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The Misunderstood Role of COO - "The Hardest Job I've Ever Done"

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This is an excellent article about the misunderstood role of the COO by Harvard Business Review. Not only is it a great read for anyone in the role of Operations Manager\Director who aspires to become a COO, it’s as important if you are a business owner considering whether to create a COO role in your firm.  Either way, give this a read about “the hardest job I’ve ever done,” according to one COO.

While most RIAs are too small to have a COO, the RIA landscape is changing for firms who are on a high growth curve or have gone through a merger or acquisition.

The author covers:

  • 7 kinds of COOs
  • What the COO owes the CEO
  • What the CEO owes the COO

While most RIAs employ “the executor” type of COO role (which is the first type explained by the authors), the juicy part of the article comes from interviews with CEOs and COOs about what makes the partnership between the roles successful.

Here are a few take aways:

Besides having a clear and complementary, vs competing role with the CEO, trust is paramount, more so than any other position.

In addition to being a leadership position, being a COO also requires you to have coaching skills, someone who can step out of the day to day, and teach and coach others.  “You have to lead while serving,” says one COO who adds “…this has been the hardest job I’ve ever done.”

The COO role requires a lot of patience.  As one COO describes, “It doesn’t come with immediate gratification.” Instead of being responsible for the success of a single department, “You have to work through a lot more layers as COO, and the results come much slower,” which often makes it less apparent as to the rest of the company as to whom to attribute the results, which leads to the next point the authors make.

As second in command, you have to being willing to work behind the scenes without getting the same kudos that are thrown to the CEO.  It’s being the VP to the P.  In being hired to make the CEO successful, in many ways you render your own contributions less visible.  It also means you are not as likely to receive the same acknowledgement from the firm for a job well done as the CEO.

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The CEO must give the COO power that is real and power that is seen by the rest of the company as real.  Instead of the CEO solving problems directly him or herself, the CEO has got the COO’s back and ensures the lines of responsibility are still respected. This also means that while the COO does not prevent access to the CEO, the COO needs to ensure the CEO continues to direct people problems to the COO to address, referred to as “locking the back door.” 

Bottom line, the COO role is more multi-faceted than originally thought and requires a lot of nuance.  Giving the authors’ emphasis on trust, finding a good COO requires not only an expansive job search, but a patient one.  Getting this hire right can lead to amazing growth.  Getting it wrong can cause your firm to struggle. 

If you find the author’s research helpful to better understand, define or appreciate the COO role at your firm, please let other blog readers know that you recommend this article by making a comment below. 

If you know a COO who’s doing a great job at her or his role, share this article with them (along with some kudos!)

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Author

Jo Day

Jo Day

Jo loves learning about interesting problems and how people are solving them. Jo is well known for connecting people and ideas and is a great catalyst (moo!) to change. Where some people see the world through rose colored glasses, Jo sees the world through processes. When Jo isn't hanging out with her family, Jo's favorite hobbies are being anywhere outdoors and coming up with new business ideas – just for fun!

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