Updated: Feb 12
All of us could use a helping hand from time to time, and that is doubly true for the CEO of a start-up who bit off a bit more than they can chew on their own.
However, it’s important to know exactly when you should be hiring that COO to alleviate all of your day-to-day troubles, and today you’ll learn exactly when and how to hire a COO that will ensure your business grows efficiently and smoothly.
In today’s blog, we’re discussing the right time for you to consider hiring a COO for your company, and how to use your new officer to their fullest potential.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO HIRE A COO?
When a business begins to experience some serious growth, as most do during the early stages, there are many questions that have to be answered. One of those is critical to the stability of the business’ growth – when should a COO be hired?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to this question. There’s no handy formula that a textbook can give you, nor is there a specific timeframe that will always work, regardless of your business. Some CEOs might see themselves needing a Chief Operating Officer right away, while some companies might never need one.
The nature of hiring a COO presents an unfortunate reality – by the time it’s glaringly obvious that you need an extra hand on deck to run the day-to-day operations of your business, it could very well be too late, and the problems that result from you micromanaging your company may already be present.
You may see some serious plateauing in the growth of your company, and it’ll only be when you suffer some drastic financial loss that you realise “huh, I should probably hire a COO”.
THE KEY SIGNS THAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER HIRING ONE
It’s important to be proactive in your approach. Constantly consider whether a COO could assist your company, but also make sure that you only get one when you feel that you need one. A good way to reflect is to simply look at your own day, and how overwhelmed you constantly feel. It’s easy to, as a savvy business owner who is great with numbers, to determine the success of your business solely by bar charts and spreadsheets, but what often gets overlooked is something as simple as your schedule and your mental health.
As companies grow, the responsibilities of the CEO pile up; you’ll have to worry more and more about the demands and expectations of investors, customers, analysts, and the media, and this can become all too much for the founder of a start-up who simply wanted to create the next Snapchat.
If you notice that you constantly find yourself overwhelmed and overworked, seriously consider whether a COO could help. And don’t make the mistake of overestimating your ability to just “power through” these things – science can confidently tell us that an overworked and overwhelmed CEO can lead to significant drops in performance within the entirety of the company, so don’t be afraid to give yourself a break.
SHOULD A COO BE HIRED INTERNALLY OR EXTERNALLY?
Identifying a problem is only the very first step in working to fix it, however, and there are many ways to skin this operational cat. A crucial decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll hire the COO internally or whether you outsource it; common sense would tell you that an internal officer would already have experience working within the company and so won’t have to waste valuable time getting their bearings, but you’d be wise to keep considering the option of hiring an external officer.
The problem comes down to this: would you rather have an officer that knows your company well, but lacks experience as a COO, or an officer that is unfamiliar with your company and workplace culture, but may have prior experience working as a COO for another company? Obviously, this depends greatly on the person you choose to hire – their effectiveness relies on their ability to adapt to their new role. Additionally, employees within your company may see the corporate structure through rose coloured glasses, as it’s what they’ve been used to as they’ve worked for you, while an external source can provide a more impartial and professional perspective.
There’s no easy answer to this dilemma, and so you need to examine what it is you want to gain from hiring a COO and how it can directly benefit your company and the day-to-day operations.
GIVE YOUR NEW OFFICER SOME CLEAR DIRECTION
Don’t just hire a COO for the sake of it without any clear direction; they can take on many roles, and it’s important to know exactly what you intend to use your new expensive friend for. A common mistake many start-up CEOs make is just making it up as they go, and this can result in a massive underutilisation of the officer’s skillset.
Obviously, the dynamic between you and your officer will change as both of you adapt to working together, but it’s important to set distinct roles. The partnership works best when you delegate effectively and you both understand exactly what your role is in the company. The last thing you want in your company is confusion, and so clarity and consistency is key. Additionally, don’t make your COO the president of your fan club.
A sign of a good officer is that they are able to make valid criticisms of your decisions and the way you run your company – you’d be surprised how helpful it can be to have an officer that sees your company from the same perspective as you.
That being said, your COO should also work with you to create a united front when it comes to presenting yourself to your stakeholders; a house divided cannot stand, after all. Your COO will be your subordinate, but don’t disregard what they have to say simply because you’re of a higher rank than them. They should feel comfortable around you, able to say what they feel is right – you chose them because of their keen business sense, don’t waste it.
YOUR COMPANY STRUCTURE WILL CHANGE
Your new COO will probably have a rough start, and that’s to be expected. Simply bringing in a new officer will change the corporate structure, and it can take everyone in the company a while to get used to it. Currently, you probably have a direct role in the day-to-day operations of your company, and while this can promote a sense of unity and cooperation among the workplace, it can be an ineffective way to grow your company as the CEO is distracted from their more executive roles in the company.
Bringing in an officer will distance you from the actual work that goes on in your company, and so your employees may feel some resentment as they don’t get special treatment from you anymore, rather a new face that probably doesn’t even know the company that well. Give it time, and make sure your COO knows how to communicate effectively and alleviate any concerns or uncertainties among the workplace.
MANAGE THE RELATIONSHIP WELL
The relationship between a CEO and his COO is delicate, to say the least. It takes some nuance to get it right, and so you won’t be blamed for having a rocky start. Even experienced organisations with complicated corporate structures struggle to maintain an optimal relationship, and this is even harder with a company that is young and prone to rapid growth and constant change within.
Bringing in a COO can be a great sign of growth and progress, but many founders have difficulty in effectively integrating their COO into the business. The hardest part for any founder is simply relinquishing some control – you've nurtured this baby since its conception, it’s understandable that letting another officer take over some key responsibilities can be scary, and so you may constantly be following the COO to make sure that they’re giving your company the respect it deserves.
There is no easy way to determine when you should hire a COO. The truth is, you’re going to have to rely on your gut instinct. Most start-ups get to the point in their development where a second pair of hands in the executive team is not only helpful, but required in order for your company to grow efficiently and with stability. This decision is crucial, and is a major milestone in your company as it represents the time when you relinquish some control and start to form an effective executive team that can lead to some truly significant results as your company develops.
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