What is a Chief Operating Officer?

Working in partnership with CEOs and founders

A Chief Operating Officer is a senior executive who works closely with a CEO or founder to deliver their vision for the business.

The role is necessarily varied, requiring strong generalist leadership skills and a deep understanding of how to grow and run businesses.

The Chief Operating Officer is like glue for the organisation, holding everything together, providing organisational cadence, relentlessly executing a business plan and holding leadership teams to account.

COO responsibilities

The responsibilities of Chief Operating Officers vary widely.

Some COOs run entire businesses or significant parts of them, taking full accountability for P&L. This common in later stage scale-ups and more mature businesses.

Other COOs roles operate with less direct line responsibility. Instead they focus on troubleshooting and problem solving as an extension of the CEO’s role remit. This type of COO role is seen more in start-ups and early stage scale-ups.

COO as a generalist

The dynamic and pivotal role that the Chief Operating Officer plays in leading a business demands a wide set of skills.

COOs are often strong generalists who have worked in leadership roles spanning core disciplines such as growth, delivery, customer, product and engineering.

A good COO is able to build relationships with leaders from across the business, articulating the CEO’s vision and making it relevant and accessible for every part of the organisation.

CEO and COO in partnership

The partnership between the CEO and the COO sets the tone for the wider leadership group and is at the heart of growth.

A strong, supportive and trusting relationship enables the business to grow at pace. The COO operationalises the CEO’s vision for the business and becomes their trusted confidante.

Scaling businesses pay close attention to the design of the CEO and COO roles to ensure there’s a clear and distinct set of accountabilities for each.

COOs and the business as a system

Scaling businesses are complex emergent systems. They are constantly evolving networks of people working together.

COOs understand how to move beyond the conventional industrial mindset about how to run businesses. They recognise that the business system is complex and use a systems thinking mindset to translate vision into reality.

They get how to use feedback loops and leverage points in their role to create the conditions for scaling.

I work as fractional or interim Chief Operating Officer (COO)

I work with founders, leaders and investors to help them grow and lead sustainable technology-centric businesses.