You’ve decided to take the leap and hire a Chief Operating Officer to lead your operations team.  It is a critical position to the future of your company, so take your time and avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Candidates are not senior enough.
You start out thinking you want an executive role, but during your search process you scale it back to something at a lower level because (a) you can’t afford an executive level person – or at least you think you can’t, (b) you don’t want to upset your existing senior managers by bringing in someone above them, or (c) both.  Be sure that you are bringing someone in at the appropriate level for your company and your situation – it may cost a little more and it may temporarily ruffle some feathers, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.

2.  Candidates are too senior.
This happens more than you might think.  You find someone with fantastic experience at Fortune 100 companies coupled with every certification and degree on the planet and naturally assume this person must be brilliant and will lead your company to greatness.  9 times out of 10 this person is trouble to a growing company.  These folks may not have rolled up their sleeves in a long time and may not be the right fit at all for an entrepreneurial company. They are also used to spending money as they please, and may over-engineer a multi-million dollar solution that you don’t need.  Beware of the impressive pedigree – be sure there’s substance underneath it and that they are going to fit in your culture.

3. You don’t listen to your existing management team.
You have hired your current management team for their skills and knowledge.  They know how your operations work – probably better than you do.  That’s ok, they’re supposed to.  If you like a candidate but the majority of your management team doesn’t think that’s the right person, do yourself a huge favor and listen to them.  Ask them why – they may have some insights you don’t, or they may not be able to articulate anything but a gut feel.  Don’t dismiss that.  You may need to sort through any politics that are feeding into their thought process, but in my experience people are often more focused on getting the job done than their own personal gain. Listen to them.

4. You limit your search to candidates within your industry.
This is often a very big mistake.  Of course there are some specific industries that require very specific experience, but that is the exception not the rule.  I’m guessing your job description has a line like this:  “__ years of experience in the ___ industry” - but you don’t really need that to be successful.  Any good operations person has skills that can be applied across almost any industry. As a perfect example – I know the owner of a company in a traditionally ‘closed’ industry that was looking for someone to lead his operations team for over a year.  He decided to open the search to candidates without the originally required industry experience, and he hired someone who was a great fit for the role in a matter of weeks.  Don’t limit yourself.  Find a good, smart ops person and they will learn your industry quicker than you think.

You are only looking for local, full-time candidates.
Many employees only visit an office a couple of times a week, if at all.  If someone has a computer and phone – and the right background – they can get the job done for you. Think about what’s right for your culture.  You might truly need a COO-level person, but only need them part-time.  Explore your options – there are a growing number of highly accomplished executives offering part-time or interim services. It may allow you to get a more senior level person than you could otherwise afford while lowering your overall budget.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.



Janet Fierman
10/18/2012 5:59pm

Great article - practical, easy to read and easy to understand.

11/11/2012 11:22am

Thanks Janet. Appreciate your comments!

09/15/2014 1:20pm

Think I saw a young Marlon Brando in there!

09/18/2014 10:11pm

One guesses sometimes at random. Noone looks actually terrified. I did prettywell but gave up mid way as did not think much of the photos as being typical.

09/27/2014 12:59am

The lighting, contrast and granularity of the photo all affect the way the viewer will respond, rather than accurately reflecting the emotions of the person in the photo.

10/09/2014 12:00am

Every boyfriend i've ever had has told me I'm insensitive. I guess they were right. I got a 16/36.

11/13/2014 9:02am

These could be black men. Just how different do you think black people look? With black and white photos, it is much harder to tell when lighter shades just mean there is more light on the subject.

Brian Smallwood
10/22/2012 9:49am

I liked the article. I especially agree with the 4th bullet as I am a retired Marine who has held a senior Operations Role for thousands. I had to orchestrate budgets, people, schedules, equipment, training, and families. I have always felt that I can lead in a COO position but many times industry or business hiring managers take a narrow look at their field and could have a proven COO who can do a outstanding job for them. This is unfortunate.

11/11/2012 11:21am

Thanks Brian - this blog, and specifically this point really seem to have struck a chord. Companies are potentially losing out on fantastic candidates by narrowing their search to within their industries. Luckily some leaders are beginning to see that - let's hope that trend continues!

Michael Clark
10/31/2012 8:52am

Nice article, acting on #5, a part-time as needed role-based COO would go a long way to mitigating the issues with #1-4 and try before you buy seems like a GREAT approach

11/11/2012 11:26am

Thanks Michael - from what we can see this looks like a growing trend and it makes complete sense from a budget perspective. Our plan is to provide top-level executive operational support to new and growing companies that may not otherwise be affordable/realistic in a full-time approach.

Jeff Parke
10/31/2013 4:48pm

Let me add to Michaels response to point #5.

Shaping/Reshaping operational plans can be accomplished by an experienced senior manager with input from the team. Given regular follow-up and guidance, solid results can be achieved without the cost of a senior manager being on board full time. Once you know what results you want top achieve, with team buy-in and good planning, what you measure does improve.

10/16/2014 5:18am

The role of assignment writing in developing the writing skills of persons is paramount. The concept is carried in the entire assignment. The use of words, the headings, the paragraphing and other elements of assignment teach many things to the students.

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