The Chief Operating Officer (COO) position holds a special place among the management team of large companies. A COO can be the missing piece that makes the entire organization run like a well-oiled machine. 

On the other hand, they can also be an unnecessary figure who doesn’t quite know what they should be doing. How can you determine whether your company needs a COO or not? What information can help you decide if a Chief Operating Officer is necessary at all? Finally, how do you conduct the recruitment process to ensure that the chosen COO strengthens your company rather than weakens it? Let’s dive in!

Responsibilities of a Chief Operating Officer

The role of a Chief Operating Officer is not standard and doesn’t exist in every organization, which is one reason why creating an accurate job description for it can be challenging.

In general terms, a COO takes full responsibility for the areas of the company that the CEO does not want to oversee. Typically, a CEO wants to delegate the management of areas where they are weaker to the COO.

Let’s analyze three example scenarios. In each of them, the COO will play a different role. However, one thing remains consistent: the role of a COO usually involves a wide range of responsibilities.

Operations

You can imagine a COO joining an organization led by a highly effective, business-savvy CEO or General Director, along with a strong product-focused CTO. In this case, the weak point of the organization is most likely its operations, which is typically the traditional domain of a COO. Operations encompass everything that ensures the “trains run on time” and the “cogs of the machine keep turning.”

The COO’s responsibilities may include overseeing finance, legal, HR, customer service, and special projects (such as relocating the company’s office without disrupting its day-to-day operations).

Business – CEO/General Director Support

In another scenario, you might have an organization managed by a tech-savvy CEO/General Director who needs support in business-related areas. In this context, the COO is responsible for sales, marketing, e-commerce, customer service, and day-to-day operations. The skills required for this position are similar to that of a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). Consequently, the COO actively participates in shaping the company’s strategy.

Project Support

Another situation arises when a company’s founder launches a new business project. Over time, this project demands more of their time. Typically, in such a situation, a CEO would hire two individuals in two different companies (or another management configuration) to support them. This allows the CEO to have assistance with both projects and manage them simultaneously.

For instance, Jack Dorsey was the CEO of Twitter and Square for some time (although he was outside Twitter’s structures for several years before returning). A similar situation occurred with Stefan Batory, the CEO of both Booksy and iTaxi. Lech Kaniuk became the COO of iTaxi and later assumed the role of CEO.

What Companies Need a Chief Operating Officer?

Most companies don’t need a COO at all. This position doesn’t have a fixed place in the organizational structure precisely because it’s not necessary for every business. From my experience, most people wanting to hire a COO can achieve their goals with the help of an assistant and 1-2 competent department managers.

However, consider hiring a COO if you recognize most of the following points:

  • Your organization is growing very rapidly (over 100% per year).
  • Despite hiring individuals to manage key areas, some elements of your organization struggle due to the CEO’s incompetence.
  • You feel that having a “right-hand person” would greatly benefit you.
  • Your organization generates a minimum of 5 million złoty in revenue.
  • The problems you face can’t be solved by new hires (such as employing two team leaders, a director, and an assistant for the CEO) or streamlining two other problematic areas.
  • The CEO is pursuing other projects outside the company.
  • The CEO needs more time outside the company.

It may also turn out that your motivation isn’t purely business-related. For example, you may be burnt out and haven’t taken a vacation in three years. Or you’re dealing with an illness, and it’s unclear when you’ll be able to return to full health. Perhaps you’ve simply lost your passion for the business.

In such cases, consider hiring an external CEO and transitioning to the position in the Supervisory Board.

The Role of a Chief Operating Officer in My Company

You still want to hire a COO?

Let’s examine what an organization that needs this support looks like.

It’s worth considering in a rapidly growing organization, especially when growth occurs at relatively large levels. Suppose you’re growing from a level like 4 million złoty at a rate of 200% per year. Your colleague, on the other hand, is growing at a rate of 50% from a level of 6 million złoty. Who needs a COO more? Definitely you!

Okay, you’re convinced that your growth is fast enough and is occurring from a substantial base. Next, check if all key areas—sales, marketing, customer service, HR, and product—are managed by individuals responsible for achieving department-specific goals.

We often see CEOs wanting to hire a COO where simply relinquishing authority and delegating responsibilities would suffice. This seemingly simple move can “free up” as much as 40% of a CEO’s calendar.

Recruiting a COO

Recruiting a COO is different for the reasons mentioned above and is significantly different than recruiting for other top management positions.

When hiring a Marketing Director with experience in a similar role, there’s a very high likelihood they will succeed in another organization in the same industry. The same applies to a Sales Director who manages sales to similar target groups or an HR Director hired at a specific stage of organizational development.

However, this isn’t the case with a COO. Experience in one organization might not translate to success in another company, even though the position is theoretically the same.

That’s why hiring top managers is like getting a custom-tailored suit. It’s not enough to buy an off-the-rack suit, even if it’s made with the utmost care and the finest materials.

Finding the Perfect Candidate

Typically, the COO recruitment process is more challenging and lengthy than other top management recruitments. However, you can leverage your experience in hiring for other top management positions within your company. If the job description and division of responsibilities are well-drafted, it should work.

Besides traditional candidate sourcing techniques, consider:

  • Headhunting firms (Casbeg can also help).
  • Internal promotion.
  • Seeking candidates through consultants, investors, and members of your board of directors.

In conclusion, don’t rush. It might be possible to hire a COO in a month, but it will more likely take 3, 6, or even 9 to 12 months. Hiring the wrong person could pose a threat to the entire company. So, if dedicating an additional 90 days to the recruitment process reduces the risk by 5%, it’s worth exercising patience.

Alternative to a Chief Operating Officer – Interim Manager

COO recruitment usually takes several months. But what if you don’t have that much time and need support urgently? One solution is to collaborate with an Interim Manager—a temporary manager who will come into your company, streamline processes and teams, provide guidance for development directions, review business plans, and handle other tasks as needed.

Interested in interim management collaboration? Let’s talk: [email protected].