The DNA of the COO

Time to claim the spotlight

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Successful COOs have to adapt constantly to a fast-changing corporate and external environment. They must possess a mastery of change to help translate strategic vision into action.

The role of the chief operating officer (COO) often defies a “one size fits all” description. In the The DNA of the COO, we uncover a compelling story of a wide-ranging role that still needs to fight to justify its existence, despite having a clear rationale.

Why is so little known about the role of the COO, despite its long history? To offer much-needed insight into what it is to be a COO today, in this report we explore the role of a COO:

  • As one of the C-suite's toughest roles. The need for a figurehead in the operations role is more pressing than ever. One in three COOs strongly agrees that their role is one of the most difficult in the management team. Their peers in the C-suite are even more certain: half of them think that few other roles are as tough.
  • Thriving on the adrenaline of complexity and change. For COOs, the inherent challenges of the job are part of its appeal. Overall, about 6 in 10 say that the complexity and diversity of the role makes it worthwhile for them. Forty-nine percent strongly agree that they thrive on this constant change and challenge.
  • As a stepping stone to the top job. Forty percent of COOs polled aspire to be promoted to CEO within the next five years. Among respondents from rapid-growth markets, the proportion aspiring to become CEO is as high as 54%.
  • As a role not yet strategic enough. Beyond the mastery over operational issues, which is a given, COOs have a clear opportunity to help define the strategy that underpins a CEO's vision, and to then take the lead in implementing it. Their C-suite peers strongly agree: 70% consider the ability to participate in strategic discussions a vital skill for the job.
  • In rapid-growth markets. COOs in rapid-growth markets have a more enviable priority list than their peers in the developed markets. Topping it is the need to build capacity, scale up production and ensure that the right resources are in place to capture growth opportunities.

About the survey
The report is based on our analysis of two surveys. It comprises a shorter February 2012 pilot study of 200 COOs; and a comprehensive April 2012 survey of another 306 COOs and senior operations professionals across Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. In the second survey, a further 43 respondents from across the C-suite were also polled to give their perspective on how the COO is perceived by the rest of the management team.

The characteristics of today's typical COO

The characteristics of today's typical COO

The DNA of the COO - Time to claim the spotlight