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What is the Role of a Chief Operating Officer

Updated: May 11


If you have any experience or education in business, you’re probably used to hearing a bunch of buzzwords or fluffy invented role titles.

One of those terms may have been the “Chief Operation Officer”. But the COO is far from a cushy executive position, in fact, the role can be the center cog in your entire operation if used correctly.

So what exactly in a Chief Operation Officer and how


SO, WHAT IS A COO?

Let’s start with the basics: formally, a COO is defined as “a senior executive responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of a company or other institution.” Now, you may be thinking “hang on, that’s what I do!”, and that is exactly what a COO is for. Being the CEO of a company can involve long, hard, and tedious hours dealing with a variety of different problems that only an executive has the authority and power to deal with.

You don’t have time to micromanage and deal with the actual operations of your business. At the start, you may think that you do, but trust me, you don’t. The kind of work you do as a CEO is more than enough to make you overwhelmed and overworked. You don’t need the stress of being a manager to boot.

So, what are the benefits of hiring a COO?


THE OPERATIONS OF YOUR COMPANY WILL RUN FAR SMOOTHER AND MORE EFFICIENTLY

When you’re struggling with the many jobs of a CEO, it’s likely that the day-to-day operations of your business may struggle a bit. What’s worse, with you at the helm, you may not even notice that there’s a problem, and you may be scratching your head when your cash-flow statements aren’t as impressive as you were hoping.

Fortunately, a COO can dedicate almost all of their time to making sure that the operations of your business run smoothly and efficiently – think of them as the WD40 to your rusty machine. The minute you get a COO on your executive team, you should notice that everything seems to be far more optimised; after all, they’re trained specifically in the art of managing and improving processes


YOU CAN HAVE A GROUNDING VOICE THAT’LL MAKE YOUR DREAMS A REALITY

It’s true what they say about being lonely at the top. Being the head of a company, it may be that you find yourself tasked with coming up with ideas about your company completely by yourself – which can be a risk in itself. With great power comes great responsibility, and when you’re given the power of an entire company, you may come up with some fantastical ideas that may not be grounded in reality.

Fortunately, reality is what COO’s specialise in. They are the experts that skilfully execute plans to fruition, with ease. Consider them the alchemists of the business world, effortlessly transforming your dreams to reality. COO’s are able to understand the logistics and finer details that are required for success and they also possess the courage to tell you when your plans may not be the best approach for your company. Speaking of company, they can also make a good friend for you – being possibly the only other person in your company that has the same birds-eye view as you.


COMMUNICATION WILL BE A BREEZE

It can be tempting to simply lean on email when you want to communicate with your employees. I mean, why shouldn’t you? It’s easy, you can put everything you want into an email, and you can send it to as many people as you want from the comfort of your office. Well, the problem you may face when you rely on a mail outbox too much is that the one-way nature of emailing becomes very prevalent and things will get lost in translation.

It’s possible, and quite likely, that different people will interpret what you say completely differently, resulting in a company that isn’t completely aligned with your goals and vision. Fortunately, your COO knows how to whack this mole. A good COO will understand how to establish an effective two-way communication system that will ensure that your message and vision clearly makes its way to every employees in your company, ensuring that everyone is operating on the same page. They will also be great at collating reports and communicating to you any necessary information, allowing you to skip the meaningless and time-consuming communications that would only serve to take you away from your more important work.


THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY IS IN SAFE HANDS

Finally, it’s important to note that your COO could very well be the heir to your company. I mean, it makes sense – they'll learn a lot from you in the process of being your second in command, and possess a deep knowledge of the inner-workings of your business that’ll rival even yours, so they would be the obvious pick for the heir to the throne. This should give you a sense of security in your position – knowing that when you leave your company behind, you’ll be leaving it in good hands.


WHAT ARE FRACTIONAL COOS?

We’d be doing a service to all COOs in the world if we ignored fractional COOs. These are COOs that are temporary in nature – giving you a “free trial”, in a sense, to the whole experience. They’ll typically be more in a consultative role, being there when you need them to provide the advice and support in the areas you need them. They will also ease some of the burden of day-to-day operations.

If you’re unsure as to whether you may need a COO, consider starting off with a fractional COO, and see if that works well for you. A self-assured and professional fractional may also help you find a future COO that you will employ as a permanent member of your executive team. It's common for fractional COOs to take on a few clients at a time, so they seldom commit to being a full-time member of any organisation.


HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU SHOULD CONSIDER HIRING A COO?

At the risk of giving you an answer you’ve heard many times before: it depends. For some companies and some CEOs, you may never need to have your operational burden relieved of you. This is more common in small businesses that have relatively tiny operations and a lack of executive tasks.

On the flip side, you may find that you need a COO almost immediately – your workload may simply be too much. But what signs should you look for? Well, a common trend and pretty big clue is if you find yourself overwhelmed with work and the day-to-day operations of your company are suffering drastically as a result.

It’s crucial that you never get too overwhelmed, from both a financial point of view and for your own mental health. You may also be noticing that you have trouble putting your long-term plans into action, potentially due to logistical issues or simply due to poor planning and delegation. It may be of benefit to you to get another voice in your executive team that can take a holistic view of your company and understand the limits of what your business can do and help you implement some long-term strategies.

Like we mentioned previously, you can avoid the fears associated with commitment by trialling a fractional COO and seeing how that goes. It’s entirely possible that, after having a few consultations with your fractional COO, that you may realise that all you needed was some more experience in operational management, and you don’t actually need to hire a full-time COO. Not all people hire a COO because they feel overwhelmed – they may simply understand that they can’t effectively manage the operations of their business themselves.


The benefits of a COO cannot be understated. They can be a great helping hand for your company, whether you’re a big firm that’s dealing with many clients, or if you’re a smaller business that’s simply unsure how to manage their operations.

Regardless, timing is crucial for when you hire a COO. Too early, and you may just be wasting money. Too late, and you may have already missed out on some potential opportunities that they could have identified and ceased. So, take a good, hard look at both yourself and business, and ask yourself: “Do I need a COO?”


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