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What does a Chief Operating Officer do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A Chief Operating Officer (COO) is an executive at a corporation who makes important decisions regarding production and worker policies. He or she sets new goals and policies by reviewing statistics about the quality, safety, and efficiency of workmanship. In addition, an operations officer meets frequently with other executives to assess the overall condition of the company. The ultimate goal of someone in this position is to maximize profits and customer satisfaction by ensuring that production runs as smoothly as possible.

In a small company, it is common for the chief operating officer to actively engage with workers and floor supervisors on a regular basis. He or she might tour manufacturing plants or service centers to evaluate the success of policies and procedures. When the officer recognizes an area that can be improved, he or she can begin formulating ideas to remedy the situation. The officer might notice, for example, that newer workers are considerably less productive than seasoned laborers. After considering costs, the officer can decide to implement a more comprehensive training program to better prepare new employees for their jobs.

Most COOs of large corporations do not interact as frequently with laborers. Instead, they primarily receive information from department supervisors and vice officers regarding the status of day-to-day activities. An officer carefully considers raw production data and concerns brought forth by other managers to determine the best ways to improve circumstances.

It is common for a chief operating officer to attend executive meetings to discuss policies with other company heads. Executives inform each other of their findings and ideas, and work together to make important company decisions. The COO might consult with the technology officer to discuss whether new systems and equipment could enhance productivity. If they believe so, the financial officer can help them determine how much money should be allocated to acquire new machines and retrain workers.

A person who wants to work in this position typically needs to obtain an advanced degree in business administration in addition to gaining several years of experience in other managerial positions. When operating officer positions become available, many companies choose to promote internal workers rather than bring in outside professionals. An individual who has worked at a corporation for several years is generally more familiar with the specific operations and needs of the company. A successful chief operating officer may eventually have the opportunity to become a chief executive officer or even the president of a corporation.

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Discussion Comments

By Viktor13 — On Jun 23, 2011

My employer loves to hire Ex-Army officers for the operations jobs. Our current COO is still a Major in the Army Reserve. Even though you sometimes have a bit of an adjustment period when they move into the civilian world, where the employees have more say than the soldiers they used to lead, the no-nonsense approach they bring to the table works well for us.

By winslo2004 — On Jun 23, 2011

@parkthekarma - You are so right. A lot of upper management go to where they are by doing well in school and working their way up through the management ranks. There is nothing wrong with that, but it sometimes leaves a disconnect between how something works "on paper" and how it works in the real world.

It's like the difference between being book smart and street smart. Too much of either one and you have gaps in your skill set. A good COO is both. They have to be smart and well-rounded enough to see the big picture, but also have the "street smarts" to make sure that the job gets done.

By parkthekarma — On Jun 20, 2011

An operations manager, or a COO in a bigger company, is critical to a successful company. This is the guy who makes sure that things actually get done. Effective management is always important, but a lot of the other top positions like CEO and CFO are more concerned about making policies, and the COO is the one who implements them.

The problem with a lot of things in life is that they work well on paper, but not so much in practice. Operations is the department that tries to translate between the two. With the right person in this job, your business has a much better chance at success. With the wrong person, it can be disaster.

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