What exactly is a Chief Operating Officer, and why is it so difficult to define? 
Investopedia offers the following description:
 
The senior manager who is responsible for managing the company's day-to-day
operations and reporting them to the chief executive officer (CEO).”

 
That’s still a pretty broad statement.  Wikipedia further states that the COO role varies widely based on the needs of the CEO of the company. For instance, while in one business the COO might be responsible for all internal processes, HR and Finance, in another the COO might run client relations, sales operations and product management.  It is difficult to define because it is an ever-changing role to fill the needs of the company based on the strengths/weaknesses of the CEO and based on different phases of corporate growth.  In summary, the COO is someone who helps you run your business in whatever ways you need.
 
There are three questions for CEOs to consider when deciding to hire a
COO:
 
1. 
Do you have enough time to review the day-to-day operations on a regular
basis?  
Depending on your business, you need to focus on your operations
a
minimum of once a week
.  Looking at a series of monthly reports is helpful, but it is not enough.  If you are finding you are going two or three weeks at a time without taking a look at your operations in some form, you may be losing opportunities to increase efficiencies, make your clients happier and/or grow your revenues.  
 
2. 
What are the skills you need to best complement your own? 
If you’re stronger in sales and customer relations, get someone who is stronger in administration and internal processes to complement your own strengths. 
If you aren’t good at the details, get someone really strong in logistics
and project management.  There is no one-size-fits-all job description for this role – it truly depends on what you and your business need.

 3. Full-time or part-time?
This hasn't always been an option for an executive role, but there are a growing number of part-time executives and that gives the CEO a lot more options.  Depending on your business and your stage of growth, you may need anything from someone reviewing your operations a few hours a week to a full-time position. This should be driven by looking at both what the business needs and what you can afford. For aggressively growing companies you need to bring in a strong person BEFORE you start to have issues.  If you are starting to miss deadlines periodically or your clients have started to register a complaint here or there, don’t wait any longer – those are signs that you need to tight up your operations. Startups that are more strapped for cash might want to test the
waters and bring someone on 4 hours a week to start– you can get some very
talented people with great experience on a part-time basis. This gives you a chance to see how the person fits into your culture, determine their strengths and think about what other responsibilities you might want to start rolling into the COO job description to free up your time. 


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.
 


Comments

11/28/2012 11:17am

Debbie, my career is founded largely on Operations management and as a CEO and COO I have hired complementary officers to create a Team that has strength in all the departments so that the management Team has extensive experience in all functional groups. I hire people who are not "yes-men" rather are strong counselors and partners.

The COO is not just a detailed day-to-day manager; he is that partner to help focus executive oversight and advice.

sincere regards,
Perry Denning

Debbie Millin
11/28/2012 11:34am

Perry - well said. The COO is a true partner to the CEO regarding strategy as well as logistics. That partnership makes the complementary skillset important to provide balance in all aspects of the business. Thanks for the comment!

11/28/2012 11:02pm

Can we add one more question for COO before hiring - " How do you prioritize the departmental tasks depending on different critical situation ? "

11/21/2014 8:15am

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