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The tell-tale signs of strong operations

Operations can be likened to the paddling legs of a duck while it glides seamlessly along the water – undetected on the surface, but going at full speed just out of view, and essential to launching the business-as-duck forward. To get a better understanding of all that masterful propulsion our eye misses, AC&C Content Manager, Renae Bowen caught up with Aaron Himmel, VP of Operations to talk about crafting efficiencies and building culture.

Renae Bowen: Aaron, you always come with a whole lot of positive energy, so I’m curious, what gets you pumped for the day?

Aaron Himmel: I found early in my career as a project manager that my energy directly impacts my co-workers and the work, so I have always made it a priority to walk into every workday with positive, infectious energy. There are tons of people out there with the same skillset, so I rely on my energy and outside-the-box way of doing things to help differentiate myself from others and provide more value. All of that and a good Peloton ride in the morning get me pumped for the day. 

RB: Aside from company values, what personal values drive your work? 

AH: My goal every day is to make at least one person laugh. I am a strong believer that if you do not enjoy what you do or who you work with, then you will not be able to produce your best work. So, if I can turn someone’s day around or add to their enjoyment at work, then my day is successful.

RB: Can you define what operations are or mean for AC&C?

AH: Operations are making sure our processes and staffing are set up to allow our employees and projects to succeed. If operations are running smoothly, then our employees are able to be efficient and effective. 

RB: In your nearly two years with the company, you have done so much to improve upon our culture and operations, but I want to know, what two things are you proudest of?

AH: Thank you for the compliment. One of the first things I always do when presented with any challenge or situation is sit down with everyone involved and listen to their thoughts and observations, which is what I had the opportunity to do when I arrived at AC&C. This allows me to then create a plan utilizing the information I heard from the team.  One common theme I heard was the desire for increased visibility into future work. So, through some process implementation such as weekly status and daily stand-ups, as well as the addition of our superstar Sr. Project Manager Abbey to help drive planning and process, we have become much more efficient and able to plan work weeks and months out. 

Another thing I am very proud of is our company’s perks. By building trust and holding ourselves accountable, we are able to enjoy and continue to build on our company perks. We now have Summer Fridays, quarterly wellness days, everyone gets their birthday off, a fearless fund, and our Friday Steps challenge where we encourage people to get outside on Fridays and log their steps (which leads to a quarterly contribution to a different charity) – plus plenty more! 

RB: This might feel like a big question, but what tips do you have for building culture? How does one even start?

AH: Building culture is a long-term goal, something that cannot happen overnight. So, just setting those expectations with others is a good first step. Also, along those same lines, culture is something you need to invest in and not something you can just flip a switch on. It truly takes planning, observing, and continuous tweaking to build culture. 

Culture also isn’t something that is built from the top down. I have seen too many failed attempts when leadership tries to implement “forced fun”, which is not letting culture organically build. The answer isn’t always a happy hour (even though those are great), so understanding what motivates your employees and finding the right people within the agency to help drive cultural events are key parts. 

Lastly, you need to make sure you have the right people. One thing a former owner at an agency I worked for told me was “We don’t work with jerks. We don’t hire jerks and we don’t work with clients who are jerks.” and that has always stuck with me.  

RB: Operations work is often behind-the-scenes and not always perceived by the wider team. What would you say the tell-tale signs are that operations are strong from within a business?

AH: I love numbers, so I am always digging through data we collect from everyone’s timesheets. One thing I always look at is utilization and billable numbers. I am able to work with our leadership team to set benchmarks around these quantitative numbers that allow me to see if we are staffed properly and working efficiently. One other sign I always look at is our renewal percentage. When we are able to continue to work with existing clients for extended periods of time, this shows me that the work we are producing is great. Our clients are seeing the benefits of our relationship with them and our operations are a major reason behind this. 

RB: As a professional built to handle all sorts of issues and troubleshooting, are there business roadblocks you actually love rolling up your sleeves to resolve?

AH: For my entire business career, I have always been used as a firefighter, where my manager can put me into any situation and I have been able to observe, recommend, and then implement a solution. So, I love being put into any difficult or impossible situation and finding a solution that works for everyone.  

RB: What would an alternate career path look like for you?

AH: I think my dream of playing for a Cleveland professional sports team is pretty unrealistic at this point, unfortunately. However, my love for numbers and sports has led me to dive into the rapidly growing sports gambling industry, so I would love to be involved in that business as it continues to rise. 

RB: You always bring the laughs so I want to know, who or what cracks you up?

AH: I love comedy in general. One of my favorite places ever is the Comedy Cellar in NYC. I probably went there over 25 times when I lived in NYC.  If I had to pick one genre of comedy, my favorite would be cringe or awkward comedy. I don’t laugh harder than any situation Larry David or Michael Scott find themselves in. 

RB: What is the top-secret, little-known best thing about working for AC&C?

AH: Our #hottakes Slack channel