More Thoughts on the Seven Roles of the COO

A few months ago, I wrote about The Seven Roles of the COO, a topic that is often poorly understood or underestimated. I was amazed at the level of interest. I received thousands of views, hundreds of likes and a sizeable number of shares and comments. There were many COOs who raised their hands, confirming my belief that they tend not to be talked about or recognized and, when someone does focus on them, they get excited and willingly share what they do and why they do it.

In this post, I would like to explore “the rest of the story,” reflect on some of the feedback and provide some additional insights.

I choose to write about COOs because there is a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding about the COO role in today’s businesses. When people think about the leadership team in an organization, they will usually envision the CEO/president/founder, CFO or controller, and the head of marketing/sales, often overlooking the important role of the COO.

CEOs are top-of-mind because they attract attention and embody the vision of the organization. They are the face of an organization in the community, focused on big accounts and recruiting key people to support the company's vision. What they don’t like to do, or aren’t as good at, are the day-to-day operations that are key to business success. They do not usually enjoy getting immersed in the details and prefer to think about strategy and the big picture. When it comes to daily activities for operations, managing cash, ensuring employee engagement on a regular basis, meeting expectations and goals, etc., CEOs rely on a COO to make things happen.

COOs tend to be more introverted, drawing their satisfaction from getting the job done. They generally don’t need public acknowledgement. They don’t need the limelight; their reward is success. They often don’t aspire to be CEOs. The most effective function for COOs in smaller to middle markets is the second-in-command role and running internal affairs.

Almost by definition, COOs are very precise. They are collaborative, have opinions and like to express their point of view as constructive input. Those who responded to my post were eager to contribute to the conversation about things I didn’t include in the original blog. Because of the feedback, I now have a sense that the role is even more nuanced and complex. I think we could easily have a continued discussion about each of the seven roles I outlined as well as a few other roles that were mentioned by the people who commented. There is clearly more to discuss and explore about this topic.

As we begin the first quarter, I have a few suggestions for executives to think about:

1.    If you are a CEO and you are spending more than 25% of your time working IN the business instead of ON the business, then you should strongly consider hiring a COO to run your day-to-day operations. When you are caught up in running the details of the business, you are not using your time and talents to benefit the business. The time you are spending on running business details is draining you of the energy and excitement that you get from working on the business. Your employees sense your lack of satisfaction and it interferes with the overall vision you established.

2.    If they are in the role, COOs usually work hard with their CEOs to take as much as they can off the CEOs’ plate. COOs need to be relentless about doing this so that the CEOs can focus on business success.

3.    Sometimes CEOs are reluctant to hand something off. COOs need to know that it’s a process to get CEOs to delegate so COOs need to not just accept the specific role that is being assigned to them by the CEO, but to always ask for more and look for ways to make the business run more smoothly.

4.    COOs need to have a meeting with their CEOs at least once each week where the COO leads a discussion about key aspects of the business like identifying the goals for the week, examining upcoming projects and challenges, and identifying, discussing and solving issues.

Several CEOs weighed in on the impact of the COO role following my post. They understand that COOs make businesses better. The feedback I received from COOs demonstrates to me how passionate they are about what they do and how committed they are to doing their best.

My hope is that, through this blog, we can continue the conversation. I’d like to hear about what COOs are doing and how they are getting their organizations and CEOs to prepare for 2017. I will gladly share their insights in future blogs. If any CEO would like to have an individual discussion with me I am happy to have that conversation, too. 

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