Updated: Mar 26
In the corporate world, not all management positions are created equal, some come with unique responsibilities, others, bragging rights. Often though, the roles and responsibilities of some of the members of the senior leadership team overlap, and it can be confusing to know who’s in charge of what.
In today’s blog, we’re discussing the difference between a Director of Operations, a COO and a Business Manager
The role of Chief Operations Officer, or COO can be ambiguous. On paper, the COO is the second-in-command, reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer and tasked with overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of a business. But as industry trends shift, so too do the expectations on the role and there can be a huge disparity between COOs at different companies.
In some organizations, the COO may still be tasked with the traditional role of exclusively handling all back-office functions, while others see it as a proving ground for potential CEOs.
In other businesses that have included a Director of Operations in their org-chart, the COO often finds themselves stepping back from the day-to-day workflow, instead solely focusing on managing the executive leadership team.
It’s this lack of a clear definition of the exact role and responsibilities of the title is precisely why no two COO roles will ever be the same.
Regardless of the function the COO plays, every Chief Operating Officer shares one thing in common. They all act as that all-important conduit between the CEO and the various arms of the business.
So, who is generally selected as the COO?
In many organizations, it’s the CEO’s eventual successor, the heir apparent who is being groomed for the role in the foreseeable future. In others, it’s the company MVP, the high-achiever that’s way too valuable to have leave the organization.
But in many enterprises, especially ones that have experienced fast, early growth, the COO can often be a promoted Director of Operations, a role with all the responsibility but less of the prestige.
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
From an org-chart perspective, the Director of Operations reports to the Chief Operating Officer. Below this role lie all the business managers of various departments or divisions, depending on the size of the organization.
While the COO is the person in the company who ultimately makes strategic decisions and oversees the structural implementation of those strategies, their responsibility changes if and when a Director of Operations is brought on board.
A Director of Operations will step in and allow the COO to focus on a more executive management role. In this way, a Director of Operations is a lot more hands-on than their senior counterpart.
So, what are the more granular tasks a DOO is responsible for?
The Director of Operations oversees every department in the business, from finance to marketing to HR and Sales. Managers of these departments report directly to the DOO and they’re able to give regular, up-to-date, snapshots of how the business is travelling. The Director of Operations can be a manager’s best friend – or worst enemy. Have a suggestion, complaint or request that needs to be handed up the chain of command? The DOO is your best person to communicate ideas to even more senior management.
But, on the other hand, the Director of Operations is also the executor, the person tasked with conduction difficult conversations and making unpopular choices. Whenever a large corporation makes the difficult decision to trim its workforce and restructure its processes, it’s the Director of Operations that has to break the bad news to the newly redundant staff.
When it comes time to fill positions in the departments below them, a Director of Operations is also responsible for at least part of the recruitment process. They’re able to conduct interviews, weed out the good applicants from the bad and hire the superstars you need. Their bird’s eye view of the company gives them the ability to describe the role in detail, list employee expectations as well as judge if the prospective hire is a good culture fit for the business. But it’s not just in interviews, a Director of Operations also ensures that key people are properly trained, motivated, and supported in their roles.
Like the COO, a Director of Operations is expected to have a fundamental understanding of each business function and how they interact in order to create the final product that is being sold. Directors of Operations are often managing many projects at once, making time management an essential skill of the position.
Lastly, in business, negotiation is key, and a good Director of Operations will be armed with the best and most effective negotiation tactics at any negotiation table. Being able to read your negotiating partner’s intentions, mood and reactions are invaluable skills and can help turn the tables in your favor. Executives should already be master communicators, but a Director of Operations should also be the kings of closing the deal.
Last, but certainly not least, the final major piece in the operations jigsaw puzzle is the business manager.
Business managers, while not considered part of the senior executive team, they’re a role that’s absolutely crucial to the operations process. In large organizations, business managers are the heads of departments, the division managers and people responsible for large common business functions.
Business managers are installed for a reason. Their niche experience, product knowledge and management skills make them invaluable in keeping the lights running and the profits flowing. They’re your closest link to your frontline employees, the ones producing your product for sale. For this reason, they’re the best placed to communicate directly with your staff and comms will often be passed down from the CEO, COO or Director of Operations to be relayed by the Business Manager.
One of the most unpleasant roles a Business Manager has to take on is the hiring and firing of staff. While it’s always fun to deliver an offer to a hopeful candidate, a Business Manager is also tasked with performance management and the consequences of those reviews. If an employee isn’t up to scratch or underperforming regularly, it’s a Business Manager’s job to first support the employee through any additional training and then, failing that, replace that staff member with a new hire that’s more capable.
At the end of the day, a good Business Manager is one that enables, motivates and supports their employees with clarity, maturity and fairness. They communicate effectively and clearly while creating work environments conducive to collaboration.
The business manager, the director of operations and the COO all play an integral role in the day-to-day operations of a business. However, even though some skills like communication and time management are transferable from position to position, there are just as many differences between them.
A COO uses their decades of experience to act as the right hand of the CEO, developing strategy to drive the company forward.
The director of operations is the managers manager. Delegating tasks and strategy to different teams and departments, holding them accountable for deadlines while acting as a liaison between the business managers and the executive suite.
The Business manager is responsible for the actual work that goes into keeping the supply chain running. These are the people who keep the business truly functioning on a day to basis by managing different branch locations and departments.
Understanding the different levels of management and the differences between them isn’t always easy, with the right advice being crucial to the scaling process. As business consultants and COOs, we work with entrepreneurs every day to set them up for success by identifying where their business is suffering. We help them pinpoint which processes to re-evaluate and adjust to grow their business. And best yet… We offer hassle-free, no obligation 30-minute discovery calls with our founder to see how we could help you. Just email us today.
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