Our guest on the recent episode of the “In Systems We Trust” podcast is all about unlocking hidden potential within teams through operations. She does this, because she herself suffered from a lack of direction and untapped potential until she discovered her talent in operational process improvement.
Meet Jhana Li, 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. Her passion lies in scaling purpose-based businesses and partnering with the founding entrepreneurs to unlock their highest potential & impact.
Spotting the gaps and redefining operations.
It took Jhana a while before she was able to put a finger on where her true talents lie.
“I was quite literally directionless. I was living in a converted van with my boyfriend at the time and was travelling through all of North and South America, just going wherever the wind took us. And I was working kind of a series of remote jobs at the time and I would be a writer for a marketing firm or this, that, the other thing. And it was all good work, I was good at it, but it wasn't me at my highest potential and I knew that.”
It was when she was asked to fill in for a temporary account manager position that she stumbled upon operations. Jhana found gaps and inefficiencies that were very clear to her that no one else saw, and started fixing them accordingly. It took her a while and many other positions to realize that the thing that set her apart from anyone else was operational process improvement.
“It was a unique lens I was bringing into the business. And over time, I figured out that that lens was operations.”
The more she worked with digital businesses and delved into their inner working, the more Jhana got a grasp on how operations work and understand best practices. Through her observation, she learned what effectively allowed a business to scale, what the common pitfalls and obstacles were that stagnated a business and stopped it from scaling, and what key mechanisms allowed for growth.
Consequently, Jhana then started her own business, Jhana Li Ventures, to reach more companies and connect them with the operational skills that they needed to effectively grow and scale. In her experience, operations is not a very well-defined or well-understood term.
“Operations isn't just the everything person. Operations isn't a generally competent person. There is a definition for operations. There is a definition for success.”
It took Jhana many hours of practice to bring the right language or terminology to bring a proper infrastructure to the concept of operations. Operators are problem solvers. They are capable of detecting flaws in the systems that are holding their companies back, designing and executing solutions to improve the businesses’ overall bottom line and making departments or teams work more efficiently.
Once a talented operator understands the true function of what they do, they’re able to unlock their real potential and aid in the growth of their business.
Operational process improvement in action.
Jhana uses the analogy of car maintenance to visually explain how she and her team operate. Just as you would go to an auto-mechanic shop to diagnose your car problem, companies seek help from Jhana in the same way. She and her team even have a checklist that they use in what they call “Ops inspection” to detect what’s working in their systems and what needs to be improved. Even though each business faces its own unique set of issues, Jhana realized that 90% of the bottlenecks were almost always the same. They didn't show up exactly the same way, but the core underlying gap was there. With this data, Jhana and her team were able to build their 25-point checklist that always works no matter how different the companies she worked with were.
“So we have our checklist that we can do a deep dive. We can pop the hood on your business, and do a deep dive audit into everything, like systems, Slack, team and leadership organizational chart, the whole thing. And we have built the report so we can give you the diagnosis of what's going to fail in your business, when it's going to fail, and the reasons why.”
This is how operational process improvement really starts, by identifying gaps in the business's systems and giving reasons why they need to be resolved. The more detailed the report is, the less pushback Jhana receives from her clients. She’s able to demonstrate her knowledge of what frustrates business owners and establish confidence in taking on these challenges and show results.
“It’s a rigorous process to build a game plan for clients and clarify all the reasons why they are as stuck as they are, and why they feel like their time is being spent poorly or their team isn't responding the way they want. When you're able to help them understand why those things are happening, they tend to trust that you have the solution to fix them.”
This deep dive usually takes Jhana and her team a week to execute, which typically takes longer. This is because, on their end, they have thorough and systemized internal workflows of their own that allow them to complete inspections faster and more efficiently. One can’t expect less from an operational process improvement consultancy. After that, Jhana presents a 90 minutes report to walk her clients through exactly what they had found as part of the deep dive process.
How to motivate remote teams: Autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Operational process improvement starts by clearing bottlenecks, and in Jhana’s experience, the most common “highest leverage” bottlenecks always start with leadership. These are the boulders that have to move first in order for everything else to flow. How individuals in leadership positions manage and motivate their team is usually a good indicator of how successful a business can potentially be.
“A lot of the work that I end up doing is one-on-one consulting with executives or executive team around management.”
These consultations usually include training on the basics of effective leadership, how to hire and train teams and hold them accountable, especially in a remote team environment. Most importantly, showing business owners how to motivate their teams to bring the best to the table. The biggest issue business owners face is their team’s inability to operate or generate ideas if they step away for a day or a week. This issue starts from the top, and once proper operational processes are set in place, leaders can rely on their teams to operate in their absence. Even better, they can unlock the brilliant potential that helps in business growth.
Jhana expands more on the idea of motivating remote teams and implementing it in operational process improvement.
“My number one best practice when it comes to building a high-performance remote team is that you as a leader, need to get really good and actually strategic. There's a set of tools you can learn to build intrinsic motivation as opposed to relying on extrinsic motivation.”
Drawing from Daniel Pink’s book Drive, Jhana explains the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and why external motivators fall short. Extrinsic motivation refers to the act of doing anything solely for an external factor such as receiving a reward or avoiding punishment. This includes raises, promotions, and shiny job titles.
Recent statistics reveal that extrinsic motivation is not how you get the best performance out of an employee. What motivates people is intrinsic, or anything that comes from within. Intrinsic motivation comes down to three core pillars: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the ability to control your own life, have agency, and be able to make choices. Mastery is the desire to be good at something, and purpose is the feeling that your work matters and that you’re part of something better. Once you embed these three elements in your company culture, your team will become self-motivated, accountable, and willing to pull themselves upward to better themselves. When this is achieved, business owners do not need to push their teams or spend time telling them what to do and when to do it. Instead, all owners need to do is point to a direction, and the team will go running on their own.
Unlocking potential and achieving work-life harmony.
The biggest “why” that drives Jhana and her team and gives them purpose in their work is to unlock untapped potential through operational process improvement. With the right processes and training, business owners are much more equipped to delegate their work to talented individuals and allow them to focus on parts of the job that they enjoy doing.
This state is what Jhana coins as “work-life harmony.”
“To me, travel, outdoor activities, and spending time with my friends and family, are all an expression of myself. But I’m also of the opinion that if you're the right person in the right role, working for the right company and in the right environment, work is also you. Work is an expression of your talents, your skill, your intellect, and the things that are unique and special about you that you bring to the table. And your company is just a vehicle for you to translate all of that talent and potential into service.”
Jhana’s message to business owners is to delegate and not abdicate. Ridding ourselves of the limiting belief that we are the only ones capable of doing the job we do is the first step toward trusting the people we hire, and allowing them to thrive in their roles.
“Success is somebody bringing their own unique genius to the role and executing it in alignment with the desired outcomes that you set right. As the business owner, you are in charge of setting the direction, defining success, setting the targets they need to hit and transferring ownership for that target to them. They are responsible for figuring out how to get there.”
If you enjoyed reading this post, you’ll love listening to the full episode! The passion Jhana shows in her work and service to others is infectious, and you’ll find yourself invigorated by the end of the episode. Check out episode 43 of “In Systems We Trust”, now live on all major podcast platforms.