Top 5 Aspiring Ops Episodes of All-Time
August 23, 2023
Top 5 Aspiring Ops Episodes of All-Time

Countdown of The Best Aspiring Ops Episodes

Last updated: 10/23/23

When we initially launched Aspiring Ops, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Drawing from our own experience as former Strategy and Operations Leaders, we recognized a void in content that truly nurtured the growth and development of young, aspiring Strategy and Operations Leaders. 

And so, Aspiring Ops was born - a series crafted to amplify the voices of world-class Strategy & Operations Leaders as they share their personal stories and provide practical steps we can all take to help scale our companies and ourselves as leaders.

After five enriching seasons of Aspiring Ops, we believed it was time to reflect on the path we’ve traveled and the community that we’ve built alongside each and every Strategy and Operations Leader. To do so, we wanted to revisit the top episodes of all-time and relive some of the pivotal moments that made them the most popular episodes of Aspiring Ops to date. 

Starting with the fifth-most popular episode, we will be counting down the top five episodes, delving back into the wisdom shared by each guest that helped make the episode so popular. 

So, without further delay, I’m excited to announce that at number five in the countdown we have episode number 21, Providing Clarity in the Chief of Staff Role, featuring Céline Felan, Chief of Staff at SugarCRM. 

#5: Providing Clarity in the Chief of Staff Role

Original Release Date: August 31, 2021

Episode Number: 21

Links to Listen: iTunesSpotify

Original Recap: Providing Clarity in the Chief of Staff Role

Celine Felan

This episode originally aired way back in 2021, but it was at the bleeding edge for how many companies were beginning to think about the impact of the Chief of Staff role. In particular, a number of companies were starting to feel the effects of hiring for the Chief of Staff position, because it was the popular thing to do, but not having a clear grasp as to what the role truly entailed. 

A number of organizations were hiring for this role, but looking at folks who were relatively early in their career and who didn’t have much experience working across a number of departments within a business. 

Céline’s journey, from her beginning as a business analyst, followed by roles in program management, business transformation, and mergers & acquisitions, led her to a point where she felt drawn to opportunities where she was helping leaders bring ideas to life. This desire to connect strategy with execution helped set the stage for how Céline approached the Chief of Staff role and how she defined success. 

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, Céline shares how her willingness to accept opportunities with open arms led to her role as the Chief of Staff at SugarCRM, and helped her understand the importance of providing clarity and managing expectations across the business. 

Key Takeaways of Episode #21

All too frequently, we witness organizations implement a Chief of Staff role only to see it get watered down into a Chief Firefighter, focusing on the little things that inevitably pop up each day. And while there is certainly something to be said about the Chief of Staff being a utility role, capable of flexing into a number of different areas of the business, the truth is that the position needs to be much more strategic. 

As Céline shares, the Chief of Staff role is set up to provide clarity to the organization, managing expectations, and bringing people together. 

It’s one thing to say, ‘we want to be clear, aligned, and transparent as a company,’ but it’s much harder to actually follow through on that claim. Céline emphasizes that the Chief of Staff is tasked with bringing together different teams, departments, and projects to work towards a common goal. These individuals often have a superpower when it comes to building collective buy-in and seeing ideas through to the completion. 

Impact on Strategy and Operations Leaders 

The Chief of Staff role is one riddled with ambiguity and challenges if an organization hasn’t taken the time and intentionally to define success. Over the past few years we have seen the role grow so quickly in prominence, but also endure hurdles that are raised when companies hire for the role without thinking about the experience needed to empower the individuals stepping into the role. 

From what we’ve seen over the past few months at Elate, many organizations are starting to learn from these mistakes. More clearly defining success and the necessary experience to thrive in the Chief of Staff position. 

Céline was at the forefront for how the Chief of Staff can impact all areas of the organization, and her episode has had a lasting impact in shaping the conversation around the Chief of Staff role today. 

#4: A Clear Vision Leads to Clear Outcomes

Last week we unveiled the fifth most popular episode of all-time, and we’re excited to be back this week to continue our countdown. This week we move to number four on the list, as well as one of our more recent episodes. We’re elated to share that the fourth most popular episode is episode 46, A Clear Vision Leads to Clear Outcomes, featuring David Rosenberg, former Chief of Staff and COO at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation

David Rosenberg

Original Release Date: August 1, 2023

Episode Number: 46

Links to Listen: iTunesSpotify

Original Recap: A Clear Vision Leads to Clear Outcomes

As the most recent episode, this episode shot up the charts with the most-ever downloads within the first seven days of an episode being released in Aspiring Ops history. David certainly didn’t disappoint with his insights regarding the role of Chief of Staff and COO at the IEDC, but what really set this episode apart was his journey into the role.

Similar to so many Strategy and Operations Leaders, David’s career trajectory hasn’t been from point A to point B. It has taken a number of twists and turns, but at the heart of his career path has been the desire to surround himself with incredible Leaders and phenomenal teams. 

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, we hear about David’s journey into the role of COO and Chief of Staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. After multiple positions in the private and public sectors, David shares how he has charted the course for his career by surrounding himself with incredible Leaders and how the combination of great leadership with incredible teams has helped him bring together a big vision with measurable outcomes during his time with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

Note: As we update this post, David now serves as Secretary of Commerce for the State of Indiana!

Key Takeaways of Episode #46

As the former Chief of Staff and COO at the IEDC, David saw this firsthand in the role he plays bringing together a big vision with measurable outcomes. Specifically, David finds himself leading the charge for aligning the strategy set by leadership with the execution carried out by team members. But as he shares in the episode, it starts at the top. 

“It was so important to get that buy-in from the team early on. There are a lot of different things we can chase, but here are our strategic pillars,” said David. “If (those initiatives) are not fitting into our ultimate goal of driving population growth, then we don’t have the time or resources to spin our wheels on it.” 

At Elate, we refer to this often as the connection between long-term strategy with tactical execution, and Strategy and Operations Leaders are the bridge that brings these two areas together. 

Impact on Strategy and Operations Leaders 

It’s really easy today to talk about setting a strategy that can be measured, but bringing an outcomes-based approach to Strategic Planning is easier said than done.

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, David continually comes back to the long-term vision for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which ultimately helps him and his team set clear, measurable outcomes. Here at Elate, we see time and time again that a poorly communicated vision leads to misalignment and a lack of prioritization throughout the entire organization. 

For David, alignment comes from the vision being set by Leadership, and the role he plays in serving as the connective tissue between where your company wants to go and how you get there. As Strategy and Operations Leaders think about what success looks like in the role, it’s important to remember the role we play in bringing the vision to life in an intuitive way for team members, and provide clarity in how each employee’s work connects to the ultimate direction.

#3: Building A World-Class Operations Team

This week we have the privilege of revisiting the third most popular episode of the series, which brings us to Episode #36, Building a World-Class Operations Team, featuring Toby Carrington, Chief Business Officer at Seismic. This episode held the title of most-listened-to episode for quite some time before being overtaken by two other episodes (stay tuned)!

One of our team’s personal favorites, Toby highlights the significant rise we have seen in the impact of Strategy and Operations teams across the organization. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from one of the greats in Aspiring Ops history…

Original Release Date: April 26, 2022

Episode Number: 36

Links to Listen: iTunesSpotify

Original Recap: Building A World-Class Operations Team

Toby’s Episode Recap 

In this episode, we proclaimed that ‘We are in the midst of the rise in Strategy and Operations.’

While it was something of a bold take when we originally made the statement, we’ve continued to see companies investing earlier and more heavily into the people, processes, and solutions that will empower Strategy and Operations leaders to unlock growth and opportunity within a business.

At the time of this recording, Toby held the role of EVP of Global Operations at Seismic. However, as his newly earned title as Chief Business Officer would suggest, Toby has played a key role in helping Seismic unlock growth and scale into the industry-leading sales enablement platform that it is today.

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, Toby shares how he’s helped build a world-class operations team, and the focus he’s placed on finding team members with a complementary skill-set. He also highlights the role Operations plays in Strategic Planning, and how OKRs have helped drive alignment and execution throughout the company.

Key Takeaways of Episode #36

It’s hard to boil this episode down into one key takeaway.

From sharing more on how Seismic overcame false starts with OKRs to ultimately rolling out a clear, transparent process with the help of Elate to aligning on key initiatives in a way that distinguishes what’s urgent vs important, Toby provides a blueprint into building a great Strategy and Operations department.

However, the biggest takeaway from this episode has to be the advice Toby shares for any aspiring Strategy and Operations Leader looking to take the next step in their career.

We talk often about the role Strategy and Operations Leaders play in bringing together long-term strategy with tactical execution, and as Toby shares in this episode, that process starts during the planning process.

As Toby highlights, “The planning process is the number one tip that I would suggest for people looking to move out of the operational level detail to strategy.” And we would tend to agree with this statement. 

For many Strategy and Operations Leaders turning their wheels, feeling as though they’re stuck simply tackling the most urgent (not most important) fires or feeling whiplash from getting pulled in a new direction each day, it comes back to the way the organization sets priorities to begin with. The more ownership Strategy and Operations Leaders take in the planning process, the more impact they will have in clearly defining the priorities that matter most to the business to achieve long-term success. 

Impact on Strategy and Operations Leaders 

Building a great Strategy and Operations team isn’t as simple as throwing bodies at a challenge or introducing process for the sake of process. As Toby highlights, there needs to be intentionality in how the team is built, how decisions are made, and how you communicate clearly to the entire organization. 

By defining the ‘why’ behind your operations team, you can effectively communicate ‘how’ Operations can work throughout your business. 

With the rise in Strategy and Operations, it’s more important than ever to put in place a world-class team to thrive in a constant state of change and provide clarity on what matters most to the business. Toby and the team at Seismic have continued evolving how this comes to life across the organization, and more importantly, committed to the process of consistently evaluating the structure of the team and how they best facilitate bringing together the strategy with execution. 

For those leaders looking to build a leading Strategy Operations team and amplify their impact across the business, this is an episode that you will want to bookmark.

#2: Creating an Environment for Talent to Thrive

Here we are, the top two episodes of Aspiring Ops! It’s been incredible seeing the pouring in of support and feedback as we’ve revisited the top five episodes of Aspiring Ops, and we’re *elated* to continue the countdown with second-most popular episode:  Creating an Environment for Talent to Thrive, featuring Dr. Bill Murphy, COO at Indianapolis Public Schools.

With a unique view of Operations at one of the larger Public School Systems in the country, Dr. Bill Murphy shares how his leadership style has helped create a culture rarely found within public school systems.

Original Release Date: May 16, 2023

Episode Number: 43

Links to Listen: iTunesSpotify

Original Recap: Creating an Environment for Talent to Thrive

Dr. Murphy’s Episode Recap 

Although he was just one year into the role at IPS, Dr. Murphy’s efforts have allowed individual contributors to thrive in their day-to-day roles, while also creating a better learning environment for over 30,000 students in Central Indiana. 

Nothing better illustrates this impact felt by Dr. Murphy than his ability to take the approach of "lead learner".

On this episode of Aspiring ops, Dr. Murphy shares why it is mission-critical for Strategy and Operations Leaders to create an environment that not only empowers employees to thrive day-to-day, but also helps them understand the impact their work has on the long-term strategy. And when the organization's vision is helping K-12 students reach their full potential, it couldn’t ring truer.

Key Takeaways of Episode #43

When Dr. Murphy took over as COO at IPS in 2022, he knew that he needed to receive buy-in from his team in order for the school system to reach its long-term vision. The idea of becoming a ‘Lead Learner’ was at the heart of how Dr. Murphy helped instill a culture that aligned team members on the journey of creating a world-class school system.

“Once I got my team to understand that I am very comfortable being a Lead Learner, and that it did not bother me that I was not an expert or lacked expertise in something… it created a really great opportunity and they get really excited (about teaching Bill things they are experts in).”

By embracing the role of Lead Learner, Dr. Murphy has broken down the walls of implied hierarchical positions within the school system. He has created trust with his team that has aligned them on their vision and values.

Dr. Murphy shares how this approach led to the empowerment of one of his key team members in the decision making process for an area that they were best suited to solve. 

Dr. Murphy highlights the importance of a Strategy and Operations Leader being comfortable admitting what they know and don’t know. By approaching situations with humility Dr. Murphy allows the true experts within the organization to own and execute, it inherently gives them the authority to control the environment they work within. 

Impact on Strategy and Operations Leaders 

So often overlooked in the role of Strategy and Operations Leaders is the acknowledgement that a vision will remain just that without alignment and execution. A vision. Creating an environment and culture that allows each contributor to thrive and feel connected to that vision helps bring that direction to reality.

By creating a culture that drives buy-in to the overall vision for employees, Strategy and Operations Leaders can remove barriers, unlock opportunities for growth, and help their organization move faster.

Whether it be at a public school system, Fortune 100 Company, or anything in between, it’s critical that Strategy and Operations Leaders empower those around them and instill a sense of ownership to how your organization reaches their goals together.

#1 Making Effective Decisions While Embracing the Unknown

We’ve reached the mountain top. After five seasons of Aspiring Ops, we have been counting down the top five episodes of all-time.

Listened to by thousands of leaders across companies around the globe, Aspiring Ops, has brought together stories from the best Strategy and Operations Leaders everywhere to share their personal stories and provide practical steps we can all take to help scale our companies and ourselves as leaders.

While each episode has provided nuggets of wisdom and brilliant insights, we are *elated* to finally share the most listened to episode of all-time. So with that, please join us in celebrating episode 38, Making Effective Decisions while Embracing the Unknown, featuring Jerry Limber former VP of Strategy and Operations at ZoomInfo and current SVP of Product Strategy and Operations at Nielsen.

For those that might have missed it the first time around, you’ll want to hear Jerry’s story and unique journey into Strategy and Operations.

Original Release Date: June 21, 2022

Episode Number: 38

Links to Listen: iTunesSpotify

Original Recap: Making Effective Decisions While Embracing the Unknown

Jerry's Episode Recap

Although we run the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s worth sharing again that Strategy and Operations Leaders can come from anywhere.

Jerry’s story is unique in that his professional journey actually started on the professional poker circuit. After dropping out of college at the age of 21 and pursuing his dream to make it on the professional poker circuit, Jerry spent the next seven years without a traditional job. While his journey in professional poker ultimately came to an end, he’s seen his experience pay dividends in how he approaches his role in Strategy and Operations.

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, we hear Jerry's unlikely journey from professional poker player to helping lead Strategy and Operations at companies like ZoomInfo, Nielsen, and Comscore. He also shares how his career in poker taught him to focus on the decision making process, not just the results.

Jerry’s unique perspective is also a great reminder of how success in Strategy and Operations often starts with an ability to step into ambiguous situations and find answers that others may not be able to see.

Key Takeaways of Episode 38

Being comfortable with, and even thriving in ambiguity, is one of the common attributes we see across great strategy and operations leaders. For Jerry, his ability to embrace the unknown has served him well in the VP of Strategy and Operations role at ZoomInfo. 

Time after time, we see that success in Strategy and Operations starts with the unique ability to take in information, sift through what’s relevant, and drive decisions with a process that will yield results. This process can often be what differentiates a business with a great operating framework from one that struggles to find consistency.

For many Leaders, we can fall victim to paralysis by analysis, trying to capture 100% of the data or context. And usually, that just isn’t feasible. So rather than developing a process, trusting that process, and refining it with learnings, we often allow perfection to be the enemy of good. Or worse, we allow incomplete information to serve as an excuse for simply not having a decision making process at all. 

Impact on Strategy and Operations Leaders

One of the things we see so often at Elate is the false positive that so many companies get as it relates to strategic planning. Over the past decade, countless companies grew comfortable with having poor or even a non-existent strategic planning process.

And it’s hard to blame them. Times were good, growth was up and to the right, and rarely did the cost of acquiring that growth come into play.

Yet for many companies, those bad habits have come back with a vengeance. The  overall economic landscape has taken a turn, and while we might have been able to get away with bad processes in the past, the repercussions of setting a bad strategy that can’t be implemented or followed are now magnified in Board Meetings.

With that said, we’ve seen a resurgence in companies focusing on the basics. Not just with strategic planning, but more importantly, in how they can ensure teams are aligned on the right priorities. Leadership teams are seeking better visibility into how teams are executing against their operating plan, and employees want to ensure their work is aligned with the operating plan. 

And while every outcome might not go our way, you can bet that by putting these fundamentals in place, we increase our likelihood of success. 

As Jerry points out, it’s critical that as Strategy and Operations Leaders we focus on the process.

It’s as though Jerry was looking into the future when he shared this advice. Building a strategy without proper decision making and evaluation of the information available is a recipe for disaster. Scrutinizing the priority of any given objective or initiative can make or break a strategy, and even if the end outcome wasn't what you were seeking, the muscle formed by going through the process intentionally will pay lasting dividends.