A great CEO and COO relationship is vital for any businesses success. Leadership isn’t just about a visionary CEO with a plan to change the world. The CEO sets forth the company’s vision. Conversely, the COO is the one who establishes the day-to-day processes and operations. This enables them to ultimately execute and deliver on the shared vision.

Even if the COO takes a more behind-the-scenes role, an operational expert is the key to making visions come to life. We see this type of relationship — the visionary (CEO) and the integrator (COO) — as described in the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and on display at many of the world’s most well-known companies: Apple, Facebook, Salesforce, Disney, and more. COOs come in many different flavors; they are brought on for a variety of different reasons. Their responsibilities vary from one organization to the next. These are based on the needs of the company and the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO.

An effective CEO becomes even more important when you take technology into consideration. At Awecomm, we often come across new clients with CEOs who have amazing plans for high-tech solutions and growth. The problem is that the organization does not have the necessary technology foundation in place. Your COO must be someone who recognizes the need to address all the company’s capabilities (including technology). Some recent clients and experiences have caused us to reflect on the CEO and COO relationship and its critical importance.

CEO Perspective & Challenges

A CEO may often lay out a grand vision for their company while over simplifying how it will be achieved. Part of this is because at a high-level, it is simple. It also conveys a message to the team that there is strong belief it can, and will be, realized. There is a fine balance here. The team executing must buy in to the vision and receive the required support from the CEO. The big picture view is always simpler than the actual details involved. The CEO must recognize this and trust his or her leadership team with the details. If not, the plan (and often the company) will not be successful in the long-term.

The CEO may also view the solution to their goals for the company as a single achievement. It should be viewed as an organized process that is repeatable, profitable and scalable. CEO’s don’t often have the perspective to realize everything needed across different departments and projects. Even the simplest vision is nearly impossible to achieve when this perspective is lacking. It’s important to realize it is not a single step to realize the vision. It takes several actions and steps over a long journey. This is one of the advantages of a CEO and COO relationship.

CEO’s often do not have awareness of the intricate details required to make the vision a reality. This may be because they are effectively balancing time working “on” the business, and not “in” the business. If this is so, they may not have the ability to determine all of the crucial processes and milestones involved. The CEO needs a trusted and engaged team. This team should establish the roadmap that will enable the organization to be more competitive. The whole team must be engaged and driving the necessary changes, but also not lose sight of what is critical for business to be successful today.

Of course, these challenges and perspectives from the CEO only create half of the gap that must be closed between the CEO and COO relationship.


COO Perspective & Challenges

A CEO must recognize and understand this gap. This is exactly where a company benefits from a great CEO and COO relationship. This can determine the success or failure of the vision. The COO acts as the CEO’s right-hand man or woman. They are focused on where the company needs to execute in order to be successful. The CEO needs operations to problem-solve to figure out the how of the company’s long-term goals.

The strength of the COO lies with the fact that they know the people, the staff and the systems. He/she understands the resource issues and the impact that huge changes will have on operations. They also must recognize the capabilities of the organization today and what they need to be tomorrow. This overlap of understanding of the vision and execution of the plan is critical. The CEO provides the COO with an ultimate destination. The COO is often the one who understands the investment, people and effort required to get there. This information must be communicated within the CEO and COO relationship. If it’s not, delays in implementation or requests for additional resources will create friction in the organization.

Due to the very nature of the COO’s position, they are generally consumed with day-to-day delivery of services. The CEO is focused on the current business model and maximizing the company’s profitability today, this month or this quarter. How they balance this focus with continuing to move the organization toward the vision is key. The COO must share the CEO’s vision for the company. There must be complete buy in to the changes that are required. If not, the vision will never be realized. The COO must believe in the vision and connect teams and resources to realize the vision. All this, while maintaining current business operations.

The COO will not have perfect balance between today’s business operations and actions required to advance the organization. They will also be challenged to have all team members engaged and working toward realizing the vision. This widens the gap between the CEO and COO relationship.


Closing the Gap

The COO must commit and fully engage the CEO’s vision for the company. This ensures the company gets the most out of the relationship between its CEO and COO. The COO must ensure that all foundational items (especially the right technology) are in place. This keeps them on their path to the ultimate vision.

For their part, the CEO needs to trust the COO’s roadmap to achieve company goals. They should ensure it is on track with the appropriate pace. A culture of change within the organization is a must. As the most visible leadership, it is essential that the CEO leads by example to allow this mindset to flourish company-wide.

A CEO must also understand the fact that change instigated by the COO is a process. Multiple steps must be followed to get to the end goal. Before completing D, you must complete A, B and C. The CEO needs to have the patience and trust in the COO to execute the smaller pieces of the broader plan. This means that the CEO’s vision has to have small victories and successes along the way. The COO may not completely understand the end result, and that’s okay. But they do need to see where the company has to be 12 months from now. They need to be able to break out the CEO’s vision into attainable segments.

In addition, staying connected on the vision and execution of the plan is very important and often challenging. At Awecomm, we do this through annual strategic planning. We come together as a team for quarterly alignment meetings and weekly operations meetings. These keep us delivering services today. It also helps us maintain the right balance on where we need to be for our future vision to be realized.

Ultimately, the success of the relationship comes down to how much either the CEO or the COO can close the gap. To do this, they’ll need to by understand each other’s challenges and perspectives. If each can close half of the gap, that is a great start!