They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn, that is, that things generally get worse right up until they begin to improve.
The decision to hire a COO is one that should bring life and light into a company, but making a poor choice can be the equivalent of drawing the curtains – and potentially meaning lights out for your business.
In today’s blog, we’re diving into what to look out for when searching for the perfect COO.
So, you may have tuned in for our last talk “The Importance of A COO”, where we touched base on the many different flavours that a Chief Operations Officer can come in, and circumstances where one would be preferred over the other. If you missed out, then go have a watch now so you’ll all up to date and can get the most out of today’s blog!
In terms of smaller companies, the decision to employ a COO is a bit of a scary one. There is the cost involved, the time and effort in trying to find the right fit, and the fear that a poor fit may result in some serious setbacks to the whole operation.
This is a decision the requires a serious amount of thought, and significant pre-planning if you want to save yourself from a world of hurt and frustration. There are a lot of choices to make. Hire externally, or promote from within? Culture fit versus a CEO challenger? Traditional COO, or someone with more drive to shake things up a bit and steer the ship?
There are 10 key points you need to consider before making, what is, perhaps the biggest decision in the history of your small business.
1 – PARALLEL GROWTH
A small business looking to externally hire a COO should be looking at more of a mentor type person. Naturally, neither the funds nor the requirement is there to hire some big shot COO looking to come in and shake things up or be the enforcer.
Often this COO will be someone towards the end of their career, looking to impart some pearls of wisdom and be a part of the growth of a company from the ground up. They wouldn’t even mind working for a modest base salary, provided there was some kind of bonus system in place so they can prosper financially as they help to improve the small business.
2 – LOOK WITHIN
More experienced COOs will undoubtably add to a small business by establishing systems and processes to get the day-to-day stuff running smoothly – but it’s not always what’s needed. By promoting your brightest and most diligent employee to the role of COO, you give them a chance to take the bull by the horns and really make that role their own. Ideally this would be someone with great leadership qualities, can work autonomously and make the right decisions, and have the drive to make the changes that need to happen for success.
3 – THE LONG GAME
As a small business, longevity is key during a growth phase. There is little point employing a COO for a year or two, before they move on to another company – leaving you without a trusted second in command. A COO in it for the long haul will be more personally invested in the company’s success, as you want someone who will stick around long enough to see the fruits of their labours.
4 – THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
A COO doesn’t even need to be from the same industry the company operates in. Systems are systems, and regardless of what the company make, do, or provide, there needs to be a set of processes in place to make the day to day running of the small business as hassle free and replicable as possible. Talented people are talented people – and a successful COO has the experience and skillset that is absolutely transferrable.
5 – CULTURE FIT
Ask any CEO of a successful business and they’ll tell you it’s all about the culture fit – about creating an environment of core values, populated by minded people with similarly aligned ethics, morals and principles. The COO should be no different, as they’re going to have to work with and be across multiple departments. A team that gets along, gets it done.
6 – THE BELIEF
Plainly put, a COO has to fit into the CEO’s vision. During the implementation of the systems needed to carry out the long-term plan, and all the pre-planning that comes with it, if the COO and CEO are not on the same page then the chance of success takes a nosedive. There needs to be no confusion, and a COO must understand and wholeheartedly be invested in what the CEO wants the company to become.
7 – PROBATION
Just like any role within a business, setting a probation period to assess performance and culture fit gives a small business an out to get rid of someone who either lied about their credentials, clashes too heavily with the CEO, or might be an all-around bad fit. A consultancy arrangement could also work, with the possibility of full-time employment later on.
8 – TREAT IT LIKE A PROJECT
The hiring of a COO demands all the same development as any project. There needs to be a clear idea and vision about the type of person the company wants, and also what needs to be done once they’re hired. Also, some thought needs to go into the type of COO the company requires, as well as the personality that would work best with the CEO.
9 – REFERENCES
Understandably, hiring a COO is a huge step for a small business – and every candidate needs to go through a thorough vetting process to weed out any imposters. Take the time to reach out to all referees on one of your short-listed resumes, and make sure to ask them the right questions. Things like how the candidate works with others, how they handle stress and conflict, and if they would be a good fit according to the company’s culture and core values.
10 – DON’T RUSH
There might be pressure on a small business to rush to a decision, so they don’t waste too much time, money, and resources on a long and exhaustive recruitment process. The truth of the matter is that this COO will be the second in command, and the person likely to take the company through a period of expansion or growth and out the other side unscathed and intact. A rule of thumb is by the completion of 3 interviews, you should have a fair idea whether someone is right for the job or not.
THE COO INTERVIEWEE
If the shoe is on the other foot and you’re an aspiring COO, then there are a few things you need to do before you starting applying.
As a starting point, you have to assess yourself honestly and determine if you’re the right person for a COO role. Know yourself – what you do well, what you don’t, where you need improvement, and what unique skills you have that are directly appliable to being a COO. Self-reflection can be a pretty scary exercise, but at the end of the day, all that lying to yourself gets you in embarrassment in the future when you underperform as a COO and get found out as someone different to who your projected yourself as during the interview process.
The other piece of advice is to make the shift from selling yourself, to buying the role, as quickly as possible. Yes, it’s great to talk about yourself, your accomplishments, and what you bring to the role, but at the same time you need to be asking the interviewer meaningful questions to make sure they’re the right fit for you. Reversing the polarity of the interview will yield results, and you’d be surprised at how candid the company’s management are about the state of the business, where they see themselves in the future, and the issues they think they’ll face to get there.
By the late stages of the interview process, you should be looking to begin outlining how you’ll be performing the role of COO at the company. Shaping your role and responsibilities, setting the ground rules for who has authority over what, and who is ultimately accountable in a variety of situations. This is the time you should be really getting to know the CEO, and getting a feel for whether the two of you will have an effective working relationship or not.
There’s no doubt that a small business needs a COO in some form or another, so that they undergo the necessary changes to cope with growth and expansion. The hiring process shouldn’t be taken lightly, and time needs to be taken to make sure that business hires the right person for the job. Likewise, COO applicants need to have their eyes and ears open too.
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