Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the title of the "executive responsible for
(1) the day-to-day running of the critical departments of an organization such as production, marketing and sales, and distribution,
(2) establishing procedures and processes to ensure their smooth functioning, and
(3) providing timely operational information and assistance to the CEO.[1]

The role of Chief Operations Officer is clearly important. In fact, it has been argued that the number two position in the C-Suite is the toughest job in a company. COOs are typically the key individuals responsible for the delivery of results on a day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter basis. They play a critical leadership role in executing the business strategies developed by the top management team. And, in many cases, they are being groomed to be—or are actually being tested as—the firm's CEO-elect.[2]

Qualifications to Be a COO[3]
A COO typically has extensive experience within the field in which the company operates and has often worked their way up through the ranks for at least 15 years. He or she has both business and management expertise as well as extensive experience in the practices, policies, and procedures of their field. Because she is responsible for directing the work of the departments and personnel below her, the COO position typically requires strong leadership skills as well as the ability to approach situations from a creative point of view. COOs typically have at least a bachelor's degree and often have other relevant degrees and certifications as well.

COO Role and Responsibilities[4]
There are few roles in a company that are as broad as the COO’s. Operations leaders see every aspect and function of the business, and engage with an extremely diverse range of internal and external stakeholders. Although the precise responsibilities of the COO will differ from company to company, there are six key areas in which operations leaders play an active role. Successful COOs need to master each area, from the basics of ensuring that there is suitable operations management in place through to defining the future shape of the business.

  • Ensuring suitable operations management
  • Optimizing operational processes
  • Designing a framework to implement strategy into operations
  • Managing the strategic assets of the company
  • Driving key change and transformation initiatives
  • Shaping the future of the business

Attributes of Successful COO[5]
A COO needs a unique set of skills that bridge the space between the visionary leader at the top and the execution of strategy and ongoing operation of a business.

  • Strategic with a focus on details:A successful COO balances a breadth of experience and knowledge with an ability to manage strategically. They keep their company’s high-level strategy front-and-center while understanding the details of day-to-day execution to ensure what needs to happen does happen. Handling those details can be no small matter. About six in 10 COOs say the complexity and diversity of the position is fundamentally what makes it worthwhile, according to Ernst & Young’s survey of hundreds of COOs.
  • Appreciate talent: A good COO is a people person. They understand the business depends on talented individuals working as a team. As they maintain the operations, they keep an eye out for ways to improve the company by deepening the pipeline of talent, constantly raising the level of talent through strong hires, and providing opportunities to develop existing team member skills.
  • Company First Attitude: The best COOs put the organization first. There is a total lack of ego. These COOs find ways time and again to highlight others. They will decline speaking engagements and instead give those opportunities to a business-line head or head of marketing. Similarly, when media outlets request interviews, the top COOs will find ways to share the limelight with others.
  • Data driven: Sometimes it is tempting to rely on your gut for decisions in business. But when a CEO or a business-line head, or director of procurement says, “I just know this initiative will be a home run,” the effective COO is the one who will stop them or slow them down and ask for data to guide decisions. Because they are responsible ensuring strategic vision translates into profitable operations, COOs must be data-driven. Rather than allow the business to be guided by instincts, internal politics, hunches, or executives’ gut feelings, the best COOs will insist the business be driven by data.

COO as successor (Transition and Challenges)[6]
Routinely in large organizations the COO will be the heir apparent to the [^Chief-Executive-Officer-CEO|CEO]. Individuals may have worked their way (internally) up the company ladder before being named COO, or may have been recruited from an outside company. Either way, the position is used as a training and testing ground for the next CEO. A 2003 Crist Associates study revealed that only 17% of companies that promote a COO to a CEO replace the COO within the next year. An Accenture study found that approximately one in nine COOs moved into the CEO's shoes within a year of their departure and that half of COO's see themselves as the "heir apparent."COO's transitioning into the CEO role often face similar challenges including:

  • Not being automatically granted the luxury of a "diagnostic period." Given that they know the company, COOs turned CEOs are often expected to hit the ground running when in actuality they too need to enter diagnostic mode to fully understand their new role and to see the company from a new perspective.
  • Finding time to manage a new key stakeholder: The board. Many COOs turned CEOs are often surprised how time-intensive managing the Board of Directors can be and must learn to incorporate this important responsibility into an already packed schedule.
  • Being in the spotlight. COOs are used to having the luxury of working "behind the scenes." As CEO, many are surprised to find they have become a "public" figure both inside and outside the organization and must learn how to manage this additional obligation.
  • Recalibrating their image. Often COOs struggle not with the strategy portion of the job itself, but overcoming the perception of other stakeholders that they are an "execution" executive versus a "strategy" executive.

According to researchers Miles and Bennett, just knowing these common pitfalls can help a COO "heir" better prepare for the transition, thereby avoiding them in totality or ensuring that at least they do not evolve into full derailers once they are in the CEO seat.


  1. Chief Operating Officer (COO) Definition Dictionary
  2. Riding Shotgun - The Role of the COO Nathan Bennett, Stephen A. Miles
  3. The Qualifications to be a Chief Operating Officer Investopedia
  4. The COO's Contribution [1]
  5. 4 Common Traits of the Best Chief Operating Officers Entrepreneur
  6. Transition and Challenges from COO to CEO Wikipedia

Further Reading

  • Chief Operating Officer (COO) Definition Techtarget
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO) Job Description Template Workable
  • 5 Key Concepts For Every Chief Operating Officer CBS
  • Capturing The Value that a Chief Operating Officer Can Bring Ivey Business Journal
  • Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer HBR
  • The DNA of the COO: Time to claim the spotlightEY

See Also

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Chief Information Officer (CIO)
Chief Digital Officer (CDO)
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Chief Innovation Officer
Chief Procurement Officer (CPO)
Chief Risk Officer (CRO)
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Business Strategy
IT Strategy
IT Governance
Enterprise Architecture
IT Sourcing
IT Operations
Business IT Alignment