.

Every new recruit needs support when they start their new role. Make sure that you have planned the new manager’s first day and first few weeks. Ensure that basics such as their computer, office accommodation and IT access are in place. Allow for plenty of your time to induct them into the business, introduce them to their peers and team and explain to them in detail what you want for the role. Set clear goals and targets, but give them time to develop their own plans too. Set regular focused catch ups (rather than just water cooler chats) to discuss their progress and the support they need from you. Be open to their ideas and the things they feel they need to succeed in their role.

New call-to-action


Deciding who to recruit is the most important decision you will make as a manager, so it is important to do it well and thoroughly. Take the time to get it right and you will make your job easier in the long term and greatly improve your business. Get recruitment wrong and you will simply facing a “management revolving door” in a few months time.

Learn the Seven Reasons Not to Fire Your Factory Manager

To contact George Dimopoulos, email [email protected].

Timothy McLean

Author: Timothy McLean

Timothy McLean is the Managing Director of TXM Lean Solutions and is an author of Lean books.