Start Your COO Career with This 90-Day Plan

Oct 25, 2022 | Career, New COO, Training

Planning your career as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) can be difficult. If you are a new COO, here is a 90-day plan to start your career.

As reported by Forbes on December 14. 2020 by John Knotts.

Are You A New COO? Start Out Strong With This 90-Day Plan

The position of a chief operating officer in a company is extremely unique. As the number two to the CEO, a COO brings a great deal more to the business than any other position, and their role goes beyond running business operations and directly managing employees. As with any new leadership and management role, a new COO should have a 90-day, three-part planned approach to start.

1. Assess the organization

Although you often have to step in and get to work right away, your first 30 days as a new COO should be focused on understanding what is, is not, should and should not be happening in the business.

An unseasoned COO will typically jump right in and start making changes to things without fully understanding what really is happening in the organization. This amounts to playing whack-a-mole in a business. Instead, the COO should first take the time to fully understand what is happening and why. A holistic organizational assessment includes a review of:

  • The organization’s mission, purpose, values, vision, and goals. If the organization is a nonprofit, its articles of incorporation, bylaws, and past meeting documentation (e.g., minutes) are also important.
  • The true culture of the organization
  • Written policies and procedures
  • Organizational structure, specifically single points of failure and business silos
  • The business’ operating model, operational flow and value chain
  • The organization’s readiness to change
  • The existence and effectiveness of leadership, employee and stakeholder development programs
  • Physical tools, equipment, supplies and technology (again, look for silos)
  • Leadership and employee tenure and turnover
  • Gaps in the leadership team
  • Leadership’s aptitude for emotional intelligence, especially self-awareness and self-management
  • Diversity and inclusion of leadership, staff, and frontline operations
  • Numbers and types of employees and their compensation structure
  • Leadership and employee engagement and organizational commitment
  • The condition and location of headquarters and geographically separated facilities
  • Overall financial knowledge and rigor of the company
  • High-level revenue, expense and number of products sold (calculate revenue minus expense, divided by products)
  • Stakeholder satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, retention, and quality
  • Business process management maturity
  • Level of activity-based costing and management
  • Key performance indicators and supporting operational performance measurement
  • Information management and enterprise document management
  • Innovation programs and efforts
  • Risk and crisis tolerance, aversion, and planning

This level of assessment requires a new COO to gather and review a great deal of written information very quickly. Armed with documented data, you should speak with as many people as possible in the first 30 days. Be an assessment sponge.

Smaller businesses may not have the data listed above — either it was not saved or was never created. However, the absence of this also helps to identify potential strategic direction.

2. Create an executable strategy

Once the COO has a strong and holistic understanding of the business, influenced by their organizational assessment, the next stage should be devoted to developing an executable strategic plan.

Too often, strategies are built by leaders in a closed-door conference room and are not reflective of what is really happening in the organization. More importantly, these plans are not designed to overcome the challenges preventing the business from achieving its mission and vision. Thus, the COO, more than anyone, should drive actionable strategic planning that will generate an executable strategic plan.

Also, the COO is the perfect role to ensure all stakeholders (leaders, employees, customers, suppliers, and partners) are fully engaged in the development of the business strategy. When these parties are involved in creating the strategy, they are more likely to support the implementation of that strategy.

A strong strategic plan should have the well-thought-out elements of a mission, purpose, values, vision, goals, objectives, initiatives, and actions. These items all relate back to the gaps between where the organization is today and where it desires to go in the future, as outlined in its vision.

3. Implement the strategy and lead the changes

In the last 30 days of the first 90 days, a good COO moves into the implementation of their company’s executable strategic plan. Initiation is way more than simply starting something. A great implementation must follow a process, it must have accountability and rigor and it must be measured.

The COO is the key change agent for leading the transformation that comes about as a result of the strategy. If nothing will change as a result of your strategy, then it probably is not any good. Strategy means change and the COO leads the change through more than just change management — they drive change readiness.

Like in the previous 60 days, you should continue to engage and involve all stakeholders in the implementation of the strategy. As much as possible, make everyone a part of the strategic change effort. This deepens the ownership of strategic success.

Of course, the last 30 days of your plan is called initiation, but this is just ensuring a strong start to the full implementation of your strategic plan. Your role, as COO, is to grow, scale and improve a business. Too often, COOs come in as glorified managers with lots of perks, high pay, and enormous bonuses. Remember that a true COO is the most important catalyst for change in an entire company.

Every Chief Operating Officer (COO) is unique, depending on the role description. But COO is an important person to have on your team to grow your company.

Relevant Resources

4 Priorities Every COO Needs to Know

Chief Operating Officer Leadership Style

Chief Operating Officer Best Practices


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