By Cameron Herold, founder of COO Alliance and author of Double Double and Meetings Suck
I launched the COO Alliance because I recognized the critical role that the chief operating officer (COO) position plays for the chief executive officer (CEO). A COO will produce a powerful and positive impact on your business. Entrepreneurs are visionaries, but they often lack focus on the details. They build companies but, at some point, they need someone who can help them run the day-to-day operations. It makes sense that sharing the load will lighten the CEO’s burden. He can then afford to not only take a sick day or get a good night’s sleep, but also focus his energies on the things he is uniquely capable of doing.
Finding Your Professional Soulmate
The relationship between CEO and COO provides a yin and yang dynamic. It is a unique form of balance at the very core of the company. Follow these tips as you search and hire this crucial position.
1. Know Your Needs
Before you hire a COO, be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and identify the areas of the job you don’t love doing so you can find someone who has strengths in those areas and enjoys those aspects of the business.
I read a helpful article in the Harvard Business Review called The Misunderstood Role of the COO that addresses precisely this. The writer identifies seven types of COO:
- outward facing
- inward facing
- technology focused
- sales and marketing focused
- operational focused
- engineering and product focused
- financial focused
With seven completely different types of COOs, saying “I need a second in command,” is kind of like saying, “How high is up?”
Be clear and direct about the skills you require. Then find the COO whose unique abilities match what you need. For example, if you dislike tasks related to IT and finance, as I do, then you shouldn’t be doing them. If you were hiring a second in command for my company, you would be looking for someone who loved those two functions. That would, if nothing else, allow me to push those items off my plate to someone who enjoys and excels in them.
Suppose that you’re not a detail-oriented person. Then you want someone who can get down in the weeds and monitor the metrics while you take more of a bird’s-eye view. Or maybe you have a strong vision of where the company should go, but you are terrible at starting projects. In that case, find a COO with a great deal of initiative, who can get the ball rolling while you concentrate on growing the business.
2. Know Who to Hire—and When
More often than not, the people I talk to who are considering hiring a second in command don’t even have an executive assistant yet. First things first: Hire your executive assistant. After that, you can probably wait about six months before you need a second in command.
Once you’re ready to hire a COO, be careful that you aren’t giving the person a title that is beyond his or her abilities and experience. Unless that person truly is a COO, you may end up paying more than you should. The person may get an inflated sense of importance or try—and even fail—to fill a role that requires greater seniority.
Consider first hiring for the title of general manager, which could lead to a director or vice president of operations title. The COO title is appropriate when your company gets to about 100 employees.
3. Get to Know—and Continue Getting to Know—Each Other
When I worked as a COO at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I established a weekly meeting with the CEO to keep us in sync. Akin to regular date nights in a marriage, these meetings let us stay on the same page with certain matters, and also build our relationship, communication skills, and trust.
Entrepreneurs and CEOs must understand that these meetings are necessary for your second in command. More than any other business relationship, the CEO-COO relationship is key to your growth because it allows you to better leverage your time and resources.
COOs often take larger operational and strategic projects off your plate. Entire areas of your company may report to the COO. It’s important for the people at the heart of a company to understand each other beyond a superficial professional level. Your COO should understand which problems to bring to you and which to resolve without the need for consultation. Most CEOs don’t want to deal with every minute detail of a problem; they want a summary and a resolution.
The more that your second-in-command can keep obstructions out of your way, the more you can focus on bigger issues. Your COO has to read your mind and anticipate things you may not.
4. Make a Plan
This level of trust and understanding does not happen without conscious effort, as I’ve heard again and again at the COO Alliance. It requires a plan to communicate and filter questions, to know what needs to be seen and when, to understand what constitutes success, to identify sources for empowerment and support, to establish conflict-management strategies, and to set up operating principles that dictate the boundaries of the COO’s decision making.