What To Look For In a Chief Right Hand Person (COO, VP or Head of Operations)

by Apr 5, 2019Operations Leadership

I have been in operations for almost my entire 20+ year career and have had some incredible mentors along the way. I worked with half a dozen CEOs, a couple of companies co-founded, a bunch of CEOs I advised. Yet, I still prefer to be the operations guy and leave the limelight to the CEO. The vast majority of the CEOs I worked with got along splendidly and moved some mountains for our teams.

So here are the points one should consider when looking to add a Chief Right Hand Person to your team:

  • Operations is operations, no matter the industry. I have worked in the entertainment, professional services, legal, software development, consulting, and B2B SaaS companies – problems are almost the same everywhere (in ultra-specialized and regulated industries, we surround ourselves with specialists and attorneys). Industry experience is helpful, but not as much as you think.
  • A good operations leader will be a specialist in being the connector and arbiter between functional areas. Hands-on experience in IT, HR, accounting, recruiting, infrastructure, marketing, sales, etc., is essential. Lack of it handicaps. Your CTO knows how to google things, so do we.
  • Those fearing dirt and scars have no place in operations. Operations people should be the Secret Service of the company. Not only are we most instrumental in the sustainable growth of the company, but we also take a lot of “bullets” and “cuts.” We are like an adult or a parent in the company – constantly removing impediments, cleaning up the messes, leading discipline, and taking the fall for others. If the operations team works well, everything runs smoothly, and very few have full comprehension of the massive load we have on our shoulders.
  • Instead of “faking it,” a good operations person will pick up the phone and ask for advice from experts. A large contact list of suppliers, vendors, and specialists is essential for our everyday success.
  • Earning credibility with everyone in the organization is extremely important to the person’s success in this position. It is hard! No, it is actually tough. We should be able to speak the “language” of every professional on the team. It is the hardest thing on this list, and perfection here is almost impossible. Job is much easier if the board and CEO have due respect for the operations team.
  • The COO must understand the delicate balance required to keep employees and customers happy while also protecting the company. It is a tough skill to develop and requires a passionate drive for sniffing out the facts and mediating outcomes.
  • An operations leader should have no qualms about getting their hands dirty. No white gloves here! But at the same time, they should have excellent judgment when to allow someone to struggle a bit, so they learn.
  • Real operations people will have backup plans for backup plans.  This is how our heads work ALL the time (at work and home). You will not find us bungee jumping or skydiving because there is only one backup in case of failure.

I hope these criteria help you pick your Chief Right Hand Person. Operations is a very sensitive area of the company, so be very picky. A great ops person can dramatically improve the way your company works and make your life a lot easier.

Photo credit: Neal Sanche

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