What the Heck is a COO… and Why Do I Need One?

What do all of the following have in common?

  • CEO – Chief Executive Officer
  • CFO – Chief Financial Officer
  • CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
  • CTO – Chief Technology Officer
  • CSO – Chief Security Officer

All of these titles represent C-Suite positions in companies that have a peer magazine or conference and whose responsibilities are easily defined.

Guess who’s not there? Yep, COO – Chief Operating Officer.

The COO position is one of the most challenging and least understood C-Suite roles in business. In fact, Harvard Business Review published this article – Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the COO.Even 15 years later, it is still the most quoted and referenced article on the COO position and its challenges.

After over 20 years either as a COO or helping CEOs add their #2 to their team, I completely understand why. COOs are almost always chosen (and most successful) when they are the complement to the CEO.

  • Visionary CEO – find a strong strategist who can execute.
  • Sales & Marketing CEO – find an operations expert who can deliver.
  • Technical CEO – find a marketing operator who can sell your products.
  • Financial CEO – take your pick 😊

In fact, I don’t believe that domain expertise (or the actual job title) has as much to do with a COO’s success. It’s the steadiness and balance they bring to the organization in addition to their expertise that creates their success.

Don’t be hung up titles.

In smaller organizations, it is the person who has direct access to the CEO, significant responsibility and keeps the trains moving on time. In larger organizations, the COO is most likely internally focused, understands the linkages between the various functions and can step in to back up the CEO when needed.

You can learn more about different kinds of COOs on the The Second in Command podcast. Billed as “the chief behind the chief”, Cameron Herrold interviews COOs from a wide variety of industries and organizations.

If having someone like this in your company sounds attractive to you, it’s likely that you could benefit from having a solid second-in-command on your team.