Recently I read an article written by Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles which was published in the May 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review entitled, “Second in Command” which discusses the relationship between CEOs and COOs. The authors point out that no two COOs have the same job description – not even two that have been employed by the same organization. This, they argue, is a result of the fact that position is determined largely by the needs (and strengths and weaknesses) of the CEO. They quote statistics that show the gradual decline in the number of COOs who are currently employed. More interestingly they point out that 17% of COOs, who are promoted to CEO, elect not to hire a replacement COO. I am surprised by this statistic, because I would imagine that a former COO would understand the benefit that a COO brings to an organization.
Many would agree that, among many other things, the CEO needs to be focused on the long-term direction and strategy of the organization. The COO should be focused on the day-to-day operations of the business and implementing the CEOs vision. A mistake that some organizations make is by having a CEO who is too tactically focused. If we view those companies over a 5, 10 or 15 year period, I am willing to bet that those organizations – with tactically focused CEOs (and no COO) – will be much less successful than those with a CEO and COO.
Companies do need a second in command. The CEO can not effectively be both strategically and tactically focused. They need a trusted employee to focus their attention on the daily operations of the business and on executing on the CEOs strategy.