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Apr 4, 2019

Visionaries and Integrators: Are You Playing Nice in the Sandbox?

If you are the Visionary/ CEO of a small to medium-sized business, you rely on your Integrator/ COO a great deal. Of all the staff you have hired for your business, this executive is the most critical to your success.

You know that a productive relationship between the two of you can help your company thrive. That is why authors Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters have defined the roles of CEO and COO as Visionary and Integrator in their book Rocket Fuel.

When you hired your COO, you hired him because of his experience, his track record, his knowledge of the business and his enthusiasm. Now, as your working relationship progresses, how do you keep this vital relationship on track so that the two of you can build a great business together? How do the two of you keep on “playing nice in the sandbox?”

In Rocket Fuel, Wickman and Winters offer five rules:

  1. Stay on the Same Page
  2. No End Runs
  3. The Integrator is the Tie Breaker
  4. You Are an Employee when Working “In” the Business
  5. Maintain Mutual Respect

Analyzing the Five Rules

These five rules offer common sense advice:

  1. Naturally, you want to stay on the same page as your Integrator. You do not want him to be tackling distribution problems when you are focused on building inventory; you do not want him spending all his time on Accounting when you are trying to train Finance in new practices. As team members, it is vital that you stay on the same page.
  2. As CEO, you do not want an Integrator who makes end runs around you. Once you make a decision, you discuss it with your COO and review the implications for your business. You want an Integrator who will respect your choice, and not make a run around it and try to develop a new strategy midstream. You would then be working at cross purposes with each other.
  3. Perhaps you hired your COO as your second-in-command because you recognized instinctively that she would be a good mediator. It is often found that the Integrator is a tiebreaker in a business. When the inevitable struggle emerges between Sales and Marketing, or between Sales and Finance, the Integrator stays calm and relaxed. She has the big picture in mind, and she can serve as a tiebreaker in any disputes, which is a valuable skill. She offers an arena where both parties can air their differences without assigning blame, and after hearing the details, and the emotional issues, surrounding the dispute, she can help the parties resolve their conflict. She often does this by asking the right questions and uncovering hidden resentments that needed to be aired.
  4. Remember that you are an employee while working IN the business; put your Visionary hat on when you are strategizing ON the business.
  5. You will maintain mutual respect with your second-in-command. Nothing is more vital. You will listen to each other and respect each other’s views even when these views are at odds. Again, the example you set at the top of your organization will be followed throughout your company. Treat your second-in-command with respect, and your team will feel the same about you. 

In Entrepreneur.com, Ryan Caldbeck, founder and CEO of Circle Up, said that the best COO can bridge the space between the CEO and the execution of strategy and ongoing operation of a business.

Caldbeck writes: “Rather than possessing a single set of skills that can be easily identified in any business, COOs have to adapt, chameleon-like, to the environment in which they find themselves."

Wickman and Winters advise that you hold a “Same Page Meeting:” a monthly meeting between only the Visionary and the Integrator. You can begin by checking in, and then discuss relevant issues, and devote time and concentration to solving them. Said the authors, “The Same Page Meeting is an extremely effective way to help you air out issues, build and strengthen your relationship, and keep you in sync.” Maybe you already have such a meeting on your schedules: some executives have a monthly lunch meeting where they check in with each other; others say that playing racquetball after work, and going out for a beer, does the trick. Whatever method you choose, it will be critical to help you stay on the same page.

Conclusion – Finding Your Perfect COO

Some qualities distinguish a great partnership between the Visionary and the Integrator, or the CEO and the COO. As Peggy Shell of Creative Alignments said in Forbes.com, “Finding a COO who complements the founder means that the management team has a fuller, more diverse set of skills.”

One CEO told Forbes that when hiring the right COO, the person you must best understand is yourself. Matthew Nederlanden of Security Camera Warehouse said, “A COO is an extension of your hands and the person who accomplishes what you cannot. They fill in your deficiencies, whatever they may be (sales, managerial, technical). You are hiring someone to fill the business needs created by the inescapable fact that you are an imperfect person and the business requires more than you can give. The one thing you must know when trying to hire a COO is yourself.”

If you are true to your values and know yourself, then finding the right executive to be the Integrator to your Visionary role, should be a smooth and productive journey. Enjoy!

You may also like:
  1. Visionaries: Tips for Finding Your Integrator Match
  2. How to Stay on the Same Page With Your Integrator
  3. Integrator Job Description Example
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