What Does a Chief Operations Officer Do Today?
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Many organizations have a Chief Operations Officer (COO). However, not all do. Increasingly, companies are hiring COOs and transitioning their roles and responsibilities to adapt to fast-changing environments that never seem calm. McKinsey offers insights into the modern COO and what they do today. It’s both thought-provoking and instructive of what companies face today.

So, what does a Chief Operations Officer do today? Of course, they manage internal operations. However, beyond that, every organization has a COO who does different things. With the changing times, they often need to do things that, historically, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) used to do. Why? So, the CEO can take a much heavier role in customer relations, external constituencies, and critical stakeholders. CEOs have become more externally facing to deal with an increasingly turbulent world that never ceases to challenge and change. The CEO and COO are now a team that functions as a unit that can adapt to change and achieve success like never before.

Below are the top five proficiencies for COOs as identified by McKinsey’s interviewees:

    1. Get (way) better at anticipating and reacting to change. The new norm is upheaval. This is true both globally and locally. More than ever, companies and their operations leads must be prepared for the next disruptive event, no matter how unlikely it might seem.
    2. Collaborate with other essential functions to shape the success agenda. Work across crucial areas must be facilitated, especially in sales and marketing. This also involves a clear understanding of the evolving customer value proposition that must drive future operations.
    3. Engage with external boards, key stakeholders, and advisory groups. The pandemic has forced organizations to keep external influencers and owners up-to-date on the evolving situation with the top management teams and the organizations’ responses. Transparent communication is vital.
    4. Drive operational excellence in terms of both culture and technology. Operational excellence is very challenging in hyper-volatile situations that are becoming increasingly routine. Excellence regarding outcomes, critical meetings, outstanding customer service, and well-executed marketing efforts are what complex operations are today.
    5. Managing efforts to secure, grow, and retain the best talent available. Talent-related challenges are at the top of most CEOs’ and vital external stakeholders’ lists. This involves everything from work culture to employee needs and diversifying talent while producing outcomes. No small task today!

It is not easy to lead operations today. Creating and delivering on critical roles in the C-Suite helps determine success. Turbulent waters are ahead. Navigating them is vital.