The role of Chief Operating Officer or COO is a dynamic C-level position. As with most of the top positions, being COO changes with time, industry, and between companies. A startup COO may, for instance, wear many hats but, over time, develop a tighter focus on production or other high-level operational aspects of running a business.
So, although the position varies, there are certain qualities common to all COOs. One, is that the COO is generally a corporation’s 2nd highest ranking executive. Two, the COO is responsible for running the business’s “day-to-day” operations.
What day-to-day operations? This too depends. For former COO of Meta, Sheryl Sandberg, daily operations encompasses a huge range of responsibilities from setting advertising and partner strategies, to rolling out new products, managing policy, and more. But for whichever kind of COO you want to be, Popl is here to help with everything you need to know about how to become a Chief Operating Officer.
What is a COO?
As a company’s second-in-charge, the COO reports directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and works closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to achieve the company's goals. The COO is responsible for managing the company's resources, including financial, human, and technological resources, to ensure that the company is operating efficiently and effectively. The COO also plays a key role in managing the company's relationships with stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers, and regulators. In some cases, the COO may also be responsible for overseeing the company's marketing and sales efforts.
What does a COO do?
The specific responsibilities of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) can vary depending on the size and nature of the company, as well as the industry in which it operates.
Though many people look at COO’s as those focusing solely on the nuts and bolts of running a business, it is important that they also work on developing their interpersonal skills. The role of a COO touches on every department, from marketing, to sales, to customer service, and each of those entities have people that lead them, so the lack of ability to foster a collaborative and cohesive relationship can be detrimental to a business.
~ Matt Miller, Founder of Embroker
Some important COO responsibilities may include:
- Managing the day-to-day operations of the company
- Developing and implementing strategies
- Managing resources
- Managing relationships
- Overseeing marketing and sales efforts
As a Chief Operating Officer (COO), operational management would be one of your primary responsibilities. Your role would involve overseeing and optimizing the day-to-day operations of the organization, ensuring that they run smoothly, efficiently, and cost-effectively. Here are some of the ways that operational management might look like for a COO:
- Developing and implementing operational strategies: You would work with the CEO and other executives to develop strategies that align with the organization's goals and objectives. These strategies would cover areas such as resource allocation, process improvement, and risk management.
- Leading and managing operational teams: You would oversee the work of the operational teams, including production, supply chain, logistics, and customer service. You would ensure that they are working together effectively, and that they are meeting their targets and goals.
- Monitoring performance and company performance KPIs: You would track and analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the operational functions. This would include metrics such as cost per unit, lead time, quality, and customer satisfaction.
As Chief Operating Officer (COO), one of your primary responsibilities is to help manage the company's resources. This includes financial resources, human resources, and physical resources. Here are some of the ways that COOs help manage a company's resources:
- Financial resources: COOs work closely with the CFO and finance team to manage the company's financial resources. This involves developing and managing budgets, analyzing financial data, and making strategic financial decisions. COOs also ensure that the company is in compliance with financial regulations and that financial risks are managed appropriately.
- Human resources: COOs work closely with the HR team to manage the company's human resources. This involves recruiting, hiring, and developing employees, as well as managing employee benefits, performance, and retention. COOs also ensure that the company is in compliance with employment regulations and that the company culture is aligned with the company's goals and values.
- Physical resources: COOs manage the company's physical resources, such as facilities, equipment, and inventory. This involves ensuring that facilities are maintained and upgraded as necessary, that equipment is serviced and repaired as needed, and that inventory is managed effectively to minimize waste and maximize efficiency.
- Strategic resource allocation: COOs help to ensure that resources are allocated in a way that aligns with the company's strategic goals and objectives. This involves making strategic decisions about where resources should be allocated and how they should be used to drive growth and profitability.
COOs can help manage and nurture important relationships by building trust, listening to feedback, collaborating, managing conflict, and networking. By focusing on building strong relationships with key stakeholders, COOs can help to create a culture of success and drive the organization towards its strategic goals and objectives.
Here are some ways that COOs can help manage and nurture these relationships:
- Listening to feedback: COOs can listen to feedback from stakeholders and use this feedback to improve processes, products, and services. By showing that the organization values feedback, COOs can demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and build stronger relationships.
- Collaboration: COOs can work collaboratively with stakeholders to identify opportunities for mutual benefit. This may involve co-creating new products or services, or finding ways to optimize existing processes to reduce costs or improve outcomes.
- Managing conflict: COOs can help to manage conflict between stakeholders by acting as a mediator and finding mutually acceptable solutions. By addressing conflicts in a timely and effective manner, COOs can help to maintain positive relationships and prevent issues from escalating.
- Business networking: COOs can participate in industry events, conferences, and other networking opportunities to build relationships with key stakeholders. By being visible and approachable, COOs can build a strong network of contacts that can help the organization achieve its goals.
Overseeing Marketing and Sales Efforts
COOs can have a significant impact on sales and marketing efforts by aligning strategies, improving customer experience, analyzing data, optimizing processes, and implementing marketing technology. By taking a strategic approach to sales and marketing, COOs can help their organization achieve its goals and drive growth in the following ways:
- Aligning sales and marketing strategies: COOs can work with the sales and marketing teams to ensure that their strategies are aligned with the company's overall goals and objectives. This can help to avoid any conflicting goals and improve overall performance.
- Improving customer experience: COOs can work with sales and marketing teams to ensure that customer experience is a top priority. This can involve streamlining processes to make it easier for customers to do business with the company, improving customer service, and developing a customer-centric culture.
- Analyzing sales and marketing data: COOs can analyze sales and marketing data to identify trends, opportunities, and areas for improvement. This can involve tracking metrics such as conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, and customer lifetime value.
- Optimizing sales and marketing processes: COOs can work with the sales and marketing teams to identify and eliminate inefficiencies in their processes. This can involve automating manual tasks, improving lead generation and qualification processes, and optimizing sales and marketing funnels.
- Implementing marketing technology: COOs can oversee the implementation of marketing technology to improve marketing effectiveness and efficiency. This can involve implementing marketing automation tools, using data analytics tools, incorporating ETL tools, and leveraging artificial intelligence to improve personalization and targeting.
What Does a COO Do and How it Changes as the Company Grows
Steps to Becoming a COO
The first step toward any goal is often the most difficult. If you're goal is to be a COO, here's the first step Lillian Chen, COO of BarNone Games, suggests
In some cases (like with Popl’s Nick Eischens) the COO is one of a company’s founders. Other times, COOs will be hired to come in at later stages to help companies grow. Because of the diversity of ways into the COO position there is naturally a wide range of different paths aspiring executives can take to get there. You can easily make the case that simply doing great, consistent work is always the best recipe for career success. But as far as specific recommendations, here are some things to consider if you want to be a COO:
- Build a strong foundation of useful skills: To become a COO, you will need to have a solid foundation in business and leadership. This may include earning a bachelor's or master's degree in a relevant field, such as business administration or management. You may also want to gain experience in different areas of the business, such as finance, marketing, or operations, to gain a well-rounded understanding of how a company operates.
- Develop your leadership skills: COOs are expected to be strong leaders who can motivate and manage teams effectively. You can develop your leadership skills by taking on leadership roles within your current organization or by participating in leadership development programs or workshops.
- Gain relevant experience: To become a COO, you will need to have a track record of success in managing and growing businesses. This may include experience in managing budgets, developing and implementing strategies, and leading teams to achieve results.
- Network and build relationships: Building relationships with industry leaders and decision-makers can help you learn about job opportunities and position yourself as a potential COO candidate. Consider attending industry events, joining professional organizations, and networking with other professionals in your field.
- Continuously learn and grow: To succeed as a COO, you will need to be a continuous learner who is open to new ideas and approaches. Stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices, and seek out opportunities to learn and grow in your career.
Do COOs Need a Degree?
Being a great COO means synthesizing an array of skills: technical, business, and, of course, leadership skills.
I believe that the most important skill for any COO is the ability to think strategically and to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Additionally, a COO should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to motivate and inspire their team.
~ Lilian Chen, COO of Bar None Games
Here are some of the most important skills for an effective COO:
- Strategic thinking: COOs are expected to have a strong strategic vision and the ability to think long-term. They should be able to develop and implement strategies that align with the company's goals and vision.
- Financial management: COOs are responsible for managing the company's resources, including its financial resources. They should have a strong understanding of financial management principles and be able to develop and manage budgets, as well as analyze financial data to make informed decisions.
- Business acumen: COOs should have a deep understanding of how businesses operate and be able to identify opportunities for growth and innovation. They should be able to analyze market trends and make informed decisions about the direction of the company.
- Leadership: COOs are expected to be strong leaders who can motivate and manage teams effectively. They should be able to inspire and guide others to achieve results and should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
- Problem-solving: COOs should be able to identify and address problems and challenges in a timely and effective manner. They should be able to think critically and creatively to come up with solutions to complex problems.
- Adaptability: COOs should be able to adapt to changing circumstances and be comfortable operating in an environment of uncertainty. They should be able to pivot and make quick decisions when needed.
In some cases, technical skills are also highly valuable,
Technical prowess is beneficial for this role since many operational problems require quick decision making using data analysis or software solutions that can automate processes such as accessing customer information quickly during customer service interactions or generating reports from previous sales figures easily without having an additional staff member generate them daily manually which could consume more time than necessary.
~ Richard Nolan, Chief People Officer at ePOS
How Much Do COOs Make?
The salary of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) can vary widely depending on factors such as the size of the company, the industry, and the region. According to the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2020, the median annual salary for chief executives, which includes COOs, was $184,460. However, salaries can range from around $70,000 to over $500,000 per year, with additional compensation such as bonuses, stock options, and other benefits.
It's important to note that executive compensation is often influenced by a number of factors, including the company's financial performance, industry trends, and the COO's experience and qualifications. In addition, salaries can vary significantly depending on the company's location, with COOs working for companies located in larger metropolitan areas generally earning higher salaries than those working for smaller organizations in less populated areas.
Famous Chief Operating Officers
There have been many famous COOs throughout history, here are just a few you can look to for guidance, advice, and inspiration.
- George David: George David was the COO and CEO of United Technologies Corporation, a position he held from 1994 to 2008. He is considered the classic COO and is credited with turning the company into a global leader in the aerospace and building systems industries.
- Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, a position she has held since 2008. Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg served as the Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google.
- Ginni Rometty: Ginni Rometty is the former COO and CEO of IBM, a position she held from 2012 to 2020. She was the first woman to lead the company in its 100-year history.
- Tim Cook: Tim Cook is the COO and CEO of Apple, a position he has held since 2011. Prior to becoming CEO, Cook served as Apple's COO for several years.
- Joseph R. Pietri: Joseph R. Pietri is the COO of Goldman Sachs, a position he has held since 2021. Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Pietri served as the COO of Blackstone Group.
Myths or Misconceptions about the COO Role
Best Resources for Aspiring COOs
Experience is one thing (and certainly it’s essential), but if COO is what you want then you’ll also need to do your homework. No, this is not a painful process - or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
When it comes to “studying” the COO position, something as simple as REGULARLY watching YouTube videos on business and management topics can have a major positive impact to your professional development. Here are some helpful ways to educate yourself and advance your journey to becoming a Chief Operating Officer:
- Professional organizations: Joining professional organizations, such as the Association for Operations Management (APICS) or the Project Management Institute (PMI), can provide access to industry-specific resources, networking opportunities, and continuing education opportunities.
- Executive coaching: Working with an executive coach can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed as a COO. Executive coaches can provide personalized guidance and support as you work towards your career goals.
- Online courses and degree programs: There are many online courses and degree programs that can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to become a COO. These programs can cover topics such as business strategy, financial management, and leadership development.
- Books and articles: Reading books and articles on business, leadership, and management can provide valuable insights and ideas for how to succeed as a COO. There are many books and articles available on these topics, including those written by successful COOs.
- Industry events: Attending industry events, such as conferences and seminars, can provide an opportunity to learn from industry leaders, network with other professionals, and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices in your field.
What Does a COO Do | Conclusion
So, the COO role is both complex and rewarding, challenging and dynamic…But is it worth it? Is the juice worth the squeeze?
There you have it, everything you need to know about how to become a Chief Operating Officer.
Whether you’re fresh out of college, or just a step away from the C-suite, it is always helpful to zoom out and make career decisions with a clear and calm state of mind. Understand what you want and where you’re going, and go for it.
Becoming a COO does not happen overnight, nor should it. Why? Because being a Chief Operating Officer requires diligence, patience, and attention to detail. These skills you will hone naturally over time as you work toward the position. So embrace the day-to-day ups-and-downs of the COO career path – and learn from them.
More Popl career guides
- How to be a CEO | Career guide
- How to be a Sales Director | Career guide
- How to be a Marketing Director | Career guide