There’s no single way to build out an ops team. So many factors impact the resources you need: what phase of growth the company’s in, the skills you already have on staff, budget, etc.

For this episode of shOPS Talk, we talked with two ops leaders from companies experiencing different stages of growth. We wanted to get multiple perspectives on how to build an effective ops team. Read on to get their guidance.

First, meet our guests for this episode

Mallory Lee is the Senior Director of Operations at Terminus (where she first met Brad). Based in Indianapolis, she has previously worked as both a VP of Marketing and marketing ops leader, with experience at companies including ExactTarget and Salesforce.

Kevin Wisniewski is the Sales Operations Manager at Onna. He has worked in revops for about five years, usually at high-growth, early stage companies. He started in sales until he realized he was more interested in the science of sales than actually selling.

How our experts plan their teams

When Kevin started building out his team at Onna, he decided to begin with sales enablement instead of the traditional ops role. Based on the company’s goals, it was important to arm the sales team with the right resources as quickly as possible. He recently hired a sales onboarding specialist and now he’s hiring for a generalist role.

At Terminus, revops rolls up under the CFO, which helps Mallory’s team work across all departments at the company. She’s built her team based on three legs: data/analysis/BI on one side, technology on the other side, and a more proper revops team in the middle. The revops managers act as practice leaders and are each aligned to a department in the company (e.g., marketing, sales, product, etc.). Long term, they plan to add a deal desk as part of that middle layer.

Justifying budget for headcount

Ops isn’t a revenue generating entity, which makes it challenging to get budget approvals. Mallory says ops has to get creative in making the case for additional headcount. She encourages her team to look at every ticket they work on as money in the door. Her approach is to “feel the pain first, prove the pain, prove the business case, and then make the hire.”

That’s how she was able to justify adding the deal desk function. Right now, all of the revops managers are sharing those duties. She can estimate how much time they’re spending on it and she knows they’re up to a full-time employee’s worth of hours.

She also shows the time savings that her team can offer. For instance, one of her BI analysts can build middleware that automates reporting that customers typically have to request via email. She can prove that his solution (and having someone with his skills) will save time that Terminus employees are spending on replying to those emails.

Kevin advises you use opportunity costs – the cost of not taking action – to justify additional headcount. Show how you’re leaving dollars on the table by accepting the status quo.

Brad points out that it’s all about storytelling: how you paint the right picture of the pain point and show how you solve for it. Being solution oriented is key. We do it in our daily work, and we should use the same approach when we need additional headcount.

The one trait to look for in every new hire

Kevin says that, regardless of the function, you need to be empathetic to work in ops. You’re supporting multiple teams, and being able to understand their pains is core to ops success.  When he evaluates candidates, empathy speaks to him more than the tangible aspect of their ability to build dashboards and reports.

Mallory’s had great success finding people in non-ops roles who want to get more involved in making things work better. She looks for people who are problem solvers with the determination and curiosity to find solutions and see them through completion.

How to tell if a candidate’s claims are legit

When Mallory’s interviewing for a skill set that’s not in her wheelhouse, she recruits outside help from other departments. With a recent BI hire, she gave the candidate homework and asked a couple of colleagues from the technical solutions department to help evaluate their skills.

Kevin’s also a believer in giving homework assignments and getting people from other departments involved in the hiring process. He thinks it’s important to make sure the candidate is evaluated from every angle since they’ll be working with so many teams.

Give them a chance to be creative and show grit, and that will give you confidence that you’ve hired the right person.

To get the full scoop on hiring for ops, including Mallory and Kevin’s tips for young ops professionals, watch the full episode.

Learn more about shOPS Talk here, and for all things ops, be sure to check out the WizOps blog.