Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 6: the Chief Operating Officer

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on October 22, 2014

This is my sixth posting to a series on what C level officers of a business or organization do, that specifically emerge as job requirements for the senior leadership of an organization (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 376 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I focused in Part 5 of this series on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Strategy Officer and on how this type of executive position can become necessary and even essential to a business as it scales up in organizational size and complexity. And I decided while writing that, that the most logical place to discuss the Chief Operating Officer (also called the Chief Operations Officer or COO) would be here in this next installment. So I turn to do so now.

As a basic point of orientation I begin this posting by noting that while the Chief Strategy Officer is responsible for what can be seen as day-to-day strategy alignment and coordination, the Chief Operating Officer is responsible for ongoing day-to-day operations. This in practice makes these two officers the most senior hands-on responsible members of the Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) core executive team and certainly where there is a Chief Strategy Officer as a separate position. It has traditionally been commoner for there to be a COO if only one of these two positions is in place on a table of organization. And for many organizations the COO in fact formally holds a second in command position on the table of organization and in practical fact for the business as a whole.

A Chief Financial Officer more usually reports directly to the CEO but when a COO explicitly holds a second in command, Executive Vice President or similar position it is common for other functional area C level officers (e.g. a CIO or a Chief of Marketing and Communications) to report to them as their immediate supervisor with the COO reporting directly to the CEO or President.

I have been writing up to here in this series about how executive teams fit together, and about how various functional area C level officers face both unique functional area-specific issues, and more commonly shared executive officer-level issues. I continue that in this posting by noting that the width of focus and perspective that the strategically oriented CSO and the operationally oriented COO take, make both of these positions excellent staging steps for being groomed as a CEO successor. And moving in the other direction, a CEO of a formerly separate and distinct business can make an excellent CSO or COO coming out of a merger or a large acquisition joining with another business. Both positions require an in-depth and wide ranging understanding of the business as a whole, and of how all of its component systems work together. And as de facto owner of overall business strategy and planning, the CEO does too.

That said, I turn here to consider a second major areas of potential comparison: how the roles and responsibilities of the COO are fundamentally changing as we more fully enter into a 21st century work and marketplace. I have in fact written repeatedly throughout this blog about how information and related technology are changing and about how the CIO or CTO and their departments have to respond to this and both reactively and proactively. I have similarly written about how this tidal wave of change is impacting on marketing and communications – to cite one more core department level functional area, and a variety of other functional areas and their leadership. This wave of change is in fact forcing change throughout every business and throughout its operations and its strategic planning and on all levels, if they are to remain competitive in their markets and industries. My goal for the balance of this posting is to at least begin discussing the impact of all of this on the COO.

• The emergence of ubiquitously connected, at least potentially always on and from anywhere to anywhere communications and information sharing has redefined the possible, the cost-effective and the expected and for both individuals and for the businesses that they participate with. This means in-house employees, suppliers and employees of supply chain and other partner businesses, customers and potential customers, and outside commentators of all types. This means everyone and both inside of and outside of any given business or organization who might in any way interact with it or be affected by it – and who might reach back to it as a result.
• This is reshaping business practices and processes and at all levels – not just, for example, the outside facing processes of Sales and Marketing, or Customer Support, or supply chain-facing Inventory Management.
• And this creates both new opportunity and new risk, and particularly where oversight and access control of sensitive, confidential, proprietary and legally protected data (e.g. personally identifying customer or employee data) are concerned.

This represents a core set of issues that all C level executives face together. And for a COO, this means reconciling needs and priorities across sometimes competing services and departments that can each come to hold their own understandings as to what is necessary.

• So what does a COO do? A significant part to any answer to that is that they continually face new learning curve and systems adaptation requirements, and certainly if they are to be effective at their jobs and if they are to help keep their business operating effectively and competitively in the face of new and even disruptively new change.

I am going to continue this series in a next installment with a discussion of a new and still emerging executive role: the Chief Security Officer. After that I will turn to consider another more standard and well-known type of position again: the Chief of Marketing and Communications Officer and its variations. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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