So you want to do operations [Part one] - which skills do you need?

post by eirine · 2018-11-28T10:23:05.437Z · score: 28 (25 votes) · EA · GW · 23 comments

Contents

  Why are we writing this post? 
  What is this post about and who should read it? 
  What skills are needed, and which of them can be taught 
    80k on skills needed in operations roles
    Survey of operations people in EA-organisations
  Remaining questions
  Appendix - List of skills the respondents of our survey viewed as innate or acquired
    Innate: 
    Acquired:
None
24 comments

Eirin M. Evjen, Exec. Dir. EA Norway
Jørgen R. Ljønes, Ass. Exec. Dir. EA Norway

This is the first post in a series on the talent constraint for operations roles experienced by the EA movement and associated organisations as the community grows. The further posts in the series are:

Why are we writing this post?

There’s a current discussion on what talent gaps/constraints actually entail, and how we as a community can best overcome the bottlenecks to ensure progress. See parts of the discussion here [EA · GW] and here [EA · GW]. Although a lot of the confusion around talent gaps have been somewhat clarified, it is still unclear exactly what it entails for those of us who are trying to fill these gaps. A lot of EAs, including local and national groups such as EA Norway, are eager to help fill the different talent gaps in the community. Some of the most sought-after skills, according to 80,000 hours’ (80k) talent gap survey in 2018, has to do with operations in an organisation. By “operations” we mean people at organisations and institutions that enable other employees to focus on core tasks and maximise productivity. This entails financial systems, project management, ensuring a productive office, assisting executive roles, organising internal events, hiring and human relations (HR), as well as communications, fundraising and general management (80k, 2018). Such roles are often abbreviated to “ops”, and which of these responsibilities an ops person has varies a lot from one organisation to another.

What is this post about and who should read it?

This post is about what relevant skills are needed to succeed in an operations role, which of these skills are innate and which are acquirable. It is a summary of what we have learned so far, and an invitation to discuss these questions further. We have gathered information from 80k’s recent forum posts and podcast episodes, discussed with relevant people in the EA community, and surveyed a few people with ops roles. This series of posts is relevant for people who are in charge of or helping out hiring for operations roles, people interested in operations roles, groups similar to ours, and people in the community who are interested in these questions. We are very eager to receive feedback, additional resources, and any thoughts on this topic.

What skills are needed, and which of them can be taught

Doing operations well is hard, and part of the reason there still is a deficit of operations talent in EA orgs is that the list of required skills for operations people is long. We believe it is important to have a better understanding of these skills if we want to help recruiting people who have them. A fundamental question we found is whether the most important skills are mainly innate, or if they can be acquired through training. This question is important because it influences the decision of whether one should try to find people who already are good at operations, or train good candidates to become good operations employees.

80k on skills needed in operations roles

According to their article on “Why operations management is one of the biggest bottlenecks in effective altruism”, 80k provides a list of skills that are needed in operations roles based on interviews with successful operations staff. These are:

These skills are associated with operations in general, and there are other types of skills that are required in specific positions at HR, legal, or finance.

80k argue that many people don’t realise they are a good fit for operations, and that many might have a comparative advantage of pursuing such roles even without a background in operations. This sentiment is echoed by 80k’s podcasts with Tanya Singh, administrator at Future of Humanity Institute, and Tara Mac Aulay, former CEO (chief executive officer) and COO (chief operations officer) of CEA (centre for effective altruism). Therefore, it seems like one could have a lot of the skills needed, without direct experience in operations roles.

This might be because a lot of the skills mentioned are more generally applicable, and might also be innate, suggesting one might have the necessary skills without having experience from an operations role. Especially for a junior role, Singh argued that having certain traits was sufficient, such as having a bias towards action, being excited about learning new things,and having a drive to want to improve things and put scalable systems and solutions in place. Mac Aulay argues that a deeper problem-solving skillset, creativity, initiative, and good working memory are skills that a good ops person needs to have. The fact that 80k and the two podcast guests list a lot of skills needed for such positions, while simultaneously saying that some “just have it”, left us with unanswered questions about which skills are innate, and which is it possible to acquire through training.

Survey of operations people in EA-organisations

To better understand the nature of these skills, we ran a short survey of people with ops roles in different EA-organisations. Some of the questions were related to the respondents’ perception of their own skills, while others were about if they were to hire someone for an operations role. As has become apparent from 80k, there is a difference between junior and senior roles in operations, and we therefore asked for both roles when asking about hiring to make this distinction clear.

In the junior positions, the respondents said they would look for candidates who has attention to detail, are self-motivated and enthusiastic, are organised and conscientious, and have general mental abilities. In addition, they mentioned grit, taking initiative and communicating well. One respondent mentioned evidence of some experience, for example voluntary projects and internships.

In the senior positions, the respondents emphasised more object-level skills such as accounting, project management, and HR, as well as strategic thinking. In addition to the skills needed in the junior positions, the respondents sought after candidates with good judgement, being able to manage multiple complex projects, having managerial and leadership skills, and even better communication skills. Furthermore, having some form of relevant experience was mentioned by multiple respondents. One respondent would look for candidates with 6+ years experience with complex projects for senior roles. The same respondent also mentioned evidence of having a concrete impact in previous roles. Others were less specific and looked for experience with legal issues, HR, finance, leadership, and project management.

We asked our respondents to think of the talent and skills that made them eligible for their operations roles, and rate on a scale from one to five to what degree these are innate or acquirable. On the scale, 1 represented totally or mostly innate, while 5 was totally or mostly teachable. The results were that three of the respondents chose 3, one chose 2 and the final one chose 4. This means that the respondents think the relevant talent and skills they possess are about half and half innate and acquired. This result is maybe not that surprising, but it makes us update away from the more extreme positions that a strong majority of the important skills for an operations role is either innate or acquired.

We then asked them to list their innate talents and acquired skills. You can see the full list of skills mentioned in the appendix. In terms of innate talents, three mentioned general mental ability or intelligence. One mentioned understanding and not being discouraged by complex issues and systems. Another two emphasised motivation to do the work, and grit/tenacity when dealing with the more difficult or tedious tasks. Lastly, one respondent mentioned an interest in doing ops type of work, and finding such work rewarding. The skills listed by the respondents are similar to 80k’s findings. An addition to their results is the notion of grit, tenacity, and motivation.

There are two key points regarding the list of innate talents and skills. First of all, the list contains many varied answers, a minority of which are mentioned by multiple respondents. We think this suggests that different operations roles require different types of skills. For example, being responsible for financial systems might require being able to understand complex systems than doing more project management tasks. Secondly, it is important to note that the skills mentioned in this list aren’t necessarily completely innate, but that at least a substantial part of them are.

Regarding the respondents’ self-reported acquired skills, all five respondents mentioned management, doing tasks or being productive. Two mentioned attention to detail and being able to zoom out and see the bigger picture. One of the respondents who mentioned attention to detail as a key skill explained that this can be innate for many people, but it wasn’t for them. Other skills mentioned twice were being able to prioritise and being good at communicating. Lastly, there is a list of skills that were mentioned once:

These findings are also similar to 80ks results from their survey. Additions are having good “operations” judgement, having creative problem solving skills, and being able to delegate, though these are mentioned by Mac Aulay and Singh. There are other additions as well, but they are mainly about concrete tasks that vary between different operations roles, such as employment laws. As with the answers to which skills are innate, the list of acquired skills is also varied, where few skills are listed multiple times. It is also interesting that taking joy in solving operational problems is mentioned in both categories - meaning that it is both viewed as largely innate and largely acquirable. Again, we think this has to do with the variance in operations tasks, and the fact that the respondents likely do not view each skill as completely innate or completely acquirable.

Remaining questions

Researching and writing this post has been a very valuable experience for us, and we hope others who are interested in narrowing the talent gap of operations roles in EA organisations will benefit from reading this as well. Still, there are many unanswered questions, and we hope that the discussion on talent gaps and on what the best course of action is will continue. We are especially interested in answering the following questions:

As there are multiple facets to this topic, and remaining questions we would like to explore, we want to continue this series with further posts that try to answer the questions above. We think there are opportunities for EA organisations and local/national group to work more closely together to find how we best can reduce the talent constraints in the community, and think discussing and answering the questions above are ways to explore these opportunities. We welcome a continued discussion and feedback in the comment section below and in the posts to come.


Appendix - List of skills the respondents of our survey viewed as innate or acquired

Innate:

Acquired:

23 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-11-28T21:06:50.205Z · score: 32 (20 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Somewhat controversial personal opinion: when thinking about this space, my null hypothesis is talented people are actually abundant, and the bottleneck is on the side of EA organizations and possibly in culture.

Reasons could be various: for example, I can imagine

  • organizations are ops bottlenecked, and hiring is another ops task
  • historically, founder's effect & difficulty of finding/identifying ops people if you have very different mindset
  • homophily&trust networks based hiring
  • misaligned filtering (potentially great ops people being filtered early on criteria like not having CVs impressive in the right way, in a later stage people with the most impressive CVs actually not being good fit, or not that interested in ops)
  • prestige
  • risk-aversion on org side
comment by MarkusAnderljung · 2018-12-04T20:43:28.307Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think what really filters down the number of candidates significantly is that most organizations want to fill ops-roles with people who are able to do their job very autonomously. This means that a premium is put on something like value-alignment and good judgment. These two factors significantly narrows down the talent pool.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-12-11T08:32:15.252Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious how do you think this is evaluated in practice. I'd expect this to map mostly to homophily&trust networks based hiring and risk-aversion on the org side. So my hypothesis is the pool is not narrowed down by value-alignment and good judgment per se, but by difficulties in signalling these qualities.

comment by eirine · 2018-12-05T13:27:46.703Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting, do you think there are ways to practice or increase value-alignment/good judgment? For example by doing an internship at the organisation in question? Or having a practice period either at the organisation, or through a training programme organised by someone else?

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-29T15:59:22.822Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

+1 to this hypothesis

Many high-functioning orgs outside of EA have intense ops needs, and are able to successfully hire & maintain large teams to address these needs.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2018-12-03T22:34:33.785Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is there a reason you came to have this opinion in the first place? The reasons you gave could work as explanations if "talented people are abundant" is true, but what actually makes you believe that in the first place?

It's hard for me to figure out whether I believe the same thing or not; when I look at the totality of my non-EA work experience, in many different fields where "ops"-type skills were required, I think I'd lean toward "ops talent is not as abundant as I once thought", but all I can back that up with is a series of anecdotes. (Many freelance tutors are not well-organized despite being in a job that strongly rewards ops talent, many businesspeople in high-profile positions use clunky filing systems and zero productivity tools, many hospital IT people are poor communicators... all of these are examples of ops skill being useful, but not present.)

comment by eirine · 2018-12-05T13:25:56.962Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this hypothesis is similar to the points made by 80k in their post [EA · GW] on why although EA orgs really value their previous hires, especially in operations, there is still a large talent gap. It seems like part of the constraint has to do with the organisations' ability hire new people. We're also really interested in finding ways to reduce the constraint on EA orgs by seeing how we can reduce organisational costs through, for example, contributing to the filtering process or providing strong signals about a person. This is something we want to explore in the next posts in the series.

Do you have ideas to address and perhaps reduce the organisational constraints?

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2018-11-28T20:36:47.176Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for choosing an important topic and conducting original research.

Having a short "key points" section at the top of the post (and future posts) would be valuable; I think the core insights can be collected in a couple of lines. What I took away: some skills are innate, but most are acquired; there's no clear consensus on which skills are most important, but answers emphasized broad experience; we'll learn in the next post how to measure your skills and acquire new ones.

Also, I wish that this post featured more examples. Phrases like "attention to detail" and "leadership skills" are very common in the business world, but it's often hard to understand what they look like (especially since mainstream writing on career skills is generally very nonspecific), or how a top ops person's use of them might differ from what we think of as "normal". There's clearly a difference between the way Tara Mac Aulay attends to detail and the way an average office worker does, but what exactly is that difference?

Following on that: Did your survey ask people to give examples of times when a given skill was useful to them, and what the skill looked like when it was in use? If not, future surveys should.

Finally, I wish that we could access respondents' answers directly. Given that only five people responded to the questions, I don't think linking to answers would overwhelm readers, and we'd get some nuance that's hard to express in a summary — though I understand if the actual text of answers needed to be kept anonymous!

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2018-11-28T18:32:29.595Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

context: I work in an operational capacity for a startup and have for several years

To me this misses what I consider the most important thing to success in operational roles: total responsibility. Just about anyone can learn to do stuff, and lots of times operations is treated as the function of the organization that does the stuff no one else wants to do, but to me this isn't exactly right. It's more about being responsible, probably heroically so [LW · GW], and being willing to do whatever you have to do to take care of the things you care about. Another person I know describes it has "holding parental mind" for something, which I think helps point at the breadth and depth of what operations is really all about.

This is not to say all these other things are not important, you can probably get along okay with someone who can just do stuff, and no amount of responsibility can overcome all other skill deficiencies, but to my mind great operational competence only arises when a person takes radical, total responsibility for the thing they are charged to protect.

comment by DavidNash · 2018-12-01T13:02:12.814Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think total responsibility is really important, although in larger organisations it can be useful to make sure that you aren't duplicating efforts or annoying other people by assuming that you are the only one that can fix things and end up burning bridges with the people you need to work with.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2018-11-29T16:01:14.265Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

cf. Jocko Willink's Extreme Ownership, especially if you're looking a super Alpha / militaristic framing of the concept.

comment by eirine · 2018-11-28T19:28:36.714Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this addition! This is very interesting. Do you find that taking responsibility and being willing to do whatever you have to do is something innate to people, or something that is mostly acquirable? Do you have ideas for how to test whether you have this trait?

comment by Raemon · 2018-11-28T20:21:38.095Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I personally have found it pretty situational – I went through a fairly binary switch from "had not had a project that felt important enough to take heroic responsibility on" to "suddenly found lots of projects where it felt fairly natural take heroic responsibility for things."

(And then burned out and currently don't take much buck-stops-here responsibility, but feel like I could again if I needed to. I think figuring out how to do this sustainably, both as an individual and at the org level, is pretty tricky)

comment by eirine · 2018-11-28T21:05:04.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you think there are certain situations one could force or reenact in order for a person to develop the trait of taking responsibility, or discover if they have it? Do you feel like the perceived importance of the project is the only factor, or are their other factors that can induce this?

comment by Raemon · 2018-11-28T21:14:41.480Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

For me, it was quite important that the project was not just "important" in the sense that it was relevant to the global good, but "important" in the sense that it was meeting all of my own needs. ie:

  • I felt like other people in my social circle cared about it
  • The end product was something that tied in with my overall self-narrative/image
  • Many intermediate stages were very creatively stimulating
  • The difficulty of the tasks were roughly at my current skill level
  • There was clearly nobody else who would do the thing if I didn't do it (this is unfortunately in tension with "doing it sustainably". It's possible people need to be forced to learn this skill in somewhat stressful burnout-inducing environments and then later can apply it in healthier environments)

A lot of things had to go right at once, which were pretty situation-dependent (and me-dependent)

comment by Khorton · 2018-11-28T21:16:40.569Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth, when I started teaching and was responsible for 30 children, I suddenly became a lot better at taking responsibility / noticing things that need doing / optimizing systems. That's a situation that I think forces people to take on the "heroic responsibility" mindset.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2018-11-28T19:55:48.004Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I expect the disposition to take responsibility can be developed, since at least for myself I didn't always do it and now I do, but I only learned to do it after some significant psychology development (what I would call making the 3-4 transition in Kegan/CDT terminology), although I'm not sure how tied it is to that (haven't spent much time thinking about what enables the disposition to total responsibility). I'm not sure how to test it but I'm fairly confident I could suss out whether someone has the disposition in an interview, though I'm not sure with what level of precision, specially being unsure how many false negatives I would generate in my assessment.

comment by eirine · 2018-11-28T21:03:41.041Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you were to interview someone for a position, what type of work trial, case work, or other activities would you have the interviewee do for you to assess whether they have the trait of taking responsibility? Do you think just answering questions would provide enough for you to assess it, or could they do certain tasks or trials to test it?

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2018-11-29T02:37:51.611Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would just ask them questions, although to be transparent I care only some about their answers and a lot about how they answer, since I believe that to be the place where most of the information I use to make the assessment comes from. I say this because I want to make clear I don't know how to assess this in a scalable and repeatable way I can teach others, though that might be possible although I suspect that it's not short of teaching you to be substantially more like me in several dimensions.

comment by Aisha_Khan · 2019-02-17T09:39:57.945Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My Background : Master of social science, having worked in admin / projects in business & startups (Australia)

---

Firstly, Some Personal Observations / Notes (in response to supporting @Raemon’s commentary)

A Note on Knowing Your Organisation’s Goals & Structure:
Startup | Running Lean, Ownership & Burnout
Ownership and responsibility will differ in different organisational contexts:
In a startup, you can gain 100% ownership of your role (Product / Operations Manager etc) as startups run lean and tend not to have a large operations staff - ie. everybody’s doing it to some degree, and / or it’s resting on one person only (including other roles). This is great if you want to run cheap and fast if you have an AGILE / LEAN goal of getting your product / service out at a certain deadline (with the thinking that you can rest a little after that) before the next work sprints.

And sure, this is a way to run fast and light when aiming for a specific goal (product v0.2 launch, securing stage funding etc). However burnout - as @Raemon points out - is a feature, not a bug in lean startups. We have to account for being human and needing a more balanced approach (especially if your whole organisation isn’t dependent on these ‘break or bust’ deadlines).

If I am correct in surmising, we want to continue to develop and value EA aligned members as long-term value adding capital; treating them/us as disposable components to the organisational ecosystem (which can happen in the startup world) may not help the movement.

However, taking on organisational startup principles, tools and frameworks are a good thing in my mind.

Lean Organisation | With Sustainability as a Core Goal
In a more stable, incremental growth organisation which is planning to be around for the longer term, a filled out operations team is necessary. That’s so team mates can work together, be clear on responsibilities, be able to break down tasks and requirements together and keep a stable, consistent quality of work (ie. running the organisation as smoothly as possible), and be able to healthily support the core purpose of the organisation. This then, is where most of our funding will end up - as human capital naturally requires it. Of course, tools and platforms & automation of tasks mean we can still run with a relatively lean team (as opposed to needing 50 or so operations staff in years past). It also means that team mates can support, mentor each other and work together when a gap or point of lag is identified.

In my mind, we still have to think business in terms of human capacity, using tools and frameworks and in planning and forecasting. The beast is different, but it still needs the relevant body parts and systems to run on the savannah, so to speak.


———
My Notes: On the ‘Remaining Questions’ section of this Article

• How to best test if you have the necessary innate traits?

Nature Vs Nurture | Talent Acquisition
I also think it will be a 50/50 on nature and nurture with ‘innate talent’ and experience in new hires. I’ve found that in operations, if you have a good mentor and motivation, the art of it can be learned - especially paired with the feeling of being able to ‘own’ your role and be allowed to make reasonable decisions - and to correct course when an issue or mistake occurs. Knowing your organisation’s purpose and aligning deeply to it’s causes also helps when you are elbow deep in repetitive work on a Thursday afternoon, and you need to remind yourself why you are doing this work (having belief & valuing your organisation is paramount). NFP’s and organisations with higher level causes tend to retain their staff longer because of this (as opposed to simply having ‘make more profit’ as their core purpose).


• How to test to what extent you have the acquirable skills?

Personality Tests | Not Quiet Scientifc
When thinking, ‘what else’ could I add to this question, I would say that there are numerous online personality tests which are supposedly able to give you insight as to what sort of a potential worker and role you may fit. I have heard the science of these tests vary greatly and are more likely to be bunk. However, I have been tested by such online tests in the past for employment prospects, many organisations rely on these tests quite heavily in HR decision-making. I would surmise that, when faced with a healthy median of applicants, you generally won’t know how someone will ultimately perform until they are in the role itself. Perhaps these online personality tests help to give hiring managers more of a psychological support in their decision making, if not in finding actual, replicable results.

Office Experience
If you are lucky enough to get some office experience under your belt, and be able to find a mentor or more senior colleague who can take you under their wing, then you may have a higher chance of operations / admin success.

Culture Eats Good Intentions
I do want to point out that in this example, your plans to learn can be eaten up by bad company culture. Sometimes even the best potential candidates may suffer and learn little if the organisation itself doesn’t have a relatively healthy employee and culture mix. So there’s a degree of uncertainty (which most employee candidates face) outside of trying to find the obvious red flags from tools such as Glassdoor and industry news publications.


• What are the best ways of acquiring new skills valuable for operations roles?

Best ways of acquiring operation roles skills is, in my opinion, getting the chance to work directly in almost any business in an operations / admin role. In a SME, you may get a better chance to get your hands dirty across most aspects of an operations role - a larger organisation may be more rigid in its roles, and an individual may not get the chance to develop overall operations experience.

This does present a chicken/egg paradox to undergrads, especially if the quality of their academic learning and output is time intensive (it can be difficult to know whether a university job on the side will ultimately help or hinder active students).

However, as Tara Mac Aulay stated succinctly (EA Podcast) in her own story to the part of operations management - working in a fast food business can be a brilliant experience in learning the operations of a business. And if you strip away the differences in values and business goals of most organisations, good operations will be a key factor in any organisation’s success.

Otherwise, showing up for projects, discussions and events in the EA or other movements shows a can-do attitude which not only helps the individual, but an organisation in assessing a potential candidate’s probability of doing well in a given role.


• What should promising candidates do to signal their fit and experience to potential employers to help smooth out the costly recruitment process?

Signalling | Possible Qualification for Potential Hires
MBA / Business Graduates. If we wish to think further, delving into connecting with business graduates with a need to align their values to EA organisations could be a brilliant area to investigate (which I understand has been noted in previous EA research). It may be interesting to see how many business graduates are compelled to work with an EA aligned organisation - to take on work at a significantly less salary in return for values alignment. I would surmise that not every business graduate wants to automatically become a McKinsey / PwC analyst - Or perhaps would be interested in EA orgs after a stint as an analyst.

Signalling | Operations Individuals from a non-EA Background with Interest in the EA Movement
Someone who has had proven experience in operations / admin in a non EA business will give a guarantee of experience to offer. I understand that the question has been posed as to the effectiveness of hiring people from non-EA backgrounds. However, I would generalise here again and say ‘on a case by case basis’, many young/mid-level professionals would jump at the chance to work within the EA movement if their own internal compass is desiring a refocussing on career purpose and on doing their part in tackling larger, existential issues of which the EA Movement encompasses.

Signalling | Technical Certifications and / or Willingness to Learn / Gain:
Whether we are looking at business graduates, non-related disciplines and/or existing EA members and undergraduates, a potential hire could go for the following certifications to bolster their skills & experience:

- PMP (Project Management Professional) Certification - the international gold standard of competence and tested ability for building business project management chops: https://www.pmi.org/certifications

- Spreadsheet certifications are also an excellent signal of admin competencies. The office unicorn is often the spreadsheet whiz. Data science, stats & maths undergrads may have the heads up in this area as well if they wish to grab certification to embellish their degree.
Excel certifications - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/office-certification.aspx.
Google Sheets - https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/products/sheets/#!/

- Cloud Certification - as orgs can run cheaply on cloud-based platforms, knowing or having certification in, say, the popular Google Cloud / G Suite platform - https://cloud.google.com/certification/gsuite.

- SQL certifications are also a help - especially if running databases and documentation standards are of value to an organisation.

- Amazon Web Services (AWS) is also an excellent direction for finding very useful and relevant certifications on the more technical / programming side of business operations - https://aws.amazon.com/certification/

- Business analyst or audit certifications surely help in building overall understanding of a business, as well as being able to zoom down into the granular workflows, databases & policies.

- Financial - Experience with the following key living business ledgers:
1) Balance Sheet
2) Profit and loss statement
3) Cash Flow Statement
These are also used to balance funding and grants and usually sit within a spreadsheet application / platform.

- Proven experience working in admin / operations / project management within a company / office. The willingness to learn should also be taken into account with someone who may not have such experience as yet; which brings me to the last point:

- Sociability, commitment & consistency, having a growth & problem solving mindset, respect for on-the-job learning, value alignment in EA movement and the belief that supporting, running & maintaining the ship is key to being able to have it complete it’s raison d'être.

I’d also note that some people could come in on a technical, research or other discipline in an organisation and later find a penchant for good operations management.


• Given the answers to the questions above, what can local and national groups do to find and train potential candidates and help in the recruitment process?

EA Org Self-Audit | Requirements and Needs | Building out a Roadmap
I would recommend an EA org act as their own business analysts and to sit down and write out all the requirements needed in their organisation (leaving nothing out - including daily tasks) - Including how often they need certain tasks done with some projection into the next calendar year. These tasks could be broken down and assigned into roles needed to be filled in an organisational structure chart.

This can all be a part of building a larger roadmap in this area, which may even be able to be utilised by other EA aligned organisations in the future (as an open-source resource).

Leveraging HR Industry Knowledge | Reinventing the Wheel?
I would suggest we could find in our first & second degree networks; HR managers who are willing to give their input into how they discern good operations potential and company fit. We could also cold-contact HR organisations with great track records for advice. An HR manager may also benefit from a pro bono consultation with the EA movement as their charitable giving component of their own resume. There are also whole HR CRM’s (including powerful platforms such as LinkedIn) which have been developed with making a HR person’s job easier. EA could stand to benefit from using these platforms & tools - as well as helping existing EA members build up to future possible roles with EA organisations.

If there are HR groups in the network or someone able to be contacted, then I say this could warrant an investigation.

There are also business groups and networks dedicated to standards of excellence in operations, projects & management. NFP’s are often given free mentoring and resources from commercial industries, which could be an interesting area to investigate. This also includes contacting NFP & NGO hiring organisations.

Partnering with Commercial Organisations in developing a professional HR stream or an EA HR group.
I understand it’s been noted before as a possible project / organisation to establish or partner with. An HR group who could be devoted to solving these problems or at least giving healthy and standardised pathways in HR and EA Movement building. Either as a partnership structure, a standards group or people with the HR skills and experience who would be able to help EA aligned orgs in their HR requirements. This could be not only useful in working with the existing EA network of members, but also in being proactive in bringing more operations professionals into the EA Movement.

As with the MBA / Business analyst signalling in candidates - Perhaps there could be a partnership stream with such companies? This may be a potentially challenging project to tackle, however you have another layer of proven experience in potential candidates from such a talent pool, so in terms of investment, even one good hire per year into the EA network from such a partnership may be a project which justifies and pays for itself.

Building from Our Current Findings | A Continuing Team Task group Opportunity?
As with the stellar work done by @Eirin and @Jorgen in this series of research and publications, this direction of inquiry is a rich field to continue delving into, not only for tackling the EA Operations Management bottleneck, but in further developing the EA Movement’s ability to assess our new and existing members, as a large human resource capability and assistance network.

If not already done so, an EA aligned working task group could be assembled in order to further support Eirin & Jorgen’s work on this topic.

Continuing to develop reporting in this series ranks highly in my personal understanding of the EA Movement’s needs. Building on what we’ve learned, can then be generated, and the findings used to help guide decision making in the future and suggested next steps.

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Side Note | Startup / LEAN Tools for Academic Use
I am gaining awareness from EA literature that academics in general could also benefit from an interdisciplinary set of frameworks & tools from operations management / startups for use in their own field of academics. No doubt, most academics would also benefit from having executive and virtual assistants as a common practice, but I digress - funding constraints et all. It would be interesting to see how, (as a non-academic) cross-pollination of these areas can be used to help the field as a whole. Perhaps academics who wish to take on better operations & project management tools could gain from startup culture lessons and tools. But that’s another sandwich to discuss.

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Was any of this helpful in any way? I'm working on being active in the forum this year, however I would rather refrain from adding non-useful / irrelevant noise to the mix.



comment by eirine · 2019-02-21T10:31:59.117Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate that you've taken the time to be so thorough. I also appreciate how structured your comment is, and it makes it easy to follow. You bring up a lot of new points that we haven't thought about before, and have made us think more about how we can better cooperate with MBA/ business graduates and HR managers. I also found your list of certificates particularly useful. I was wondering, could you explain more about what you call 'partnership streams'?

A few days ago we published another post [EA · GW] on this topic where we outline our plans for an operations camp this summer as a project to help reduce the operations talent gap in EA. It would be great if you get the chance to read over it and see if you have any input.

comment by Aisha_Khan · 2019-02-25T09:21:19.062Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Eirin,
I’m happy there were relevant points to add to the conversation!

To respond to your query:

Partnership Streams
‘Partnership Streams’ is a rather generic term which is applicable across many areas and types of businesses & institutions.

A partnership stream will be entirely specific to each partnership and have a purpose. This includes understanding of what each partner gives and receives from each other - and most importantly, why.

Some companies are well versed in developing partnerships and have a whole process in researching & developing new and existing partnership streams - be aware, a partnership needs to values match.

It’s good to consider all partnership streams of worth to be long-term investments in relationship building (like a marriage).


Current EA Movement Weak to Strong Partnership Streams | Universities Allowing On-Campus Hosting of EA Events
In the case of the EA movement, I understand the undergraduate and university weak-partnership stream development comes from EA hosting information sessions, talks & events on campus in order to raise awareness of the movement and grow membership / interactions from the collegiate body.

This weak-partnership stream could be developed further into a strong / specific partnership within specific departments of universities as well as in direct communications with the office of Vice-Chancellor etc. with the following goals:

- Continuing to build EA awareness and membership growth within the student body.

- Raise awareness of EA in the university administration, alumni and executive bodies in order to;

1) Bring in membership, donations / work to give - from university employees.

2) Expose the EA movement to the business partners and donors of a given university.

3) Build a partnership with alumni donors & build out EA presence at alumni events.

4) Bring the EA movement to mind during an alumni's career transition.

Disclaimer: I don’t know the details of how well connected the EA movement is with individual universities. We may already have well developed ties in certain universities - offering the social leverage to propose such partnerships on a case by case basis.

Considering assigning a go-to EA Member liaison for each university could be another worthwhile exercise in further building these partnership streams.

Partnership Stream | Example: Reaching Employed MBA Holders
To keep with the example of reaching already employed MBA graduates with experience in business analysis / operations, there could be a few ways to interact:

1) Via Social Media | HR Strategy eg, LinkedIn
HR firms regularly track and connect with individuals on LinkedIn in order to keep their talent pool healthy & to continue understanding the ever-changing business / job seeker demographics.

Some HR teams will be focussed on finding individuals who will match their experience, standards and values (starting with keyword searches) and literally cold-message an individual to gauge an individual’s interest in an offered position or at the very least, in staying in contact.

A dedicated EA working in a HR capacity could continue to build out this process starting with EA members on LinkedIn, then expanding to 2nd and 3rd level connections as well as cold-contacting relevant orgs & individuals.

A note on LinkedIn: LinkedIn has it’s own education / mentorship & advice platform, this may have some useful resources for EA orgs and EA members - though I haven’t explored it myself.


2) Selected Industry Events | EA Movement Booth / Talk
If a certain industry event has been identified as a possible rich source of A) Potential new EA members, B) Potential new EA donors, C) Potential new EA employees and/or D) Potential new business partnerships, then EA could host a booth or better yet, give a talk. This talk could be tailored to the event and the sort of industry professional attending (including what likely level of employment hierarchy they are placed). Having a call to action to get together & speak after the event to allow interested individuals to learn more about EA is key.

3) Direct Partnering with Firms
To build a relationship with a firm (let’s use the example of McKinsey). This partnership could be one in which McKinsey offers a short-term business analysis consultation to an EA organisation as part of the charitable and giving back component of McKinsey’s corporate responsibility programme. This could also extend to McKinsey hosting a business analysis / operations workshop for EA (either for a specific EA team face-to-face or via video conference). Internally, an employee may wish to work with EA on a project as part of their own giving back strategy.

This could be seen as an EA partnership in terms of a charitable partnership / relationship building. No doubt the EA movement could foster this - as EA seems to have a favourable international reputation (especially in the effective measuring of charitable projects, research into existential risks and in offering education and career advice to those who are seeking an EA aligned life).

The difficult part would be this - EA would most likely NOT be able to speak directly with a firm’s employees about coming to work at an EA organisation - that would fall under employee ‘poaching’ violations. Ultimately, companies don’t want to lose their talent. They want them to stay for as long as possible and to develop their value internally. So, partnering with the intent to poach employees is a no no.

However, it is not unethical to become a healthy presence and partner with organisations where an employee looking to do something else with a more values-aligned organisation would easily bring to mind the EA movement after having such exposure in a professional capacity. It would also help that they would know an EA member personally and/or it would be easy to connect with them.

I'd also note that a corporate responsibility team can sometimes be scrambling for ideas as to who to connect with in terms of giving talks for internal corporate 'breakfast' events / speaking events. EA could be invited to do a series of direct talks to chosen companies & may be very well received.


Partnership Stream | Technology Company - Eg. Google Partnerships for Startups, Business, Marketing, Education & NFP’s
Technology platforms will also partner with an organisation of whom it considers a relevant match in terms of industry, human / technical development and shared business goals*.

The level and type of partnership will vary according to the organisation and industry.

An example is Google Partnerships with technology startup incubators. Amazon Web Services (AWS) will do the same - offering things like credits, platform advice and technical trouble shooting, grants and discounts for members of an organisation or the organisation itself.

Partnering with an HR firm could also be a direction to explore - though there would need to be research done to learn more about this direction & it’s possibilities / opportunities for the EA movement.

*Please note, although a past business I worked at partnered with Google and I use G-Suite, I am not affiliated with or am advertising this or any other company mentioned at any point - these are only examples & cases.
Partnership Stream | For Corporate Social Responsibility / Charitable Giving
This is another topic - but I’ll add:

In terms of charitable giving, organisations will have varying levels of openness to partnering with the EA movement.

This falls under each company’s corporate social responsibility charter - which can cover partnering and donating (as a major donation or as individual employee elected contributions etc).

Companies pursue partnerships with charitable organisations with good reputations as part of their corporate social responsibility - and what better reputation than a movement of charities and organisations who’s core values include tracking and accountability of their projects / research findings?

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I hope this helps Eirin!

Also thanks for the heads-up - I will read the new post & respond. I’ll also read & write a response to Operations Part 2.

comment by eirine · 2019-03-14T15:18:05.608Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for explaining! I wasn't familiar with the term, but I feel like I know understand better what it entails and the different ways it could look like.