Chief Operating Officer 101
An effective Fractional COO catalyzes success in today’s dynamic business landscape, driving operational excellence and strategic growth. However, the unique challenges and demands of this role require specialized support. Our comprehensive suite of services is designed precisely to empower Fractional COOs to transform operations, optimize resources, and steer the organization toward its strategic goals.
We offer tailored services across operational strategy, process improvement, performance metrics, financial management, risk management, human resources, and technology consultation. Whether you’re looking to streamline your business processes, develop impactful performance metrics, manage financials more effectively, mitigate operational risks, or leverage technology for operational efficiency, our offerings cater to all your needs.
With our expertise, you’ll be equipped to navigate the complexities of your role and propel your organization to new heights. Explore our services and discover how we can support you in your journey toward operational excellence. Let’s work together to realize the full potential of your organization.
Operational Strategy Services
- Strategic Planning
- Operations strategy development
- Business process mapping and design
- Change Management
- Change strategy and planning
- Change implementation and management
- Performance Management
- Key Performance Indicator (KPI) development
- Performance tracking and reporting
- Operational Efficiency Assessment
- Productivity analysis
- Cost efficiency analysis
Risk Management Services
- Operational Risk Assessment
- Risk identification and evaluation
- Risk mitigation strategies
- Business Continuity Planning
- Disaster recovery planning
- Business continuity strategy development
Technology Consultation Services
- Technology Assessment
- Evaluation of current technology infrastructure
- Recommendations for technology adoption
- Digital Transformation Strategy
- Digital strategy development
- Implementation of digital tools
Process Improvement Services
- Process Analysis and Optimization
- Workflow analysis
- Process reengineering
- Quality Management
- Quality assurance planning
- Quality control systems implementation
Financial Management Services
- Budgeting and Forecasting
- Operational budget planning
- Financial forecasting
- Cost Control and Reduction
- Cost analysis
- Cost reduction strategies
Human Resources Services
- Talent Management
- Recruitment strategy support
- Performance management systems
- Training and Development
- Leadership development programs
- Skills training and coaching
Chief Operating Officer 101
- What Is a COO?
- What Does a COO Do?
- Key Differences Between the CEO and the COO
- How Do You Become a Chief Operating Officer?
- How Much Does a COO Get Paid?
- Modern COO Types
- Necessary Skillset for a Chief Operating Officer
- COO as a Successor
- The Relationship Between a COO and a CEO
- The Relationship Between a COO and Board of Directors
What Is a COO?
A COO, or chief operating officer, is one of the highest-ranking executive positions within a corporation and part of the “C-Suite.” Members of the C-Suite have positions that generally begin with chief or end with officer.
In some corporations, the chief operating officer is given a different title that means the same thing. Common examples of these titles include:
- Executive vice president of operations
- Chief operations officer
- Operations director
Regardless of the title, a person in this position is tasked with overseeing the day-to-day functions of a business. Usually, a COO will handle most forward-facing tasks.
The COO Is Second in Command
Considered the second in command in most organizations, the COO usually reports directly to the CEO (or chief executive officer). In many cases, a COO is explicitly chosen because their skill set compliments that of the CEO.
Since their responsibilities can be so varied, a COO needs to have a multifaceted skill set if they want to succeed. They should be able to use these talents to adapt to various tasks, including those outside their normal range of operations.
The primary objective of a COO is to execute the company’s business plan, according to the established parameters set out by the CEO. While the CEO is generally more focused on long-term goal setting and the broader company outlook, the COO focuses on short-term objectives and forward-facing operations.
Examples of duties a COO may have include designing operation strategies and communicating policies to employees. They may also assist human resources (HR) with building out core company teams.
Modern COO Trends
Reports have shown a slow but steady decline in companies who operate with a COO since the early 2000s. The reasons behind this decline aren’t clear. However, companies that struggle with finances may have cut this position to save costs. Still, a third of major American corporations continue to utilize this role.
There’s a strong possibility this trend may reverse. As companies grow larger and expand into multiple industries or niches, the role of a chief operating officer becomes more valuable.
When a company is small, the CEO can generally handle all upper-level tasks independently. However, the larger a company gets, the more those tasks pile up. Eventually, the day-to-day operations become too overwhelming for the CEO to handle alone.
Enter the COO. Their presence helps alleviate a significant portion of the burdens an overwhelmed CEO is dealing with. In companies that expand internationally, this position becomes even more crucial.
What Does a COO Do?
The exact duties of a chief operating officer can vary from one company to another. As a result, COOs in different industries could list tasks and responsibilities that look only mildly similar. For this reason, it’s difficult to define COO based on a general list of duties.
Some companies operate without a COO. This is especially true for smaller companies. Other companies may have two chief operating officers. For example, large international organizations may have two COOs, with each handling a different set of tasks typical of the position in that industry.
COO as a Fixer
Sometimes, a chief operating officer is brought in from other organizations as a fixer. The COO can be a temporary role to help the company or a permanent placement in this situation.
Having a COO as a fixer may be necessary for companies that are struggling financially or with outdated business plans and goals. It could also be required if the previous COO or the CEO stepped down unexpectedly.
When a COO is brought in as a fixer, their responsibilities will include looking at the current business plan and making suggestions for improving it. They’ll work with the current CEO to make updates and help with any forward-facing issues, such as bad press.
Operations Management Duties
In specific sectors, such as manufacturing, the COO’s primary role is to oversee operations management. In this role, the chief operating officer will be in charge of the design, development, and operation of the systems that create and deliver the firm’s products.
They’ll also be responsible for improvements to these systems. The COO will assess current operational capabilities to see where improvements are needed and apply new ideas or technology to solve these issues. The COO will also research the latest trends and technology for their specific industry to ensure they remain as efficient as modernly possible.
Other General Responsibilities
It can be challenging to create a singular list of responsibilities for the chief operating officer since the position can look different from one company to another. Beyond operations management, however, there are several tasks most COOs will be responsible for executing.
These general responsibilities may include:
- Working to maximize value for the company’s stakeholders
- Defining attainable goals (usually short-term goals) and developing a company strategy to meet them
- Identifying coaching requirements for the staff of all levels and implementing an appropriate program
- Communicating expectations to staff
- Motivating staff to fulfill company requirements
- Making a plan that incorporates and balances the needs of employees, customers and the organization
- Producing performance measures and displaying or presenting them for review
- Coordinating with essential company departments, such as HR, sales, marketing, legal, IT, manufacturing and accounting
- Regularly reporting to the CEO about upcoming adjustments or developments to the company’s operations strategy
- Supporting other senior executives and employees with decision-making, such as advising on candidates for upcoming promotions
- Ensuring all company goals and policies align (including those developed by the CEO or others)
The Importance of Being Second in Command
Since the chief operating officer is second in command, they must be ready to step in and fulfill the responsibilities of the CEO when necessary. Generally, they only step into that position for brief periods. For example, the COO may handle time-sensitive or emergent CEO tasks if this senior executive is out of the office, in a meeting or otherwise engaged.
However, there are situations where the COO may need to fill the chief executive officer’s role for more extended periods. For example, if the CEO were to be injured in an accident or fall ill, they might be unable to work for days, weeks or even months. In this scenario, the COO will often act as an interim CEO.
For this reason, the CEO and COO must develop a plan to deal with these events, should they occur. The COO should make a point to learn the most essential tasks of their CEO, so they’re ready to fill the role at any moment.
Training a New CEO
An established COO will sometimes help train a new CEO. While the COO won’t be exclusively responsible for new CEO training, they’ll guide them during their first few weeks or months in their position. They’ll also teach the new CEO about the company’s operations and strategy.
In a perfect world, the old CEO will have begun their heir’s training before retiring or leaving the company. Unfortunately, in some scenarios, this isn’t plausible. When the previous CEO hasn’t given their successor any assistance, a more significant training burden falls on the shoulders of the COO.
As an Internal Figurehead
The chief operating officer acts as an internal figurehead for the company. While they aren’t the face of the company for the public, they are for the employees. Put simply, a COO will be the person employees think of during day-to-day operations.
The best COOs motivate employees and maintain company morale. They should be someone who employees want to follow.
Key Differences Between the CEO and the COO
Since the CEO and COO work so closely together, most of their responsibilities merge on some level. For some, this makes it difficult to define the differences between these two positions clearly.
To put it simply, the CEO is in charge of where the company is going, and the COO is responsible for how the company will get there. This simple definition is further broken down below.
Chain of Command
The chief executive officer is always first in command and serves as the organization’s public face. The CEO reports only to the board of directors.
The chief operating officer is always second in command and primarily handles internal operations, with some forward-facing responsibilities. The COO reports directly to the CEO and will sometimes report to or interact with the board of directors, as necessary.
A CEO comes up with the general vision of an organization and determines appropriate long-term goals. Their primary focus is on external objectives. For example, a CEO will be responsible for joining forces with partners, investors, and external stakeholders.
A COO executes the company’s business plan to meet the goals and achieve the vision set by the CEO. Their primary focus will be on internal things. For example, a COO will collaborate with various departments to ensure all current processes run smoothly.
The chief executive officer is accountable for the success or failure of the company. As a public figurehead, they’re also generally held responsible for any questionable press or leaked scandals.
The chief operating officer is accountable for how well the company functions. As an internal figurehead, a COO will be held responsible for faulty processes or significant disruptions in productivity. To some extent, they’ll also be held accountable for long periods of downtime where employees can’t complete work.
A CEO is responsible for hiring and firing people. Department managers conduct the interviews and selection in some organizations. Once the department managers have made a selection, the CEO will then approve it.
The COO manages individual employees and various teams. Although they won’t hire or fire employees, they may handle write-ups or settle disputes between lower-level employees and department managers. A COO will also look at employee performance reports and make informed suggestions for promotions.
How Do You Become a Chief Operating Officer?
There’s no single career path to becoming a chief operating officer. However, most successful COOs can be categorized into one of three career paths.
For some, the journey begins at the bottom of the corporate ladder. Over time, they slowly work their way up and gain experience along the way. These individuals will pad out their skill set with certifications, seminars and similar experiences to be most successful. Often, people who choose this path also have a four-year degree.
For others, the career path to a chief operating officer is walked into after decades of industry-specific experience. In this scenario, the COO may not start at the bottom of the corporate ladder or have a traditional education background. This is one of the rarest ways someone rises to COO.
The last possible career path focuses primarily on education. In this situation, a person will gain valuable on-the-job experience while obtaining an advanced degree. Their focus is mainly on the advanced degree, but they’ll likely hold management positions within their industry while in school.
How Long Does It Take To Become a COO?
Regardless of the chosen path to becoming a chief operating officer, current research shows that it takes 10 to 15 years to reach the end goal. These years don’t have to be at the same company or in the same position, but they do need to be within the same industry.
Must Be Passionate About the Chosen Industry
The most important qualification for a chief operating officer is a passion for their chosen industry. Since a COO needs to have in-depth knowledge about their industry to guide a company adequately, it has to be something they enjoy. A person without a burning passion for their industry will be a lackluster COO at best and end up failing at worst.
Starting as a Project Manager
If your ultimate goal is to become a chief operating officer, working as a project manager is an excellent place to start your journey. A project manager already has many of the skills a COO uses every day and has the chance to hone those skills.
However, a project manager should consider rounding out their qualifications with business administration skills. While an MBA is a good choice, a bachelor’s degree is also acceptable.
Should Possess a Bachelor’s Degree at Minimum
According to recent surveys, a bachelor’s degree is an essential minimum entry requirement for top-level business executives. That being said, in a few rare circumstances, a COO may not have any formal education. However, the chances of becoming a chief operating officer without a four-year degree are low.
A bachelor’s degree in business is preferred. However, certain industry-specific degrees, such as technical degrees, are often considered acceptable. Keep in mind that alternative degrees should be supplemented with courses in strategy or leadership.
An MBA Is Preferred
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an internationally recognized degree. It’s meant to develop the skills required for careers in business and management, and it’s the most commonly seen degree among boardroom members.
An MBA not only improves your chances of commanding a higher salary, but it also provides other significant benefits, as detailed below.
Provides the Necessary Skills To Become a COOThe course requirements for an MBA provide all the necessary skills to become a chief operating officer. Upon completing this degree, a person will have the leadership, people management, project management and strategy skills to succeed as a COO.
Provides an Invaluable Opportunity to NetworkAnyone who hopes to become a chief operating officer will need an extensive, high-quality business network. Often, the ability to rise to COO or other C-Suite positions is dependent on having the right connections.
The 10 years of business schooling provides ample opportunity to network. This network will continue providing value long past being hired as a COO. Once hired as a chief operating officer, an extensive network will offer ample opportunities for your company to collaborate with others and expand.
Management Experience Is a Must
Managing a company’s daily operations and core teams is one of the primary roles of a chief operating officer, regardless of their chosen industry. For this reason, previous management experience is crucial.
All relevant management experience is considered during the hiring process and should be included in a resume. For example, relevant management experience could consist of:
- Project management
- Department management
- Small team management
- Upper-level company management
- Team management
It could also be relevant to include school-related management positions. For example, if a person was head of their university’s debate team or ran the school’s newspaper, it might help pad out post-schooling experience.
How Much Does a COO Get Paid?
Since chief operating officers work across so many industries, it can be hard to identify a specific salary. Salaries will also depend on a person’s experience, the company and how long they’ve been in their position.
Estimated COO Salary in the United States
According to Salary.com, the average yearly salary of a chief operating officer in the United States is $469,286. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median pay for top executives, such as COOs, is only $104,690 annually, and Payscale.com estimates the annual COO salary to be about $144,744.
It’s hard to determine which source is most accurate. However, a few facts can be gleaned from these sources.
- Chief operating officers in the United States earn six-digit salaries
- The average annual salary across sources is $239,573
- A COO can expect to earn between $104,690 and $469,286 annually
Salary Can Vary Drastically by Location
A person’s location also affects how much pay they can expect. For example, a chief operating officer in a big city, such as New York or Los Angeles, will likely have a higher salary than someone living in a location.
For some people, it’s worth relocating if the pay is better. If a person is lucky, the company needing a COO will also cover relocation costs. Of course, this is something that should be discussed ahead of time. Never relocate expecting costs to be covered without having a signed contract that states they’ll be covered.
Increasing the Odds of a Higher Salary
If a person wants to increase the chances of receiving an annual salary on the higher end of this range, there are a few things they could do.
For starters, more experience and an advanced degree allow a potential COO to demand a higher initial salary. Therefore, pursuing an advanced degree while working in a management position is ideal.
Remaining with the same company could also help increase salary possibilities. However, this only works if the company provides a reasonable starting rate and is open to salary renegotiations.
Modern COO Types
Since the chief operating officer is usually chosen to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO, the role can be challenging to classify into types. However, the Harvard Business Review has found seven reasons why COOs are hired. From each of these hiring reasons, a modern COO type emerges.
The executor is a modern COO type that embodies what most people imagine when they think of the position. An executor is chosen to help streamline the CEO’s responsibilities by reducing their need to keep a close eye on the company’s inner workings.
This type of COO will keep a close eye on daily internal operations, so the CEO can focus on larger-scale decisions, long-term goals, and public relations.
Someone hoping to step into the role of an executor-type COO will need extensive management experience and the ability to collaborate closely with their higher-up. In-depth industry experience and an eye for detail are essential for this COO type.
The Change Agent
When a company experiences stagnation in vision or poor market performance, the change agent is brought in to assist. This type of chief operating officer functions as the fixer briefly mentioned in the first chapter.
While management experience and industry knowledge are important for the change agent, a combination of analytical thinking and a big imagination are the most crucial. This type of COO needs balanced left and right brain thinking because their entire purpose is to reinvent the company and improve the public’s interest in it.
This is also one exception to the requirement for deep industry-specific knowledge. In some circumstances, the change agent will be a COO brought in from another industry. The idea is that a chief operating officer from another sector will bring a unique skillset and varied experiences that could help reinvent the company.
Although they come from a different industry, it’s usually one that can somehow be connected to the company that requires the change agent. For example, a company that works in the pharmaceutical industry may bring in a COO whose experience primarily lies in the medical industry, or a company operating in the automotive sector may bring in an aerospace expert.
The mentor is a type of chief operating officer that may be specifically hired, or an existing COO may need to step into the role. The mentor is chosen when a CEO is new and inexperienced in the business world. For example, this type of COO is often hired when the CEO is the inventor of a product or founder of a service but has little to no business expertise beyond that.
The best type of mentor COO is one with decades of experience in a given industry. For example, let’s say the new CEO is the inventor of a new automotive product. The ideal COO would have intense knowledge of the automotive industry, along with managerial experience.
The mentor’s primary duties would be guiding the CEO in building a business plan and establishing a vision for the company’s future. The mentor would also be responsible for designing and executing an operational strategy. Where this differs from other COO types is the mentor would also be required to teach the CEO about how and why the operational strategy works.
The Other Half
The other half is exactly what it sounds like. This modern COO type is chosen because they’re everything the company’s CEO isn’t. If the CEO is right-brained, this COO will be left-brained or vice versa. The COO will be grounded and logical if the CEO is prone to rash decisions, unpredictability, and impulsive behaviors.
In truth, this is one of the most potent and effective COO/CEO pairings, as long as the two can cooperate. Being able to step into the CEO’s shoes is crucial in this role, so being naturally empathetic and open-minded are key. When either executive lacks these qualities, the other half pairing can be a disaster.
The other half COO type needs to have a well-rounded education and on-the-job experience because they’ll be required to share all internal and external duties with the chief executive officer. Instead of being two distinct positions, the lines of responsibilities will frequently blur in this type of CEO/COO pairing.
The Heir Apparent
The heir apparent is often hired in the years leading up to the CEO’s retirement. They may also be employed months before a CEO plans to step down or hand the company over for any reason. In this situation, the chief operating officer is explicitly hired to be the next CEO.
Once the CEO steps down, the heir apparent will move into that position and hire a new COO. This means an heir apparent should have a resume and skill set more fitting of a CEO than a COO.
A chief executive officer should have the following critical skills:
- The ability to communicate complex ideas in simple terms
- A strong set of ethics
- A willingness to regularly communicate with the press and others outside the company
- A friendly, approachable demeanor
- Unrivaled active listening skills
- The ability to multitask and switch hats as necessary
- Goal-setting abilities and a growth mindset
If someone is hired as the MVP type of COO, they’ve already put a lot of effort into the company. This is always a staff member in a lower-ranking position who has displayed a high level of value to their company. The MVP is the epitome of hard work paying off.
Due to the nature of this modern COO type, there aren’t any special skills they need to have. The promotion comes because the person has already displayed the skills and values the company is looking for.
The promotion to chief operating officer often comes because a company is fearful of losing the employee. Promoting them and offering a higher salary allows a company to safely assume the MVP won’t leave for a competing offer.
In some ways, the partner has a similar working capacity to the other half. The similarities are related to how closely both modern COO types work with the CEO. Instead of being distinct positions, the CEO and COO will have many overlapping responsibilities.
However, the reason for the close partnership is different when it comes to the partner type. The partner isn’t hired to balance the best and worst aspects of the CEO. Instead, they’re hired because the CEO works better as part of a team than independently.
The partner should have a balanced skill set for internal and external business affairs. However, the most critical skills for this position are cooperating, communicating, actively listening and taking criticism.
Being a Versatile COO Expands Your Position Possibilities
The best chief operating officers will have a skill set that fits two or more of these seven modern types. A COO should always be looking to expand their skill set, further their education, and grow their business network.
The more positions a person could potentially fill, the greater their desirability. The more desirable a COO candidate is, the greater their ability to demand a higher salary.
Many COOs use this position as a stepping stone to the CEO. If this is the ultimate goal, being versatile is essential.
Necessary Skillset for a Chief Operating Officer
A chief operating officer may need different skills for different sectors. However, there are a few general strengths, skills, values and personality traits that make a COO great.
Chief operating officers are primarily responsible for their company’s performance. However, this work takes place behind the scenes, and the CEO will receive most of the spotlight.
For this reason, a COO needs to be selfless. They should have the capacity to be happy with their work without needing praise for it. Of course, a COO must realize their work is no less significant simply because they’re working behind the scenes.
Chief operating officers are required to communicate on many different levels. They need to report to the CEO and share new strategies or concerns. Then, they must actively listen to the CEO and help find solutions to company issues.
A COO will also need to communicate with core company teams, department managers, and other executives (besides the CEO). They should build consensus among internal stakeholders, mediate conflicts between staff and negotiate as necessary.
Additionally, a chief operating officer must be prepared to act as a spokesperson for both the staff and C-Suite executives. A COO will need to balance the wants and needs of both these groups to find a way to make the majority happy. In most scenarios, the COO will act as a mediator for the flow of communication between upper-level and lower-level employees.
Strategic thinking is crucial for a COO. Their primary purpose is to transform the CEO’s vision into a realistic, workable plan that provides measurable results. The COO is also responsible for ensuring all operations and departments are aligned to meet those quantifiable results.
Strategic thinking should come with an ability to visualize the bigger picture. In this way, a great COO can see how to break long-term goals down into short-term ones.
Ability to Delegate
Delegation is more than simply handing out assignments to others. To master the art of delegation, a COO needs to understand how to match department strengths and skills with the tasks at hand.
This way, they ensure each person is living up to their fullest potential and productivity levels. Assigning employees or departments the right tasks also often increases motivation. People are usually best at the things they enjoy and are more motivated to achieve relevant goals.
Being organized is a valuable skill in any position, but it becomes especially important for those in the C-Suite. Not only do solid organization skills make the job of COO easier, but it also leads to greater productivity. With so many responsibilities, anything that helps make things more efficient is valued.
The CEO may be the company figurehead for the rest of the world, but the COO is the figurehead for the employees. Therefore, the chief operating officer needs to be someone employees want to follow. Leading by example and practicing compassion when dealing with employees are critical.
Operational knowledge comes with experience and fuels the primary role of a chief operating officer. The best COOs will have extensive knowledge of general business operations, as well as industry-specific knowledge. They should also understand how to develop an operational strategy and efficiently execute it.
Attention to Detail
The ability to pay attention to the most minor details can significantly benefit someone in the chief operating officer position. This soft skill can be applied to business strategies and processes, especially when something isn’t working.
The greatest COOs can catch errors or outdated information in their company’s strategy before they cause serious problems. Not only can they find these problems, but they’re also able to update or alter them as necessary.
Emotional intelligence is crucial in any management position. A chief operating officer should use their emotional intelligence to control their impulses and understand their employees.
For example, emotional intelligence can help a COO see the warning signs of work-related burnout or intense frustration. It’s crucial that a chief operating officer never lashes out in anger or loses their temper.
Externally, a COO must be compassionate, understanding and empathetic of both the employees they manage and the CEO they report to. Being able to sense frustration or anger can be highly beneficial, particularly in negotiations or mediation.
Having an excellent imagination can go a long way in the role of a COO. An imagination could help develop unique ways to solve problems or execute business plans. Some of the most incredible ideas came from imaginative minds who understood that nothing is impossible.
Working knowledge of finances can help the chief operating officer make better decisions for the company. Knowing how to read, interpret and apply financial data is crucial. Beyond this, understanding how to appropriately calculate future financial estimates is an excellent skill for a COO to possess.
An Ability To Read People
To be great in business, a person must be able to read both their competition and their teammates. One way to hone this skill is by taking classes on body language.
A person can learn a lot by reading another person’s body language. For example, how a person holds their body could help determine whether they’re nervous or lying. It could also be used to determine their confidence level and whether their outward friendliness is genuine.
Combining the ability to read body language with emotional intelligence is a particularly lethal combination. Between the two, a chief operating officer can learn everything they need to about those around them.
Desire to Constantly Improve
The drive to do better and learn more is crucial for a chief operating officer. At any time, the COO could be called to fill the role of the CEO or a department head. They may need to utilize different skills from day-to-day because of the ambiguity of their role. These situations provide an opportunity to learn and grow when tackled by someone with the right mindset.
COO as a Successor
The chief operating officer is often called on to be the CEO’s successor. Sometimes, a COO is hired specifically for this reason, as mentioned in chapter six. However, this isn’t always the case.
Often, the long-standing COO will be called upon to replace a retiring CEO. This may happen months or years after becoming a chief operating officer.
It’s equally important to understand the existing COO isn’t always called upon to replace the existing CEO. If someone hopes to be their CEO’s successor, they should develop the necessary skills for this elevated position and make their desire known.
Improving the Chances of Becoming CEO
If becoming a chief executive officer is the end goal, a COO should hone the necessary skills. Thankfully, understanding the inner workings and objectives of a company places a person in a solid place to fill this position.
Build Additional SkillsThe primary skills (beyond those typical of a COO) that should be developed are those that benefit external company operations. For example, the ability to run fundraisers, communicate with the press and concretely set the company’s vision are crucial.
At a minimum, a COO should consider educational opportunities befitting a public position. For example, public speaking courses and certification in reputation management would complement the CEO’s journey.
Prove Leadership SkillsWhile both the CEO and COO are leadership positions, the types of leadership are drastically different. A chief operating officer should take every opportunity to prove their leadership skills if they want to continue their climb up the ladder. Even better if those leadership opportunities are outside the normal realm of COO responsibilities.
One perfect opportunity for a chief operating officer to prove their leadership skills is when they need to cover for the current CEO. It doesn’t matter whether the COO needs to cover for a few hours or months. This not only proves their leadership skills, but also gives the board of directors (and others) a chance to see the COOs ability to be CEO in action.
Stay Above Reproach Realistically, the time spent as a chief operating officer (and previous positions) will significantly impact a person’s ability to reach the role of CEO. This is why it’s crucial to stay above reproach at all times. A single scandal could ruin the possibility of promotion.
On the other hand, a COO who maintains a positive reputation has an elevated chance of becoming a successor. To accomplish this, the chief operating officer must prove they value the company’s success and act with integrity at all times. It’s also helpful to build a positive reputation among employees and the board of directors.
Remember, staying above reproach applies to a COOs entire life. Avoid posting inappropriate things on social media, and always treat others with respect and kindness. It’s also essential to avoid excessive drinking, drug abuse or anything else that may make a COO (and thus, the company they work for) look bad.
Have Realistic Expectations During TransitionIf a COO’s goal is realized and they transition to CEO, it’s essential to have realistic expectations. The transition doesn’t always go as smoothly as hoped, and internal promotion faces unique challenges.
Colleagues’ perception of the promoted COO will change once promoted. Many aren’t prepared for this since they’re already in a leadership position. However, the step from second in command to first in command can be a big one.
In other situations, colleagues don’t understand or respect the promotion as they should. They may still view the new CEO as they did in their COO position and interact with them as such.
The previous COO can ease the transition by clearly communicating the position change. It may help to send out a friendly company email that communicates what the new responsibilities are. Provide a contact for the company’s new COO and outline those responsibilities.
The Relationship Between a COO and a CEO
A company’s success largely depends on the working relationship between the COO and CEO. If these two executives don’t get along or can’t cooperate, the entire company could end up paying the price. Thankfully, there are a few ways to help develop and strengthen this relationship.
A Clear Division of Responsibilities
Dividing responsibilities is generally one of the first cooperative projects a COO and CEO will undertake together. Before anything else, it’s crucial to have an honest discussion.
It’s important to talk about each party’s strengths, weaknesses and interest areas. The CEO should communicate their expectations to the COO. Likewise, the COO should communicate their expectations of the position and their future working with the CEO. The parties should bring up any concerns, questions or informed suggestions during this conversation.
Once that first conversation has taken place, the COO and CEO can use it to develop an initial responsibility list for each party. After setting those initial responsibilities, there should be a set time to revisit the list and make alterations as necessary.
However, once the initial model is crafted, the division of labor should be clearly communicated to all team members. This will eliminate any confusion as to who is responsible for which tasks. The COO and CEO shouldn’t overstep one another’s responsibilities or authority, or it could cause complications within the company.
The CEO and COO should both understand that their responsibilities may shift moving forward as they see their initial plan in action. When changes in responsibilities occur, staff should be made aware of them as soon as they’re implemented.
Mutual Trust and Respect
The most important part of a CEO and COO relationship is a foundation of mutual trust and respect. These two executives must rely on one another and work closely together to ensure the company’s success. Regardless of who would be blamed, the success or failure of a company falls equally on the COO and CEO.
Respect must happen behind closed doors but becomes especially important in public. If employees or the public witness one executive undermining the other, it could be devastating to the company’s reputation.
Trust is necessary for the chief executive officer and chief operating officer to do their jobs. For example, once the CEO has created the company’s vision, they must trust the COO to make it happen. Likewise, once the COO has presented the company’s operational strategies, they must trust the CEO will uphold them.
Clear communication between the CEO and COO can help negate the potential for errors or confusion. The communication between the two should be both clear and consistent.
The CEO and COO should schedule regular meetings that work for their schedules. While this doesn’t have to be daily, weekly briefings should be a minimum.
Regular communication ensures the COO understands the CEO’s current vision and long-term strategy. This needs continual updating because vision and strategy aren’t static and are constantly evolving. Likewise, the CEO needs frequent updates on business operations and goal benchmarks.
When both parties are kept up-to-date, they can feel confident in their daily routines. This will help both of them know and understand what’s most important for the company’s success at that moment and moving forward.
When a CEO and COO first start working together, there will be an adjustment period. Even if one or the other has been with the company for decades, introducing a new partner (of sorts) will change things. For this reason, both parties need to have a reasonable amount of patience during the transitional period.
A Unified Front
The CEO and COO should present a unified front at all times. They must never correct or argue with one another in public. If there are issues that aren’t agreed on, they should be discussed behind closed doors.
When there isn’t a mutual consensus on issues, one party may be disappointed with the outcome. This will happen at some point during the CEO/COO relationship. However, once they’ve settled the debate and come to an agreement, both parties must accept it and move forward. There can be no holding grudges or throwing tantrums in the business world.
The CEO and COO must remember the other party is still human. Despite their successes, failures, strengths or weaknesses, everyone can (and will) make mistakes. They’ll fall on hard times in their personal lives, which may make it difficult to concentrate. They’ll get sick and need time off work, and the other party will cover.
Showing compassion when the other party is at their lowest can help this working relationship grow stronger during difficult times. The other party will remember the understanding they were shown when it’s their turn to step up.
Although a friendship between the CEO and COO is optional, it’s always great when it can be fostered. When these two executives are friends, they work better together, which is better for the company.
The friendship between the CEO and COO can also make work something to look forward to, rather than something to be dreaded. The chief operating officer will work with their CEO for a decade or more in ideal circumstances. This is a long time to work with someone you haven’t fostered a friendship with.
The Relationship Between a COO and Board of Directors
The chief operating officer won’t have the same relationship with the board of directors as the CEO. While the CEO and board of directors will foster a close working relationship out of necessity, things are a little different for the COO.
Traditionally, the COO will have a limited relationship with the board of directors, simply because it’s outside their normal realm of responsibilities. However, it benefits both the CEO and the COO to allow the cultivation of a strong relationship with the board.
How This Relationship Benefits the CEO
The CEO can benefit from this relationship because it shows the company they’re confident in their abilities, as well as those of their COO. Allowing (or, better yet, encouraging) the COO to develop a relationship with the board also fosters transparency.
In this situation, the CEO has an opportunity to show their ability to develop talent. The board can view the COO as a walking example of what the CEO’s mentorship can do.
A final benefit for the CEO is that it shows their willingness to empower their COO on an individual level. When the COO feels empowered and supported by their CEO, they’re less likely to leave the company for a better offer.
How This Relationship Benefits the COO
The chief operating officer can expand their experience by cultivating a solid relationship with the board of directors. Since this is outside the average realm of COO responsibilities, it provides room for personal growth and skill set expansion.
A significant benefit is that the chief operating officer can expand upon their professional network. This is crucial for success in business, as discussed earlier.
Finally, a strong relationship with the board of directors is crucial for any COO who hopes to be the next CEO. They can begin developing credibility and a solid reputation for getting things done long before the promotion opportunity appears.
How This Relationship Benefits the Board of Directors
This relationship allows the board to understand their potential CEO successor better and judge them independently. It also provides them with valuable insider information on the company’s internal workings, successes and problems. The COO can also provide an additional expert opinion on the overall health of the company and the progress toward critical benchmarks.
Developing a Bond Between COO and the Board of Directors
Developing a bond with the board of directors means going beyond presenting at board meetings. A chief operating officer should make a point to develop strong relationships with each board director one-on-one.
An excellent way to begin developing one-on-one relationships with the company’s directors is by learning their names and memorizing what they do for the company. Afterward, a COO could schedule lunch meetings with directors as a way to both better understand them and get their opinions on crucial business matters.
The COO should also develop their own voice, independent of the CEO. This doesn’t mean contradicting the CEO because the two should still present a unified front. However, it does mean expressing their own opinions when asked, rather than deferring to the CEO.
The board of directors will highly value honesty and transparency. Questions should always be answered honestly and thoroughly, even if it paints the COO themselves in a negative light. Mistakes can always be fixed, and the board may choose to forgive and forget. However, it’s unlikely they’ll ever forget being lied to.