The DNA of the COO

Resetting the logic of the COO's role

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“Operations are increasingly of strategic importance, addressing both the revenue and the cost challenges organizations face.”
Adrian Edwards, Global Supply Chain and Operations Leader, EY.

In contrast to many other C-suite roles, that of the COO has had a turbulent recent history. And uncertainty about its future often still lingers.

There are several reasons why the COO role has struggled to fully cement itself within today’s C-suite. Some companies may opt instead to split operations responsibilities between several executives. In others, the CEO may decide to handle operational issues directly.
But in many companies, across a range of industries and regions, changing market dynamics now provide a chance to clarify the inherent logic of the COO’s role, at least for those willing to take on the challenge.

New business dynamics redefining an old role

The following factors underscore the need for an operational leader, especially within an increasingly complex and global business environment:

  • A daunting regulatory environment
  • A tougher emphasis on efficiency and cost management, including a drive to transform many core aspects of the business
  • The need to expand into new markets in the pursuit of growth

This need is further exacerbated by the increasing speed of change, from ever shorter product development life cycles to a continuously evolving technology.

The effects of this are clearly felt by today’s COOs. One in three of those polled say that increased complexity and a wider set of tasks has been the most striking change in their job over the past five years.

Changed tasks for a COO in the last five years

Changed tasks for a COO in the last five years

(Open question with multiple answers)

Change brings opportunity

For ambitious COOs, all this provides a significant opportunity. More so than any other executive, they are well-placed to take on such challenges and cement their position within the organization.

Furthermore, adding a COO role can help to free up the CEO to focus on setting the corporate vision and goals, while then relying on the operational leader to help shape the underlying strategy and implement it. For many companies, this also acts as an effective form of succession planning.

COOs have to adapt to the environment they find themselves in

Unlike other management roles, such as the CFO, there are no professional standards, nor are expectations of the job common across all organizations. Rather than possessing a single set of skills that can be easily identified in any business, COOs have to adapt, chameleon-like, to the environment in which they find themselves.

The DNA of the COO - Time to claim the spotlight