Congratulations, you’re a COO! Now what?

If you’re the COO of an organization, chances are you’ve already demonstrated that you’re an operations guru. You’re the go-to person to get the job done. Your attention to detail is surpassed only by your ability to multi-task and you’re the happiest making order out of chaos.

But, as Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Becoming an effective COO depends on letting go of what made you an operations phenomenon and embracing new skills like strategic thinking, delegation, and number crunching.

The role of COO varies greatly from one organization to another. Here we look at some common archetypes and offer market insights and practical tools to help in each category:

The Consigliere

This is a counselor, or advisor, to the boss. Not quite the same Mafia-style role as “The Godfather,” but pretty darn close. For a CEO and COO to become a successful one-two punch they need to compliment each other’s skills and divide and conquer. The best leadership teams set a shared strategy which is then converted into actionable, operational steps by the COO.

The best leadership teams set a shared strategy which is then converted into actionable, operational steps by the COO. Tweet This Quote

Take time to get to know your CEO on a deeper level and establish a shared mode of communication. For a great way to connect on a human level, try the CONNECT questions game. For your own career development, be authentic about what you want to accomplish and encourage your CEO to clearly articulate their expectations and how you can achieve them in his or her eyes.

The Mechanic

There are dirty jobs, and someone’s gotta know how to do them—and that someone is you! The days of being in the trenches and performing day-to-day operations may be over, but this is where you draw on that knowledge. Your role is to ensure that you have the right people in the right roles with the right resources to achieve organizational greatness.

Taking the time to map the processes in your business is critical to creating a self-sufficient team and identifying where costs can be eliminated. Six Sigma theory, popularized by Jack Welch (General Electric) in the 90s, is still a great framework for operational efficiency. Many of these principles have since been adapted for modern-day startups in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

The Caretaker

Time to get in touch with your nurturing side and know thy people! Being a successful COO means taking care of your most valuable asset—your work family. Make sure that you know what each member of your team wants to accomplish and how you can help get them there.

The COO’s mantra is “always be recruiting.” Tweet This Quote

There are many performance management templates out there but what really matters is the delivery. Here’s an interesting article from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business on how to give and receive effective performance feedback.

Remember that the COO’s mantra is “always be recruiting.” Good talent is hard to find so when it finds you, get creative and find a way for them to add value to your business.

The Bean Counter

Even if your organization has a CFO, you’ll probably be responsible for setting up data management tools. The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure still holds true.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure Tweet This Quote

Work with your team to identify key performance indicators (KPIs), drilling down until you get to the real drivers of your business. I like the practical advice from these entrepreneurs on this topic, or, for a more theoretical understanding of what you choose to measure, check out this Harvard Business Review article.

In the age of Big Data, there are also some powerful tools to track and visualize metrics such as Tableau and Splunk.

The COO wears many hats, which is what makes it a challenging and stimulating role. For more thoughts on what makes an effective COO, check out EY’s “The DNA of a COO.”

We’ve also pulled together this cheat sheet with the help of other COOs to provide a potential task list if you’re new to your role. We’d love to hear from you on what’s missing from this list and share other useful tools in the comments section.

Nicole Ballin

Author Nicole Ballin

Nicole is a serial entrepreneur who most recently co-founded and was COO of UpEnergy, a clean energy company in Uganda. She now provides COO advisory services to growing social enterprises.

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