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      How to Find a COO for Your Company

      If you are at the point where you are prospecting for a chief operations officer, then you are likely experiencing exciting times at your company. Organizations typically require a chief of operations to step in and help scale the management team to cope with exploding growth, or new opportunities. 

      However, these times can also be trying, due to the difficulty of filling the position.

      As experts agree, figuring out the role of a chief operations officer can be an elusive task, which makes it even harder to determine who will be a good fit for the role and how they will perform. 

      In addition, due to the varying roles and backgrounds that operations officers typically bring to the position, it can often be unclear exactly when a COO is needed, and what they are expected to bring to a company.

      Therefore, it is critical to understand:

      • How a COO and CEO work together
      • How a chief operating officer fits within your management team
      • When the position needs filling, before going on to the nitty-gritty of hiring

      What Is the Role of a COO? 

      The position of the chief operations officer (COO) is one that is common to most growth organizations. Yet, this does not make the position any clearer, or its job description less opaque. The role was aptly described by the Harvard Business Review as one that admits of “no single agreed-upon description of what the job entails or even what it’s called.” 

      COOs in organizations have been known to hold several responsibilities, from production to marketing and sales, research and development, and sometimes, even legal. In some organizations, their role is to understudy the CEO, while in others, the COO comes in to help execute on the organization’s strategic goals and assist in catalyzing long-term growth. 

      However, no matter what the COO is called in to do, there’s always one constant – the COO is often at the right hand of the CEO. They play the role of adviser, critic, enforcer, general, and more to the CEO.

      As a result, one of the most common reasons that a COO is hired is to come in and support the CEO, essentially forming one-half of a management tag team. 

      A good COO will typically be responsible for a large swathe of day-to-day operations within the organization. They are tasked with ensuring things keep ticking over nicely, thus freeing up the CEO to face the task of leading the company into the future. 

      When Should You Think About Hiring a COO? 

      There are many scenarios when it would be beneficial to consider hiring a COO. This includes where your business is enjoying a period of tremendous growth and operations are running beyond the capacity of the current management team. If your internal processes are stretched due to the demands of steadily increasing growth, then it may be worth your while to consider bringing a COO in. 

      These are just two of the wide-ranging circumstances in which this hire may be necessary or preferable though. Other circumstances where a COO may be brought in, as discussed by the Harvard Business Review, include: 

      • To lead the execution of organizational strategy developed by board leadership
      • To catalyze specific change initiatives in the company, particularly with regard to an identified growth area
      • To provide mentorship and guidance to a young, inexperienced CEO (usually a founder)
      • To serve as a foil for the CEO, and complement their knowledge base, style, or experience
      • To partner with the CEO in a relationship where they jointly produce the best out of each other
      • To understudy the CEO while being groomed (or tested) for suitability as the next CEO
      • As a way of retaining (and rewarding) a valuable leader that the organization simply does not want to lose

      There may be circumstances where two or more of these reasons diverge, such as where a COO serves as both an executor and a foil for the CEO, which underpins the fluidity of these situations. Regardless, with the insight that these conversations will provide, it becomes easier to unpack what you expect in a COO and what the ideal candidate will look like. 

      Finding a COO: Prospecting from Inside v. Outside with a COO Recruiter? 

      A word on internal vs external recruitment before we go on to discuss tips for effective hiring. Should your new COO come from within your organization, or should you be looking to recruit from outside, with the help of a COO recruiter? Pragmatic thinking suggests it makes sense to appoint an insider who already has the benefit of institutional knowledge, compared to an outsider. However, both options have their advantages. 

      An outsider may provide a fresh perspective, deeper skills, and competencies, or simply a different outlook that freshens up your management strategy and vision. Although with this recruitment, you must account for the added time the hire will need to find their feet, build credibility with their downline, and achieve operational efficiency within their new position. 

      Likewise, hiring an insider means the COO can immediately get to work, and leverage on existing relationships to achieve a much smoother transition. However, this will crucially depend on being able to find the right candidate who fits your goals for the role, as well as your organizational needs. 

      5 Insider Tips for Getting Your COO Executive Search Right 

      With a clear vision of what the COO should be doing for your organization, you should now be in a better position to identify the right candidate. At the outset, determine if you want to conduct the recruitment through an internal process (which can be lengthy and tasking), or if you want to outsource the process to an executive search firm

      As you consider how you choose to proceed on the recruitment, keep the following tips in mind for an effective hire:

      1. Create a wish-list: Identify exactly what you want your COO to do for you, and how you expect them to provide value to the organization. Ensure the job description you create captures what you need now and where you want to go, both personally and as a company. 
      2. Consider personality and culture fit: Remember that the COO should ideally play the yin to your yang. Trust is critical to a successful COO-CEO relationship, and ensuring a personality and culture fit will be crucial to this. 
      3. Think about qualifications: The flexibility of the COO role means that setting chief operating officer qualifications can be a difficult quantity during hiring. Perhaps, it’s best to consider the roles you expect the COO to play, and what competencies will best empower the candidate to excel in this role. In addition, the ideal candidate should be able to display a proven track record of success in similar roles. 
      4. Be competitive: As a C-suite position, you can be certain that great candidates for the COO role will require great packages to turn their heads. Consider a mix of healthy yearly compensation and enticing benefits. It is typical for candidates in this role to demand $225,000-$300,000 a year and 1.5-2% equity. Learn more about the average COO salary and compensation packages here.
      5. Double down on references: Finally, you really want to drill down into the references your prospects provide. Although references are typically unwilling to do damage to the employment chances of candidates, there are ways to access great feedback from these sources. Consider leaving a voicemail or email with references asking for a callback only if they believe the candidate will be an exceptional hire. You may also be able to find other individuals at the referenced firm who worked with the candidate but were not provided as references. This can be a valuable source of information about the antecedents and track record of your candidate. 

      In all, the process of hiring a COO will likely take a considerable amount of time and effort. However, in the long run, most organizations find that the increased efficiency and operational effectiveness they gain as a result is well worth it. Should you require a COO recruiter, Cowen Partners can help you find and retain the top talent you desire. Please contact us to learn more about our COO search services.

      COO Executive Search Firm | Cowen Partners

      Cowen Partners has a strong record of identifying and recruiting top talent for the role of Chief Operating Officer in public, private, and non-profit organizationsContact us if you would like to discuss recruiting an exceptional COO for your company.

      What Makes a Great Chief Operating Officer (COO)

      Everyone knows the major role a CEO plays in a company, but fewer people understand the significance of a COO. A chief operating officer is typically in charge of the daily operations of a company, and the duties required of this role can vary widely between businesses. The COO role is often seen as the right hand of the CEO, and the position usually exists to alleviate everyday management tasks from the CEO’s shoulders. With the general operation details designated to a COO, the CEO has more time to dedicate to big-picture aspects of the business, like long-term strategy and efficiency solutions.

      The COO can be a vital role to any company but what exactly makes a great COO? The various roles played by a COO are so numerous and ever-changing that companies need to find a true chameleon to fill the position. If you’re hiring for a COO, you’ll likely be looking for a candidate with a unique set of skills that set this leader apart from the rest of the group. Below are a set of attributes you can find in an excellent COO and ones you should look for when interviewing for the role in your own company.


      The role of a COO is often changing and evolving as the business ebbs and flows, which is why a top COO needs to know how to adapt to various situations and strategies. The COO can also play a variety of roles within a company from the executor of business strategy or managing a major organizational change to simply complementing the skills and experience of the CEO. Whatever role the COO is initially brought in to play in your company, the ability to adapt to new responsibilities and situations will be a major benefit.


      A COO needs to handle the day-to-day operations of a business, but they also need to understand how those small details impact the larger business strategy. Attention to detail is one characteristic that will help a COO keep everyone on-task and inline with company deadlines. People who are less detail-oriented might understand the big picture of your company but will have a harder time keeping all of the plates spinning as the finer details of running a business are lost.

      Team Player

      A great COO understands running a business is a team effort. In most cases, the COO is not only working closely with the CEO but is also managing heads of various departments and regularly checking in with various teams to ensure production is running smoothly. A true team player COO will smoothly work alongside the company CEO, complementing his/her work style and skillset. Further, a great COO will understand the value of credit and praise to other managers, supervisors, and teams within the company. A COO who can acknowledge the hard work others put into the company will be able to build employee loyalty and increase employee satisfaction.


      Every company needs at least one person in the c-suite to be a data-driven leader. It’s too easy for people to get carried away by “instinct” or a “gut feeling.” For a business to be really successful, decisions need to be based on data-driven information proving which choice is the best option. A COO with a data-driven mindset is the voice of reason when board members are trying to push an initiative based on business politics or mere hunches. By requesting data-backed evidence for a proposal, a great COO can redirect a company’s investments toward more worth-while projects.


      A COO role isn’t for the faint of heart. This position is second in command of the company and will require a strong leader to successfully manage the job. Business deals, strategies, partnerships, and various other aspects of business do not always go smoothly. When the company hits a bump in the road, you need a leader who can navigate the situation with professionalism and start looking for solutions to the problem. A top COO will be able to face difficult situations and quickly recover from any setbacks or failures the company experiences.

      Demand for capable COOs is growing as the role of the CEO becomes more and more complex. Companies need someone who can balance out the CEO position by bringing a wider skill set to the table and lightening the responsibility of upper-level management. The value of the position should not be underestimated, and if you’re looking to add a position to the c-suite of your company, a COO role is an excellent option.

      COO Executive Search Firm | Cowen Partners

      Cowen Partners has a strong record of identifying and recruiting Chief Operating Officers for public, private and non-profit organizationsContact us if you would like to discuss recruiting an exceptional COO for your company.

      Check out our industry-leading resources to see why Cowen Partners is a top executive search firm in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

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