What makes a great COO?

WRITTEN OCT' 2020

Chief Operating Officers are crucial to a business but often CEOs are looked at more favourably whilst arguably, both roles are equally important. They are essential to companies of all shapes and sizes, especially when there is a high level of risk or the business is undergoing development or transformation. But what does it take to be a truly great COO, especially in the current uncertain times we are living through?

Firstly, it is crucial that they possess exceptional leadership skills. They tend to have oversight of many different departments such as IT, Compliance and Operations – particularly in slightly smaller firms – and therefore have to be able to adapt their leadership styles to suit each division, especially as these areas can often be extremely complex and technical. Furthermore, it is important that they are able to communicate effectively with people of all levels, both internally and externally, particularly in this time of uncertainty. Negotiating, mediating and having to partake in difficult conversations are all usually part of a COOs role and therefore they must be able to understand the most effective way to communicate.
Another key point to note is that a Chief Operating Officer in any firm must be strategic. Although they are often in charge of actually implementing the CEO’s strategy, they must have a strategic mindset for that to be successfully put into action. The key is to get the right balance of strategy combined with experience and knowledge, as this will guarantee the overall vision of the company isn’t compromised whilst still ensuring the everyday tasks are executed to a high standard.

Having previous experience of building and transforming a team and/or business is extremely important, but a great COO must be able to understand that each business has different needs and work out the best way to implement these whilst still drawing upon prior experience. There are always certain business and functional elements that can be improved, whether it be processes or team dynamics, so they must be level-headed and strategic enough to notice this and change what is best for the business. Additionally, they must also have a wide variety of knowledge across different areas of a business, such as compliance, finance, operations and IT as ultimately, they are responsible for bringing these teams together and ensuring their success. A large proportion of COOs, particularly within Asset Management, have a background of working in a variety of roles such as: fund administration, client services, risk and compliance before progressing and therefore should have sound understanding of each department and role, and what makes them successful.

compliance manager - key skills

As they work extremely closely with the CEO, it is essential that they are honest and trustworthy individuals with high levels of integrity and no ego. A lot of pressure and trust is put on them and as a result they are often expected to put the business before anything else, especially in the unprecedented times we are currently living through. Covid-19 and lockdown has had a real impact on most sectors and now more than ever a COO really needs to step up and work efficiently with the CEO to steer through these times successfully. They must be incredibly hardworking and dependable for both the business and the relationship dynamics to work and run smoothly. Moreover, they are often trusted with confidential information, ranging from potential business deals in the pipeline to private information about employees, so trust really is key.

Focusing on and being driven by data is a really important part of being a great COO. It is argued that often people working in executive or leadership positions at companies can make hasty decisions or think that they know the best course of action based on previous experience, but a COO often has the responsibility to challenge this and slow the process down to a point where decisions can be made more logically. There really isn’t room for them to come to decisions based on instinct – in order to get the results and for the vision to succeed, they must turn to the data and make rational decisions guided by their findings.

To be a great leader and manager, it is extremely important to be a real ‘people person’ and have the ability to connect with colleagues, making them feel reassured and comfortable. Whilst the pandemic has allowed people to work from home and have a bit more balance in their life, this hasn’t necessarily been the easiest thing for people to adapt to. Often, employees can be left feeling a bit isolated and vulnerable without the daily social interaction with colleagues and some have stated that they have lost slight confidence in their ability. A great COO will have had to adapt to the new ways like everyone else whilst still making sure colleagues work efficiently and any issues are dealt with in the best way, which can be harder to do when working remotely. Now more than ever, a real sense of community and inclusivity needs to be maintained, and they will have a big part to play in making sure this happens.

Above all, they must have a positive mindset and be confident in their ability. From the interview process right through to working in the role, they must believe in their capability and vision, ensuring that their colleagues feel positive about it too. They should want everyone involved in the business to succeed and work to the best of their ability. A strong COO is crucial to a good business if they want to have financial and personal success in the long term and they should never be underestimated!

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