By Jennifer Barnes, CEO of Optima Office, a firm that provides Fractional CFOs, COOs, Controllers and HR professionals for businesses.
As a company grows, so does its need to expand its leadership positions. We often see small and early-stage companies with a CEO as the only C-level officer. But with growth, more functional specialization becomes necessary than the CEO themselves can keep pace with. To that end, additional leadership roles will be added over time, such as chief marketing officer, chief revenue officer, chief financial officer, chief technology officer and others. During this delegation of leadership, it is critical that the CEO maintains their focus on strategy and growth and not become caught up in managing large numbers of people and daily operations. To ensure that focus, the chief operating officer becomes critical to a company’s ongoing success.
The COO will typically be the company’s second in command and report directly to the CEO. They will manage day-to-day business operations in collaboration with the company’s department heads.
Paramount to his or her responsibilities is the implementation of the CEO’s strategic plan, in concert with all functions of the organization. The COO is the executive who takes the strategic plan and “operationalizes” it. In order to do so, the COO must ensure that the tasks, the people, the knowledge base, the incentives and the tools required to achieve the firm’s strategic goals are in place and aligned across the organization.
The COO will have to be well-versed in all aspects of the company’s business. Depending on the market a company is in, one COO may be deeply experienced in manufacturing and distribution environments, while another COO may be well versed in SaaS or professional services, for example.
But industry aside, the role of the COO remains constant and many of the skills required to be successful remain the same. Successful COOs will be process-oriented, analytical and enjoy designing and implementing the organizational frameworks required for success. He or she will have strong interpersonal skills and be an excellent communicator, as much time is spent sharing the company’s mission, vision and strategic goals across the organization, uniting the staff in their efforts to work toward a common end. Along that path, the COO will closely collaborate with department heads and others to support the successful negotiation of business deals with their company’s business partners, customers, clients, vendors and suppliers.
If you’re a CEO looking for a COO, here are some common attributes of successful COOs to keep in mind:
• Solid leadership skills, with the ability to pivot as circumstances require
• Strong with project management and delegation
• Analytical, process-oriented and a problem solver
• Exceptional interpersonal and communication skills
• Ability to see and explain the big picture and effectively parse it into smaller details
In that same vein, typical duties and focus areas of the COO should be:
• Identifying the optimal infrastructure to ensure capacity and efficiency of operations as the company scales—maintaining organization and accountability charts
• Establishing various work processes and their required supporting tools to maintain smooth operations, improve efficiency and deliver complete communication across all departments
• Overseeing the company’s functional areas, such as finance, human resources, marketing, sales, legal, IT and manufacturing
• Complementing the CEO where their skills are not the strongest—every good leader surrounds themselves with those who can provide the strengths needed to complement that leader’s weaknesses
• Advising the CEO, and all of the C-suite and management, as a trusted thought leader
• Providing mentorship to a less-experienced CEO and other company management team members
• Acting as a change agent for driving transformation throughout the organization
While the details of any single COO’s job description may vary from one company, or one industry, to the next, the role of the COO in an organization remains relatively constant. They provide the operational guidance that allows the company’s strategic plan to be implemented while the organization stays true to its mission, vision and values. Productivity, efficiency, profitability and employee satisfaction are always in focus for the COO. He or she will provide the mentorship and partnership needed across the organization to ensure that all leaders and managers are focused, on task and working together to deliver the CEO’s vision of success.